National Hispanic Heritage Month began on September 15 and continues to September 24. It officially recognizes the contributions Hispanics and Latinos make to our national culture in the United States of America. Coincidentally, the Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe — emphasizing renewal, reconciliation, and self-reflection — began on September 15 and continues through September 24. The weeklong holiday reaffirms an annual commitment to make the world a better place and individual and collective responsibility pursue a more just and equitable world for all. Which brings me to the topic of Crypto-Jews in Mexico, New Mexico, and the American Southwest.
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Genetic research shows that almost 25% of Mexicans have Jewish DNA. This traces back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico (which included Texas, Arizona, California, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado) in the early 16th century. In 1492, when the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs declared that all Jews must convert to Catholicism or leave the Iberian peninsula, many Jews chose to convert but secretly practiced their religion. Believing that the Inquisition would not be as virulent in the New World, many crossed the Atlantic and came to Mexico. As the Inquisition in Mexico became more pernicious, many Crypto-Jews migrated into the Southwest, particularly into New Mexico.
Yesterday, four of us traveled the Taos High Road to explore and discover on the High Road Artisans Tour. The tour continues September 23-24. The winding road takes us through the Kit Carson National Forest from Taos to Española, into small, Hispanic villages and hamlets also populated by Native American peoples.
Two of these women, both of Hispanic descent, declared themselves to having Jewish ancestry tracing from great-great grandmothers and grandfathers who came to the Americas with the conquerors. Nora told me that her Spanish family went first to Zihuatanejo, and when the Inquisition caught up with them, decided it would be safer in New Mexico, and settled here in the San Luis Valley. Bonny said her ancestor married a Jewish woman and brought her to New Mexico, traveling with Juan de Oñate, whose mother was descended from Conversos or Crypto-Jews.
I write about this as we celebrate our cultural diversity and the richness that this brings to our society, and punctuates our interconnections throughout history. A cause for celebration, regardless of our personal stories.
Our route took us to Peñasco, then to Picaris Pueblo, then to Ojo Sarco, on to Trampas, Truchas, and Chimayo, then through Española, before we headed back through the Rio Grande River Gorge into Taos.