Descendants of Marranos
The Crypto-Jews of the Southwest
The Greek word “crypto” means hidden. This phrase is associated with the thousands of descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity during the many years of brutal persecution their ancestors suffered at the hands of the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal and the American colonies of these two erstwhile empires. It also applies to the Muslim descendants of Jews who were brutalized in the Muslim countries over the centuries.
There are today in Arizona and New Mexico a number of people who are either Christians or have no religion but who seek to establish their Jewish roots. There are of course those who believe that Jewish ancestry makes one a Jew. This was believed by the Spanish population during and after the Inquisition so that converts to Christianity were nevertheless viewed as Jews and treated as such. They were called “marranos”, or swine, by the Spanish population. This belief was also promoted by the Nazi racists of Europe, so that a “jew” was to them anyone with even one Jewish ancestor, no matter how remote. The European haters pretended that there is such a thing as “Jewish blood”, an opinion so insane that it belongs among the most psychotic ideologies in this world. Yet, that which people believe is real is real in its consequences, so that millions were murdered on the grounds of having such “blood”.
There are even Jews who believe that those who are of Jewish descent are therefore Jews. This is applied to those in the U.S. southwest who seem to have descended from the Sephardic Jews who once lived under the Spanish tyranny.
In 1984 a professor Nidal wrote an article in an academic journal entitled “Modern descendants of conversos in New Mexico”. The “conversos”, however, do not only live in New Mexico. They also live in “old” Mexico, in Texas, in Arizona and in Cuba, and in the entire Spanish speaking world.
It has been estimated that ten percent of the 20,000 Europeans living in 17th century Mexico were “conversos” or “New Christians”, i.e. Jews. Today there are about 1500 families in New Mexico who believe they are of Jewish “descent”. Some of these families have formally converted to Judaism while others attend Jewish services and celebrate Jewish holidays.
Some of the “New Christians” of the 17th century moved to Colorado and other areas remote from Spanish control at that time because they hoped to escape the Inquisition's interest in “judaizers”. Some of these families have practiced Jewish customs and ceremonies for generations without knowing that they were of Jewish origin.
One measure of this Jewish connection among these “crypto” Jews of the Southwest are Jewish names. Included are such names as Jacobo, Adonoy, Efren and Ellis. There are also many other “Old Testament” names which Catholics would never use. It must be remembered that Protestants use many Torah names such as Israel and Moses as well as Michael (who is like G’d) because Protestantism is in effect an effort to return Christianity to its Jewish roots.
There are also a number of New Mexico families who reject Christian practices in that they will not take communion, are not baptized and seldom go to church. These families also reject the trinity and believe in only one G’d. Furthermore, their family tradition included a good number of Bible stories but not New Testament stories. Yet more revealing is the custom among some New Mexican families of lighting candles on Friday night because their family had always done this without knowing any reason for that custom. There are also families whose men work on Sunday but not on Saturday. Moreover, many of these families avoid pork, drain blood from their meat, do not eat eggs with blood spots and avoid eating meat and milk together.
There are also families who play a gambling game with a top which they call “pon y saca” or putting in and taking out. These families observe a holiday honoring Esther when they bake a bread which they call “pande semita” or semitic bread.
There are those who speak a Spanish which resembles the Jewish “Ladino” language.
The funeral customs of these “crypto-Jews” include gathering nail clippings, covering mirrors, leaving pebbles on a grave and including a six-pointed star on headstone engravings. In addition to all that, circumcision is common, although that is also true among all Americans.
Even genetic testing reveals that a considerable majority of the New Mexicans who believe they are of Jewish descent have genome and protein sequencing associated with Jews.
There is some controversy concerning these claims. Some anthropologists believe that the “Jewish” practices among New Mexicans are associated with the 7th Day Adventists.
It is noteworthy that today it is both acceptable and even desirable to have Jewish ancestors. We note that the Democratic candidate for President John Kerry boasts a Jewish grandparent, that General Clark emphasizes his Jewish father, that candidate Dean lets it be known that his wife and children are Jewish and that the former Secretary of State Albright, herself a Christian, had Jewish parents.
A good deal more historical research needs to be done before we can tell the whole story of the “crypto Jews” of the Southwest. Meanwhile the hatemonger Mel Gibson should be ashamed to have made a movie intended to once more cause hatred for the Jewish people in an effort to revive the sentiments that led to the Spanish Inquisition and the murders of innocent Jews for the pseudo “crime” or killing the god of another faith. May we survive Gibson as we have survived so many of his ilk.
Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents: A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2002).