I’ve loved Jane the Virgin since it premiered in October 2014. I was a sophomore in college, navigating the tricky waters of the predominately Greek social scene, choosing my major, and everything else that comes with being a college student today. Jane was my escape — the romance! the drama! the ridiculous plot lines! – and I looked forward to watching it weekly. And of course, I loved Gina Rodriguez, who plays the titular protagonist.
By the winter of my junior year, I had finally found a group of friends to watch Jane the Virgin with weekly. We would trek across campus in subzero temperatures to drink cider and cuddle and find out what Jane was up to. Those women became some of my closest friends — and I largely credit that fact to our weekly Jane viewings. And, my senior year, I discovered my thesis advisor also shared a love of Jane. (Which I promptly tweeted, and the freakin’ creator responded!)
To this day, my group chat still talks about the show weekly (season five really split us on #TeamMichael vs. #TeamRafael — FWIW, I am fully #TeamRafael), and my best college friend and I still chat about Gina Rodriguez on the reg. This is all to say that I am a big fan, in case you couldn’t tell.
However, once I started working for Alma (the site you’re reading now, hello!), I needed to start focusing more on Jewish pop culture, since we’re a Jewish site, in case you haven’t noticed.
And so Jane drifted further to the back of my mind; after all, there’s no real Jewish angle there, with the show centering on the tight-knit Catholic family, the Villaneuvas. (I mean, there’s actually always a Jewish angle to anything. The creator of the show, Jennie Urman, is Jewish. Also! Yael Grobglas, who plays Petra — and her sometimes-evil-twin Anezka — is Israeli, and she is fantastic. I’ve obviously written about Yael and her breakout role on Alma.) But I can’t tell you the number of times I wished the show was just a little bit Jewish so I could write about it more.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Why should you care about my undying love of Jane the Virgin and Gina Rodriguez? And why does it matter that I haven’t been able to write about it more for my day job?
Well, today, everything changed.
This morning, my editor Molly (hi Molly), informed me that Gina Rodriguez has Jewish family. Here’s our slack conversation, in which you can almost see my head explode:
Let me back up a second: Yes, Molly’s slack icon is an illustrated corndog on a stick taking a selfie. (She would like me to clarify that by definition, corndogs are on sticks, so it’s really just a corndog taking a selfie.)
But really, let me actually back up: Who cares if a celebrity is Jewish? Should it really impact how much I adore said celeb? And why should you, reader of Alma, care too?
On one level, it’s just kinda fun to learn about new Jewish celebrities (like when I recently discovered the Yemenite Jewish sister band A-WA and now they’re all I can talk about). On the flip side, it can be confusing when someone who you thought is Jewish based purely on name alone is not (looking at you, Zachary Levi).
But this actually goes a lot deeper than that.
On Alma’s Instagram story every Tuesday, we host a game called “Jew or Not Jew.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: We present to you a famous person, and you vote on whether you think they’re Jewish or not. (Join us!) It’s a good time, yes, but the real reason we play this seemingly silly game is to remind our followers that you really cannot tell if someone is Jewish based solely on their appearance or name. We want the game to be fun but also enlightening — to show that Jews come from all backgrounds and all walks of life.
And that’s why I’m here, telling you about my love for Jane the Virgin and Gina Rodriguez, and sharing my confession:
You see, in all my time working at Alma, I never once thought to look up whether or not Gina Rodriguez is Jewish. Googling whether a certain celebrity is Jewish is a regular part of my day, yet I never did so for her. Why? Turns out I was doing exactly what I hate people do: assuming someone’s background based on their name or ethnicity. Discovering Gina’s Jewish background was just the wake-up call I needed. I’ll continue to work on unpacking these biases of what a Jew looks like, and I’m so glad Gina is helping me out.
And in the meantime, I am so pleased to finally dive into Gina Rodriguez’s Jewish background:
In a 2014 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Gina discussed wanting to be the Latino Meryl Streep and how she craves more Latino representation in the media.
“Television and film are supposed to be a reflection of reality, right?” Gina says. “We just want to see a slice of life. We want to be able to connect. We want to cry. We want to look at our lives on screen. It’s clear to me that execs need to step outside of their office and really look at life. We are in interracial relationships. We speak multiple languages. We’re multiple religions inside of that. I have Jewish ancestors. My sister converted to Judaism. I have Christians and Catholics and Buddhists in my family. I have multiracial, multiethnic relationships. We need to start casting color-blind because there is no specific anymore.”
Rodriguez’s maternal grandfather was a French Italian Jew. In April 2016, she tweeted, “I have Jewish family, yes.” In a 2016 Latina profile, Gina is identified as an “Afro-Latina, part-Jewish NYU graduate.”
I have Jewish family, yes. And love my mixed cultural diverse and loving family!!! https://t.co/FmLURHWeVF
— Gina Rodriguez (@HereIsGina) April 22, 2016
In October 2013, she tweeted about “Jew-tinos,” aka Latino Jews, when promoting her film, Sleeping with the Fishes. Directed by Nicole Gomez Fisher, the film was based on her own multicultural upbringing and the plot focuses on planning a bat mitzvah. Yes, you read that right: Gina Rodriguez starred in a film about planning a bat mitzvah and yet somehow I still didn’t know of her Jewish background.
“There’s so much of that side we don’t see in Hollywood. Being half Jewish, we grew up with Christmas trees but had Jewish ornaments,” the director explained.
For Gina, the film was an enlightening experience: “It was so interesting to play a Latina Jew and we don’t see that very often. My grandfather is a French Jew and my sister and her kids are fully Jewish.”
And then there’s this, my favorite Gina tweet I definitely missed back in 2013:
The best part of being a Puerto Rican Jew?! All the holidays, Hanukkah, Christmas and Three kings day! So much love!!!!!!!!
— Gina Rodriguez (@HereIsGina) January 5, 2013
Celebrating all the holidays!!
And here’s her dog wearing a kippah to celebrate Hanukkah:
— Gina Rodriguez (@HereIsGina) December 9, 2015
(Is he going to become a Jewish dog influencer?!)
All this is to say, even someone like me — who is constantly interrogating my biases every day at work, where I plan (and write!) content helping unpack Jewish stereotypes and perceptions of what Jews look like — can slip up. It takes time, and work, to unlearn the damaging stereotypes that all Jews look a certain way.
And my other key takeaway? Always, always google if your favorite celebrity is Jewish.
Image of Gina in header Jean Baptiste Lacroix/Stringer/Getty Images