Discovering My Crypto-Jewish Roots

My name is Joe Arnold Trujillo I am the first son and second child of Jeremias (Jerry) Trujillo and Maria Rosana (Mary Rose) Quintana I was born on the farm of Felipe Quintana my maternal grandfather near Capulin Colorado Capulin is located in the San Luis Valley of southcentral Colorado The Rio Grande River the highway of Spanish colonization of the American Southwest finds its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains that surround this valley The valley formed the northern most frontier of the Spanish empire in the Americas part of the Vice royalty of New Spain
During my childhood I lived in Albuquerque Algodones and Chimayo in northern New Mexico Chimayo is the cradle of the paternal side (Trujillo) of my family Chimayo is located in the Espanola Valley which is watered by the Rio Grande River and the location of San Gabriel the first colony of Spanish pioneers settled in 1598 by Juan Onate Chimayo is about 117 miles south of Capulin These two very small and isolated Spanish towns in two valleys watered by the Rio Grande formed the geographic answer to the oftasked question where are you from?

I must confess that my geographic answer to the question of my ancestral origins left so much unanswered When I was growingup I often wondered who I was Where did my family and community come from? Why were we isolated in the mountains and valleys of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado a linguistic and cultural island? In 1950 my father moved the family from Capulin to northern California in search of better job opportunities California offered not only better employment but the family discovered new religious beliefs and the family joined the Seventhday Adventist Church in 1953

As an adolescent and young adult I was motivated to find answers to my questions about my ancestral origins I was determined to learn the Spanish language (My parents were part of the first generation that had learned English and spoke to us children in English I therefore had to learn Spanish as a second language) As an undergraduate I majored in religion and history and minored in Spanish When I graduated from college I began to work as a secondary history Spanish language and religion teacher for the Seventhday Adventist Church I continued graduate studies at the University of California in Berkeley where I majored in Latin American History I traveled to Spain and Mexico I studied the history of the San Luis Valley and the state of New Mexico I visited historic sites in both places In 1973 I accepted the invitation of my church to enter the pastoral ministry

In the mid 1980s I had a conversation with a fellowclergyman the pastor of a district where I had previously served in 1978 He told me “Yo creo que to eres un Sefardita” (I believe that you are a Sephardic Jew) I did not understand what he meant As a clergyman I was knowledgeable of the biblical history of the Jewish people but I was quite ignorant of their postbiblical history

This conversation acted as a volcanic intellectual catalyst and ejected me onto the most exciting stimulating and fulfilling journey of my life It is a journey that continues to this day and I see no end in sight Since that meeting I have initiated a systematic study of my genealogy As a result of my genealogical investigations I have discovered over 500 ancestors to date; over 70 of them were born in the 1500’s Many of these ancestors were Jewish

Currently the oldest ancestor that I have identified was a Jewish convert (converso) named Alfonso Alvarez de Toledo born in 1390 He served as the chief accountant to Juan II and Enrique IV both of whom were kings of Castile I became acquainted with Jose Antonio Esquibel a noted researcher of Hispanic genealogy who continues to do research into my maternal (Quintana) ancestors I anxiously await his new book anticipated to be available by the end of 2011 While I discovered many individual ancestors I knew very little about them except their vital statistics ie their names birth dates birth places spouse’s and children’s names and so on

At the same time that I was researching my genealogy I became aware of newspaper and magazine articles that spoke of the cryptoJews of New Mexico I examined the names of the families identified I was looking for individuals that were on my family tree I also began to notice the names of scholars such as Stanley Hordes and Tomas Atencio I was amazed with the metanarrative explaining that cryptoJews sought refuge from the Spanish Inquisition in the isolated valleys and mountains of northern New Mexico I also found it unbelievable that Jewish beliefs and practices had been preserved for centuries and had been transmitted secretly from one generation to the next I questioned my relatives to determine if they held beliefs or practiced customs that were Jewish in origin I found some customs and practices but to date I have not found any immediate relatives that had any knowledge that their customs had Jewish roots Recently I have read articles that report that a gene linked to breast cancer found mainly in Jewish women was discovered among Hispanic women of Colorado’s San Luis Valley my birthplace and still the home of many of my Quintana relatives

I began to focus on the research and articles of Stanley Hordes and read everything I could find I heard of his research and forthcoming book on New Mexico’s cryptoJews I called the publisher to determine when it would be available I believe I was one of the first persons to purchase his book To the End of the Earth: A History of the CryptoJews of New Mexico I was the second person to post a review of it on Amazon I devoured the book in one or two sittings I was amazed at the quality of the research and therefore embraced the authoritativeness of its conclusions I also discovered 28 individuals who where on my family tree that were identified as cryptoJews I also studied footnotes These directed me to other scholars such as Esquibel whose articles and books I studied

In Esquibel’s book on the recolonization of New Mexico in the 1690’s I discovered that Miguel de Quintana an ancestor was the research subject of two scholars Francisco Lomeli and Clark Colahan I purchased their book Defying the Inquisition in Colonial New Mexico: Miguel de Quintana’s Life and Writings as soon as it was available I also organized a public book signing event for the authors in the Espanola New Mexico church where Miguel de Quintana’s remains are buried

My interest in a more detailed history of the times and places that formed the context for my cryptoJewish ancestors was greatly heightened I began to read books about the medieval history of Spain the history of the Spanish Inquisition in Spain and the Americas the history of New Spain and the history of the colonization and settlement of New Mexico and southern Colorado I continue to examine the genius of AlAndalus and the culture of tolerance that existed there For centuries the three monotheistic religions of Judaism Islam and Christianity lived in relative peaceful coexistence in medieval Spain I continue to examine the applicability of that historic experience for the world today

I also wanted to learn more of the religious beliefs and practices of my cryptoJewish ancestors I began to read books on the postbiblical history of the Jewish people and histories of Judaism I continue to be amazed at the enduring quality of Judaism in spite of the relentless persecution of so many more powerful forces arrayed against it How has Judaism survived? How have the Jewish people survived? I continue to search for answers to those questions

Although my ancestors were conversos many continued to believe in and practice Judaism as best as they could while trying to hide from the Inquisition’s everpresent eyes and ears How did they hold on to their secret beliefs and practices? How did they transmit those beliefs and practices to their children? How did this process of transmitting continue for centuries? I continue to search for satisfactory answers

In recent years I have become an active member of the Society for CryptoJudaic Studies (SCJS) an organization that “fosters the research of the historical and contemporary development of crypto Jews of Iberian origin” As many of you know the SCJC holds annual conferences where papers are presented friendships are formed and networks are established I have attended the last two annual conferences and have discovered a fountain of knowledge and a distinguished body of gracious researchers authors artists musicians and fellow descendants of cryptoJews from many places including Texas New Mexico and Colorado I suspect many of us are primos (cousins) The intellectual and emotional benefits that I have received to date from these annual conferences have been so great that I have determined not to miss any future conferences

I now wish to turn my attention to the impact of this journey of discovery on me personally and professionally Professionally as a clergyman and church administrator I have come to understand and appreciate Judaism and Islam to a much higher degree What I have learned about Judaism has contributed to a better understanding of the history of Christianity and Christian theology I no longer view Judaism or Islam as unified belief systems but as a spectrums of beliefs and practices similar to the variety of beliefs and practices between the many different Christian denominations I no longer subscribe to the traditionally held Christian view of replacement theology that the church replaced the synagogue

On a personal level this journey has provided personal insights into my personal identity and partial answers to the questions regarding my origins While many gaps still remain I am confident that my continuing quest for more knowledge will only fill in the portrait whose outline is now quite clear I am also determined to write in greater detail the metanarrative of a people so committed to the free exercise of their religious beliefs that they were willing to brave innumerable dangers and death to find a place where in obscurity they could live quiet lives in relative peace The story of my bravehearted cryptoJewish ancestors is a story of the victory of the human spirit that yearns to breathe free

Arnold Trujillo lives in California where he serves as an Elder and Vice President of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventhday Adventists ArnoldTrujillo@puconlineorg

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