Emerging Fragments

When the first Valerio Martá­n Fernandez Valerio marched up into Northern New Mexico in 1694 what dreams prayers and fears were in his mind? He was only a twelve year old boy and there are no records of his parents They did not accompany him He walked singly up through the long harsh desert passage with the other families servants and soldiers who comprised the De Vargas Expedition This long march was a segment of La Reconquista; New Spain was reclaiming the lonesome Northern territory after it had been taken back by the Pueblo Indians in 1680 That battle had been the most successful Indian rebellion in the entire history of the conquest of the Americas Many families had members lost and the few who survived waited in what is now El Paso for the Crown to authorize a resettlement This Reconquest would comprise not only the surviving members of the first Oñate expedition but reinforcements from other areas of New Spain

Descendents of my ancestors Hernán Martá­n Serrano and Bartólome Romero had been with Oñate in 1598 (as well as Montoya ancestors and possibly others I have not traced yet) But it is the brave and singular passage of Martá­n Fernandez Valerio that most captures my imagination Now I wonder was he escaping from an Inquisition Tribunal that had already taken his family or was he only trekking up north for the adventure and possible wealth as I have been led to believe?

By then the Spanish settlers knew there were no “seven cities of gold” in Northern New Mexico So wealth was probably not foremost on young Martá­n’s mind although he must have entertained hopes of a modest prosperity on a land he could claim as his own Only twelve he walked farther and farther into the stretching heat into an uncertain and dangerous area plagued by material hardship intense conflicts with the Native Indian peoples and a deep isolation from the rest of New Spain He would attend a “small school for boys conducted by Father Azebedo” His place of origin had been Sombrerete Possibly his family had been connected to the mining industry there but much more I cannot say The story is still a fragmented one and most portions remain missing or incomplete

Always a Missing Piece

There was always a missing piece to the story of my father’s background an unidentified yet crucial element awaiting discovery Why did we have a name that sounded more Italian than Spanish when no one could remember an Italian ancestor? For a time my mother told a story of my father being a quarter Italian but eventually this unsubstantiated tale slipped into the void and was never repeated again Every story that I told myself about their ancestry felt false and every story that others told me felt incomplete Most family members would declare with great pride that they were “Spanish” and preferred this term to “MexicanAmerican” or the later more militant “Chicano” As a teenager I read about Chicanos Mestizos and Aztlan and for a time hoped and believed that these terms described my father’s family regardless of their claims of being Spanish It was a hope since I am already nearly halfAmerican Indian from my mother’s side She is threequarters Blackfoot from the Kainai or Blood Band and was brought up in Alberta Canada on the Blood Reserve (the Canadian term for reservation) Born with blue eyes and blonde hair I never completely fit in I am the lightest person in my family with hair that has darkened in shades over time to a chestnut brown as well as green eyes and fair skin People mistake me for Russian halfChinese Hungarian plain old white American male (my least favorite) and Swiss (believe it or not) as well as partTibetan or Siberian (the other half some Northern European strain) or a Laplander (!) So I have gone through life never sure what any particular person is going to think I am Rarely do they say Spanish or Mexican although occasionally someone who knows what Indians look like will identify me as part Native American I was a member of the American Indian Movement in my adolescence and spent time marching and visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation when it was under siege by the FBI after the Wounded Knee occupation I had done the sweat lodge and read voraciously about American Indian spirituality so fortifying my Indian ancestry with unknown Native ancestors on my father’s side of the family was very appealing But whenever I asked Dad if his family was actually the way Chicanos are purported to be halfIndian he would flatly state “No” My Hispanic grandmother had also told me in no uncertain terms “You are NOT an Indian”

“We were Creole”

“We were Creole” my father states now or Spanish people born in the New World In his old age my father has initiated a determined search into our family tree For a moment he would seriously consider the Mestizo possibility but further research led away from it although there could be some initial Indian blood early on as some early Conquistadors had Indian wives This point remains unresolved Mostly though the marriages were arranged with what appears to be cousins marrying each other at least for the first few generations One didn’t arrange marriages with Indians (this might sound racist but it was the reality of the times) The idea that my father’s family was primarily descended from Sephardic Jews never occurred to me Now I do remember a cousin bringing up the possibility after he had done extensive research into the family tree some ten years ago but I had not really understood what he meant and the idea had flown past me

Since Martá­n Fernandez Valerio first stepped into Northern New Mexico the Valerios have become many A road in Ranchos de Taos would be called “Valerio Road” since so many Valerios lived on it There is a rumor that we were “land barons” at one time although I am unfortunately not in line for any inheritance! We can trace Martá­n Fernandez Valerio to Santa Fe where he would marry a Mará­a Montoya Later Valerios would marry extensively into the Martá­n Serrano family and settle in Santa Cruz Chimayo and Taos My father is from Ranchos De Taos On childhood visits I would be struck by the sheer otherness of the place the adobe houses quiet under gentle starlight the herds of sheep the rumors of mysterious moradas where the Penitentes held secret rites Valerio Road was a winding dirt road high up on a hill overlooking an expanse of orchards and cornfields There was a feeling of being close to another time the presence of a powerful spiritual energy pervading an atmosphere absolutely and entirely unique

The cipher of our Italian name lingered I began to make forays onto the Internet to track down the name and its origins When I first discovered the Sephardimcom web site I was intrigued to find that so many of my father’s ancestral names were listed (thank you Harry Stein!) I read for the first time a description of the Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion the settlement of Northern New Mexico that could include my family’s story Other web sites discussed the discovery of Sephardic ancestry by unsuspecting Hispanics from the American Southwest Could it be that the seemingly devout Catholics on my father’s side of the family were actually Jewish by ancestry? The more I read the more this initially absurd possibility felt tangible I felt a sensation of shock that was physical an amazement that squeezed my heart when I realized that this might be true! I was also excited I have always admired the Jewish people and felt an affinity for them having always had many Jewish friends and girlfriends (like four out of six of my serious girlfriends!) I went around in a state of quiet astonishment for awhile When my parents visited in June of 99 I brought it up to test their reaction

“I found some of our family names on a website for Sephardic Jews: Maybe we have some Sephardic Jews in our background” I was sitting across the table from my parents at a diner My mother and father looked down at their plates after I said this they both looked struck by a sudden shock Their faces had the appearance of a sudden fear I continued ignoring their expression in order to bring them back to a state of calm “Well I found Romero but not Valerio But I did find ’Valero’”

My father looked up at me cautiously he said slowly “Valero could be a variation”

“There are supposed to have been Jews who practiced Judaism in secret Dad” I didn’t want to go too far into the subject since they were so uncomfortable but I wanted to get some clarification or information if I could

“Yes there were Jews in Taos who practiced in secret” He said this slowly I told my Dad that I would give him the pages that I had printed out from Sephardimcom and the Villarreal family web site He would take part of what I gave him and hand the rest back It was as though he could only take in a little at a time

Researching Family Tree

We have not spoken directly about the possibility that our ancestors are Anusim since that visit My mother tells me that my father is “obsessed” with completing his family tree and since the summer he has found hundreds of ancestral names by researching baptismal and marriage records from the Denver Public library

In California where I live I have been doing my own research using the ancestral surnames that my Father sends me My story is a true tale of cyberspace since nearly all my discoveries have been made on and abetted by the Internet Through surname forums I’ve connected to Valerios and others from Northern New Mexico who are searching for their past I discovered a Valerio cousin who had information on the Italian origins of our name She wrote on the Valerio surname web site that the Valerio family from Northern New Mexico had originated in Spain and fled to Italy because of “religious persecution” When I wrote to ask the nature of this religious persecution she answered that the Valerios were Jewish and were fleeing the Spanish Inquisition When they migrated to Italy they changed their name from “Valero” to the more Italian “Valero” Later I would find a Greek Jewish scholar Samuel Valerio and news that there is an influential Sephardic family in Israel called “Valeiro” Later research reveals a Chueta family on Majorca called “Valleriola”

Reading this confirmation of what I had come to suspect I was overcome with feeling and wept Thinking of my ancestor’s fear their courageous struggle

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