In the long history of reality television, Jewish personalities have played a relatively understated role. And when they have appeared, they’ve either been reduced to stereotypes (J.P. Rosenbaum as the “Nice Jewish Boy” on Ashley Hebert’s season of The Bachelorette; Jill Zarin as an Upper East Side Jewish American Princess on The Real Housewives of New York), or their Jewishness is an afterthought (Sharon Osbourne on The Obsbournes, Paula Abdul on American Idol). And while some might balk at the desire to connect with game show judges and Bravo stars, I personally am still getting over my shock and dismay to find out that Vanderpump Rules’ Tom Schwartz is, devastatingly, not Jewish.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find, after some internet stalking, that one of the stars of my long-time dating show obsession, Are You The One, proudly displays a Star of David emoji in his social media descriptions and even cracked a few jokes about his adorable punim online.
Rembrandt Duran, a cast member on the first ever entirely sexually fluid season of the MTV show, manifests multitudes. Known at first brush for his day-glo, skin-tight tees and his prolific sexual history, Duran has also revealed himself to be a delightfully witty and surprisingly sensitive cast member, unafraid to call out problematic behavior when he sees it.
Duran is equally thoughtful about the complexities of his own identity — the son of a Dutch Jewish mother and an indigenous Mexican father, he openly embraces his ethnic identities and his sexual identities with care and curiosity. Shortly before the Are You the One season finale — before he became a few thousands of dollars richer with the rest of the cast — I got the chance to sit down with him and talk about intersectional identities, the struggles he encounters as a Jewish person of color, and why he’d love a Jewish wedding.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell me a bit about how Judaism played into your upbringing?
For the first couple years of my life, I wasn’t even aware that I was Jewish; I knew my grandmother was Jewish, but my mom’s an atheist. She went to Hebrew school for a long time when she was younger. And my grandmother fled Holland during WWII, so I have familial connections. We celebrated Hanukkah because of my grandmother, but my grandfather really took over and was like, “Oh, we’re going to celebrate Christmas.”
My father’s Mexican, and he’s Mayan, and that was a big part of my identity. Because I’m half-white, half indigenous Mexican, they wanted it to be something I was proud of. There’s a lot of self-hate in a lot of indigenous communities, so my dad would tell me, “You’re the last Mayan prince.”
Then as I got older and I started really coming into myself and my identities and how they intersected, I was like, “Okay, I’m Jewish, and I’m proud to be Jewish.” And [started] really incorporating it into my identity and studying it on my own.
And then — because I didn’t know anything about Israel and Palestine at all when I was a teenager — I heard there was this thing called Birthright. I went when I was 19. I would never go now. I just remember feeling so ostracized by people, because I didn’t have a strong connection to my Jewishness, much less Israel. Everyone was from a suburb, and I was just an inner-city kid. I didn’t look like them, I didn’t have the same accent as them, I didn’t have the same connection to Judaism. And then after hearing all of the talk of “Israel first,” I was like, “This sounds a little brainwash-y.” I was just like, “Okay, there’s some good-ass food, this trip was nice.”
When I was 20, or 21, that’s when I started focusing more on my sexuality and the questions I had with that, so Judaism once again took a back burner. Being Jewish, and not being visibly Jewish, doesn’t necessarily impact me every day the same way looking gay does. [Judaism] is a part of my identity that I take a lot of pride in, but I know the least about.
How does your family feel about your self-exploration of Judaism?
It’s difficult; my grandmother passed last year, but we don’t know anything about her family in Holland. I’ve never been to Holland, and she was just so tight-lipped about everything, which is understandable, but if I want to learn and want to know that side of me, my mom doesn’t know anything. She takes pride in being Jewish also, but to a much lesser extent than I do. We still celebrate, we still do Passover and Hanukkah.
It’s different, because I’m half indigenous Mexican and half white, but she’s full white and Jewish. My Jewishness was never part of my Mexican side, but I also saw it as separate from my whiteness.
You have the Star of David in your social media profiles. Have you gotten any response from that?
I’ve always gotten it from all of my identities: “Oh, you’re Jewish? You don’t look Jewish.” “Oh, you’re Mexican? You don’t look Mexican.” But my queer identity has resonated the most with people. It’s weird, because anti-Semitism is one of the things that I find hardest to speak about, or speak out against. That comes from all different groups, not just white people. I have to explain, “[Anti-Semitism] is a thing, it’s very real, I promise you.”
I was wondering if you’ve found any intersectionality between queer life, Jewish life, and Mexican life.
Definitely more my queerness than my Mexicaness. There is a huge community of queer Jews that I’ve been with. But then again, it’s hard, because many of the queer Jews I do know have been super Jewish from like childhood, and it’s hard for me to relate to them in that sense.
I grew up in New York City. I didn’t grow up around a lot of Mexicans and I didn’t spend much time in Mexico, but you know I am much more welcomed in the Latin community — the Latin queers accept me without them asking if I am white.
There’s less vetting happening?
I think that’s a problem many Jews of color face — whether it’s not feeling validated or accepted.
Yeah, it feels like there’s a checklist.
Did religion impact your coming out process at all?
Not really. My grandma was — we’re 99% sure — a lesbian, but she never really came out. And I don’t know if that had anything to do with her religious background, but it didn’t really affect me on the religious side.
It’s just weird because when I go to Mexico and speak to my Mexican family, they are really Catholic, and they have no idea what Judaism even is. I remember talking to my little cousin and he asked me If I was Catholic and I said no, I’m Jewish, and he was like, “Daddy, what’s that?” Their idea of a Jew is really Hasidic Jews. People know who Hitler is, but they don’t really know anything about Jews — it feels like we’re failing somewhere.
Just doing some Instagram stalking, I saw in some pictures you’re at the club wearing a Star of David necklace.
I used to have a lot more jewelry, but I used to get in a lot of fights so the necklaces would pop and I haven’t replaced it. But trust me, if I had the money, the first thing I would do is buy a Star of David. I want to rep and be visible about it. I want people to know I’m Jewish, I’m here, I’m queer, I’m Mexican. That’s something I want to do, especially with all the shit that’s going on right now. The more homophobic shit happens, the more faggot I’m going to be. The more this crazy anti-Semitic shit is going on, the more loud and bold I am about it.
Did spirituality come up on Are You The One at all?
It came up a lot. Tons of the people there are very spiritual. Paige, who I got really close to, is very religious, and it’s a huge part of her family. Her grandma is also Jewish. I don’t remember which side, but if it’s on the moms side, ahhh, you know? [laughs] Spirituality was a big deal and it affected all these people in their queerness. I was, I think, the only Jewish person in the house and it never really came up.
Were you open about your Judaism in the Are You The One house?
Always. Every time it came up in the show to say who I was — Remy Duran: Mexican, Jewish, 27, born in New York City — it was always something I made sure to bring up. It’s a part of me; it’s a part of my identity. It doesn’t define me, but it’s there and I want to be vocal about it.
Do you have any Jewish bucket list items? Do you want to have a bar mitzvah?
I do want to have a Jewish wedding, or at least half a Jewish wedding.
Break the glass?
I guess if I did marry someone who wasn’t Jewish, and they wanted a priest, I think I’d want someone of Jewish faith to also officiate. That’s something that’s important for me; if you want that for your faith, I want that for mine. Or I want someone neutral; I wouldn’t want to do it in a church. Or we can have two weddings; I want mine in a temple. You have to include mine, too. That’s something that’s super important to me.
Image via Remy Duran’s Instagram