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Sephardic jews (conversos) of New Mexico

 
 
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 09:00 am
To Jews, 1492 signifies not the beginning of the era of Spanish discovery and exploration, but a tragic ending. The Edict of Expulsion finally brought to a devastating close the "Golden Age of Spain" by forcing more than 200,000 Jews to choose conversion or exile. Thousands left, and thus began the Sephardic diaspora. Just as protestant chirstians became the pilgrims of new england seeking religious freedom the sephardic jews, called "conversos) saught refuge in teh new world by "converting to catholicism" becoming conquistores coming to neuvo mexico and recieving land grands from the spanish crown. These conversos remained "hidden jews" practicing public catholicism while attempting to maintain their jewish traditions. The hidden Jews of New Mexico and their descendants remain largely a mystery, and finding and speaking with them isn't easy. No-one knows how many there are. They have lived with generations of secrecy and contradictions, and those few who are willing to reveal themselves speak only personally to protect their families.

Raised firmly within the Church, crypto-Jewish families never questioned being Catholic. They needed the Church which, in traditional New Mexican society, has been a focus of spiritual and community life for generations. And, because the Inquisition in Mexico City kept a close watch on its flock for more than two centuries, there never was a time when they could safely 'return' to their true faith. So it is remarkable that some hispanic New Mexican families could know today that they are descendants of Spanish Jews. Cut off for centuries from the evolution of Jewish practice, nonetheless their families have passed on remnants of Jewish prayer, sabbath observances, burial and food preparation customs. Without knowing what they meant, they have preserved many small fragments of Sephardic tradition, disguised and hidden, for more than 400 years.
Brought up as Catholics, they learned that Jews were the Christ-killers, to be hated and ridiculed. Their contact with contemporary Judaism is no different from many communities throughout the Southwest, where the Ashkenazic Jews who have been in the region since the mid-1800s are relatively small in numbers. With no exposure to or familiarity with Jewish customs, discovering that their mysterious family legacies are based on preserving the practices of medieval Spanish Jewry is astonishing news, casting their spiritual identity in a new and uncertain light and launching them on a very personal journey for individual reconciliation.
(extracts from The Melton Journal published 1992)
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 09:28 am
The term for conversos-MARRANOS:
'Swine' (pejorative). Term applied in Spain and Portugal by Christians to descendants of the coerced, baptized Jews suspected of adhering to Judaism.
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Eva
 
  0  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 09:31 am
This is fascinating, Dys. I've never heard of it before. It's always amazing to me how groups can lose their personal history.
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Eva
 
  0  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 09:36 am
Uh oh. I just read your second post. Guess it's time for me to leave. Sad
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Walter Hinteler
 
  0  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 09:36 am
Thanks for posting this, dys!

Past & Present published (at least) three reports about this group, which, however, are available (as PDF-data) only for subscribers.

However: "Men of the Nation": the shaping of converso identity in early modern Europe can be accessed for free via findarticles.com and gives some ideas about conversos, "Catholic(s) without belief and Jew(s) without knowledge, but in will, Jew(s)".
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dyslexia
 
  0  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 09:42 am
For Orfa Salinas of Las Vegas, N.M., sweet treats known as bu񵥬os provided the first clue to her Jewish roots. Four years ago, she read an article on Hanukkah that mentioned the crunchy delicacies, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, as one Sephardic Jews prepared for the holiday. The dessert also was special in her family, eaten during the same time of year, though Hanukkah was never mentioned.

Ms. Salinas began to dig into her family history and that all four of her grandparents had family names with ties to Sephardic Jews. She traced her ancestors' migration from Spain to Mexico and ultimately to South Texas, where she grew up.

After months of research, she went home and shared what she had learned with her mother, a born-again Christian. Her mother and an aunt became defensive as they let Ms. Salinas in on the family secret.

"That's when I found out that they knew that we were Jewish and wanted me to drop it," said Ms. Salinas, a postal worker. "When I found out, a lot of things in my life came together. It made sense."

Growing up in the town of Alice, in a tightly knit community of about 60 families, Ms. Salinas said she always felt there was a "them" and an "us." There was an unwritten rule not to associate with outsiders. Everyone she knew belonged to the same church, a Baptist congregation she says was run a lot like a synagogue.

By age 13, children were expected to have mastered reading and writing skills in Spanish, using the Bible as their guide. They then had to read aloud from the Bible during a special service, similar to the way Jewish teens read from the Torah for their bar or bat mitzvah.

"We were Hispanic, but we weren't like other Hispanics," Ms. Salinas said. "On New Year's Eve, we would spend the evening at the church, praying, like many Jews do for Yom Kippur."

Though it's still a sensitive topic for her family, Ms. Salinas says her newfound Jewish faith has filled a void. She believes she has a "Jewish soul."

"For me, it's brought closure," she said. "It's been a fascinating journey."
http://www.kulanu.org/crypto/findingroots.html
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 09:43 am
Eva wrote:
Uh oh. I just read your second post. Guess it's time for me to leave. Sad
???
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 02:28 pm
Worked with a gal when I was still practicing who was of Spanish descent. And her grandmother used to light candles on Friday night, though without prayers. When Granny was asked about it, she just shrugged, "We've just always done that." Hence T___ thought she was probably a converso.
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 04:06 pm
I know a few here in the Corrales/Santa Fe area that know their converso history but are totally ingrained into the catholic culture they consider themselves catholic.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 04:19 pm
One of the most famous converted Jews of modern times, btw, is Aaron Lustiger aka His Eminence Jean-Marie Lustiger, former archbishop of Paris ( 1981 to 2005), and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church since 1983.
(His parents died in the KZ Auschwitz.)
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 04:22 pm
Fascinatin' stuff, Dys . . . i'm glad you posted it. The end of the Reconquista in 1492 heralded a lot of changes, for which the world, quixotically (pun intended) seems not to be terribly grateful . . . Ferdinand was the junior partner in the marriage to Isabella, and most people are unaware that the Conquistadores were fanatics devoted to their Queen, who got their start by slaughtering and expelling Muslims, and then Jews. They (Ferdinand and Isabella) produced a daughter, Joanna, and married her to the Duke of Burgundy. The Duke's mother had been an Austrian Habsburg, and his son, Carlos I, became the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V--by judicious bribery of the German Electors, who, however, did not repeat their mistake--they declined to elect his son Philip when Charles voluntarily abdicated in 1555. Charles V was the Holy Warrior who lead the dreaded Spanish tercious into northern Italy and Germany in the wars of the Reformation--first against Fran├žois I in Italy, and then, having driven the French out, they turned their attention to the Germans--Lutherans, German Reformed and Calvinists.

I'll tell ya, Dys, them Spaniards, they was one fun bunch ! ! !
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 04:37 pm
Set, I once read and barely remember that the pope of the time issued an edict or whatever it was called about declaring the "native americans" were to be deemed "human beings" so that they could be converted to christians but the Spanish vacated that edict so that the natives could be enslaved. I may be wrong I am operating on memory here.
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Eva
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 04:42 pm
dyslexia wrote:
Eva wrote:
Uh oh. I just read your second post. Guess it's time for me to leave. Sad
???


Sorry, Dys, I didn't want to get involved in another one of those "Christian Atrocities" threads. Remember, I am a Christian. That is not always a comfortable position to be in on A2K. I'm not about to deny or downplay some of the reprehensible things that have happened in the name of my religion, but my faith is in God, not his followers. I try to practice a kinder, more sane version of the faith...and in keeping with that, I will stop now.

The subject is interesting, though. Especially the irony of how they chose exile over conversion to Catholicism to begin with, then pretended to be Catholic so they could get land grants.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 04:51 pm
Actually, Las Cases, the priest who accompanied Columbus, was appalled at the treatment of the Arrawack by the Spaniards. Not that he thought they should have a nice life, just that they should have the opportunity to become christian, and if they availed themselves of the chance, could become peasants--reparmientos, was, if i recall correctly, the term used. The Inquisition (an institution which had existed for centuries throughout Europe and not just in Spain) asked for a ruling from the Pope, and was assured that los Indios who converted were indeed christians who were entitled to all the protections of any peon bound to the land. Left-wing "historians" claim they were worked to death, but what is more likely is that they succumbed to malaria, which the Conquistadores contracted when fighting the French in Italy. (Malaria originated in Italy.)

For the most thorough and well-researched history of the Spanish in the New World, i recommend William Prescott, whose history of the Spanish monarchy in that period and the Conquest runs to, i believe, 22 volumes. The Conquest of Mexico is in three volumes, and is quite enlightening. Prescott, despite being a traditional New England (Boston) Protestant, gives a very balanced account, and relies upon the accounts of Indian historians as well (many intelligent Indians converted, became monks or priests, and having become literate, wrote down the accounts of the conquest from their fathers and grandfathers).

The result of the decision by the Pope on how los Indios were to be treated resulted in them being distributed to the Conquistadores as reparmientos, exactly as peons in Spain would be bound to the land and distributed to estates of the aristocracy. Most of the Conquistadores came from Estremadura in Spain, and were dirt poor (for example, Francisco Pizzaro was an illiterate bastard [in the literal sense], who had been a swineherd in the home of his father, until he ran away and joined Cordoba fighting the French in Italy). In the New World, these men became fabulously wealthy by anybody's standards (if they survived--most didn't), and set up as great lords on their haciendas. Bernal Diaz accompanied Cortez in the conquest of Mexico and later of Nicaragua--he was an old man in his eigties living on his hacienda in Nicaragua when he wrote The Conquest of New Spain, recounting the events of more than 50 years previously.

The Spanish branch of the Inquisition established the Indies Commission at Seville to supervise the treatment of the Indians. They were relatively humane, by the standards of the day. But dawn to dusk labor and malaria carried off many of the Indians, and life was held to be cheap by their masters.

Read Bernal Diaz, it's brief and concise, and very reliable. If you feel up to the effort, get copies of William Prescott's books--they are worth the effort, and some of the finest historical writing by any American historian. Prescott did not let his parochial prejudices cloud his judgment of either the Indians or the Spanish. In one passage, he commented rather sourly that the Spanish would convert the Indians if it killed them, but that the Puritans simply killed them, as being tidier and more expedient.
0 Replies
 
dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 05:00 pm
Eva wrote:
dyslexia wrote:
Eva wrote:
Uh oh. I just read your second post. Guess it's time for me to leave. Sad
???


Sorry, Dys, I didn't want to get involved in another one of those "Christian Atrocities" threads. Remember, I am a Christian. That is not always a comfortable position to be in on A2K. I'm not about to deny or downplay some of the reprehensible things that have happened in the name of my religion, but my faith is in God, not his followers. I try to practice a kinder, more sane version of the faith...and in keeping with that, I will stop now.

The subject is interesting, though. Especially the irony of how they chose exile over conversion to Catholicism to begin with, then pretended to be Catholic so they could get land grants.

Eva, I was not "bashing" I am only trying to relate some new mexican history especially concerning the now becoming available information of the sephardic jews. No offence meant by me. Kiss Kiss.
0 Replies
 
Eva
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 05:12 pm
Oh. Guess I read your second post the wrong way. Sorry. {{{smooches backatcha}}}



Set...malaria began in Italy? How did you ever learn that? I grew up hearing my father's tales of having malaria in the South Pacific during WWII. I always assumed it was of tropical origin...like most people, I'd imagine.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 05:21 pm
I read that in history so long ago, probably nearly forty years now, that i couldn't tell you specifically where i read it. It is well known, though. The Spaniards carried malaria right around the globe. The Emperor Charles V (Carlos I of Spain) took large armies into Italy to oppose Fran├žois I--that was as a result of the divided Papacy. These men, most of them poor men from Estremadura, later became the Conquistadores who followed the flag of Arragon and Castile right around the planet, and having contracted malaria in Italy, carried that with them, as well.

The effects on history have been profound. For example, the west African negro has a propensity for sickle cell anemia. The quaternary stage in the life cycle of the plasmodium which causes malaria is the colonization of the red blood cells. Therefore, west African negroes survived in the sugar plantation of the West Indies when the Indians died, as did European bond labor who were brought over. Even Chinese were imported to work the sugar cane fields, but only the west African negroes consistently survived the hard labor and the malaria, and hence, became the slaves of choice.
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Eva
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 08:19 pm
This thread is a good example of why I find history so fascinating. As you so excellently point out, there is always much more to a story than we commonly know. Thank you so much for writing this down, Set. Don't stop!

You know, just when I was becoming uncomfortable with my Irish ancestry for being so warlike and unable to compromise, you come along with these stories of the Spanish. Thank you. I needed that. Wink
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 08:27 pm
Well, the Irish were very warlike, and often have been uncompromising--but that does not make them materially different than other European cultures.

And anyway, we're smarter, sweeter, lovelier, we're better far than they . . .
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Eva
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 08:38 pm
Sing it, Setanta. It would sound so much better coming from a tenor.
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