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WATCH: Ocasio-Cortez Sings In Ladino After Acknowledging Jewish Roots

At a Hanukkah party Sunday evening, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sang a festive song in Ladino, a language associated with the Sephardic Jewish community, derived from Spanish.

Ocasio-Cortez gave an impassioned speech at the menorah lighting, hosted by the Jews For Racial and Economic Justice in New York, sharing that her family has Jewish heritage.

She also broke into song, helping to lead the group in “Ocho Kandelikas,” or “Eight Little Candles.”

That evening, she explained to the crowd that she descends from crypto-Jews, or conversos: Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism by the Spanish monarchy, but practiced Judaism in private. Ladino, the language heard in “Ocho Kandelikas,” is traditionally spoken by Sephardic Jews whose ancestors lived in Spain before the 15th century.

On Monday morning, she reiterated her point in several tweets, “Before everyone jumps on me.”

“Culture isn’t DNA,” she wrote, noting that many in Puerto Rico are made up of several ethnicities, including Jewish refugees, Spanish Colonizers and indigenous peoples.

“We are all of these things and something else all at once – we are Boricua,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote, using a term for Puerto Rican popular among people from there.

Alyssa Fisher is a news writer at the Forward. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter at @alyssalfisher

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