Jewish food oral traditions culture and secret religious customs are showing up today in the folklore habits and practices of the descendants of early settlers in southern Texas and the surrounding areas of Mexico In northern Mexico and what today is Texas the Jews of Nuevo Leon and its capital Monterrey Mexico lived without fear of harassment from the Holy Office of the 1640’s and beyond Many of the leading nonJewish families today of that area are descended from secret Jewish ancestors according to scholar Richard G Santos

Santos states there are hundreds if not thousands of descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews living today in San Antonio and throughout South Texas Not all are aware of their Jewish heritage Santos is a renowned scholar in ethnic studies of South Texas secret Spanish Jewry He presented a paper to the Interfaith Institute at the Chapman Graduate Center of Trinity University on secret Sephardic Jewish customs in today’s Texas and nearby Mexican areas

Here’s how we know that many TexMex Hispanics today are of Jewish ancestry It’s a well accepted fact that the founding families of Monterrey and the nearby Mexican border area “Nuevo Reyno de Leon” are of Sephardic Jewish origin If we go back to the Diccionario Porrua de Historia Geografia y Biografia it states that Luis de Carvajal y de a Cucva brought a shipload of Jews to settle his Mexican colony with some Jews being converts to Catholicism from Judaism and others “openly addicted to their (Jewish) doctrine”
Seymour Liebman a scholar on Mexican colonial secret Jews in his book “Jews in New Spain” explained why Jews settled in areas far away from Mexico City in order to escape the long arm of the Inquisition in the sixteenth century

There’s an old universally known antiSemitic Mexican joke a oneliner that says “la gente de Monterrey son muy judios son muy codo” In English it translates “The people of Monterrey are very Jewish very tightwad”

Secret Jews colonized the states of Nuevo Leon Coahuila Tamualipas and good old Texas USA in the 1640’s1680s and thereafter The majority of Texas’s Spanishspeaking immigrants came from Nuevo Leon Tamaulipas and Coahuila (the old Neuvo Reyno de Leon) beginning in the 1680s

Seventeenth century secret Jews who settled in what is today southern Texas particularly around San Antonio took with them their Jewish foods particularly what they call “Semitic bread” or pan de semita

Why do Mexican Americans in Texas and in the Mexican province of nearby Monterrey eat “Semitic bread” on Passover/Lent? According to scholar Richard G Santos TexMex pastries such as pan dulce pan de semita trenzas cuernos pan de hero and pan de los protestantes (Protestant’s bread) are similar to familiar Jewish pastries eaten by Sephardic Jews today in many other parts of the world

Pan de semita was eaten in preinquisition Spain by Jews and Arab Moors Today it is popular in Texas and in that part of Mexico bordering Texas It translates into English as “Semitic bread” It’s a MexicanAmerican custom in the Texas and TexMex border area today to eat pan de semita during Lent which occurs on or around the Jewish Passover

You bake pan de semita by combining two cups of flour one half to twothirds cup of water a few tablespoons of butter or olive oil mix and bake unleavened Even among devout Catholic Mexicans pork lard is never used that’s why it’s called Semitic bread Pan de semita is really the recipe for secret Jewish Matzoth and it’s eaten by all Mexicans today in the north Mexican/Texas border area regardless of religion

Only in Texas and along the TexasMexican border is a special type of pan de semita baked according to Dr Santos who himself is descended from secret Spanish Jews of the area who’ve lived in that part of Texas and Monterrey since colonial times

The special pan de semita of the border has special ingredients: only vegetable oil flour raisins pecans and water The raisins pecans and vegetable oil were identified according to Dr Santos as selected ingredients of secret Jews of New Spain
Take two cups of flour a cup or less of water a handful of olive oil and mix with a half cup to two thirds cup each of raisins and pecans Then you knead and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned and easy to chew

Pastry bakers from Mexico claim this type of pan de semita is unknown in central Mexico Other pan de semitas are found in Guadalahara made from wheat (Semita de trigo) in which milk is substituted for the water In Texas and Guadalahara one also finds Semita de aniz (anis) However semita de trigo and semita de aniz never include raisins and pecans and the use of pork lard is forbidden Only olive oil or butter can be used to make semitic bread

In Nuevo Leon Tamaulipas Coahuila and among Mexican Americans in Texas two ways of butchering chicken are performed Chickens can only be slaughtered by either wringing the neck by hand or by taking the head off with only one stroke of a sharp knife and immediately all blood must be removed into a container The fowl is next plunged into hot water to remove any remaining blood

This method is the same today as the CryptoJews performed in 17th century Mexico as described by Seymour Leibman The secret Jews of Mexico in the 1640s decapitated chickens and hung them on a clothesline so the blood would drain into a container of water Then the fowl was soaked in hot water and washed long enough to remove all the blood

In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas there is a ritual today of using this method of butchering chickens with an added gesture of drawing a cross on the ground and placing the chicken at the center of intersecting lines

Eating cactus and egg omelets during the Passover/Lent has been a custom of secret Jews of the 17th century and of Mexican Americans from Texas and Northern Mexico today The omelets are called nopalitos lampreados The custom is to eat this food only during Lent Is this an old Passover rite of secret Jews as well? Many add bitter herbs to their foods during Lent Another influence of Passover? Some do not eat pork on Friday and others do not eat pork after 6 PM or sundown on Friday

Another Lenten/Passover food is “capirotada” a wheat bread (piloncillo) to which raw sugar cinnamon cheese butter pecans peanuts and raisins are added These are identical ingredients to those used by secret Spanish Jews in the New Spain of 1640 The ingredients and recipes have been recorded by the Holy Office of the Inquisition and saved to this day in the archives
Mexican Americans from Texas ate meat on Fridays long before the Catholic Church relaxed the rules which forbid such activity Older women cover their hands while praying in the same manner as Jewish women cover their heads

The township of San Fernando de Bexar today’s San Antonio was established in 1731 by sixteen families who were descendants of Canary Islanders

These families intermarried with the local population of nearby Nuevo Reyno de Leon many of whom were Spanish and Portuguese secret Jews Though all Mexican Americans of the are not of Sephardic descent a large number still use the oral traditions which are eminently of Sephardic origin Historical exposure to and intermarriage with Sephardic secret Jews has occurred in the parts of Mexico that were “safer havens” for secret Jewish settlement The safest haven was Southern Texas and the surrounding Mexican border area The Holy Office was not active there in the 17th century

Today Texans in the San Antonio area are celebrating the secret Jewish origins of some of their foods culture and oral traditions

Anne deSola is a fulltime author specializing in writing psychosuspense novels involving Sephardic Jewish subjects or characters and is the author of 33 books both fiction and non fiction and filmstrips She also writes a weekly business opportunities career column for a national newspaper