Debbie Nathan is the coauthor of Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt which makes her a practiced writer of exposes Apparently one expose wasn’t enough and she needed another She was able to convince Barbara Ferry to lend her investigative reporting a needed cachet with readers since Barbara a reporter for the local paper the New Mexican is someone who is very nearly an insider Sensing a story that would sell and quite possibly privately shocked at the notion that the region’s dark skinned Spanish accented “Latino peasants” might actually turn out to be of Jewish ancestry the two set out to write a breathless sexy piece for the normally selective Atlantic Monthly magazine The expose appeared in the December issue and has been causing a tiny but noticeable tempest Debbie Nathan and Barbara Ferry have been pleased by this growing controversy as graphed by full loads of mail both over the web and by ground (snail mail) They’ll appear in a documentary rendition of the real and improbable truth behind the New Mexican crypto Judaic phenomenon soon For this film the nearly middleaged Nathan will wear a broomstick skirt red westernstyle blouse and a pair of lizardskin cowgirl boots Barbara Ferry will ditch her normally sober dark pantsuit and pearl necklace for a large cowboy hat turquoise earrings and a tightfitting pair of westernstyle Levis
What is wrong with the above paragraph? Well I wrote it in a style crafted to make the authors of the recent Atlantic Monthly article “Mistaken Identity? The Case of New Mexico’s Hidden Jews” sound slightly scandalous and suspicious I cast subtle aspersion on their integrity and journalistic ethics simply by juxtaposing a description of their clothing (imagined of course I actually have no idea what they look like) and their appearance in an upcoming documentary (also imagined) Just as in the article they write “Meanwhile Simcha Jacobovici a Jewish documentary filmmaker from Canada came to New Mexico to make a movie that was later released under the title Expulsion and Memory For his film interview Stanley Hordes traded his usual professor’s garb for a work shirt open at the throat and an Indiana Jones hat Isabelle Sandoval donned a fuzzy vest with Santa Fe style Indian geometrics Even as Hordes and the Sandovals were riding a wave of celebrity: ” (pg 93)
In my imaginary documentary I describe the clothing of Nathan and Ferry just as they’ve described the clothing of Stanley Hordes and Isabelle Medina Sandoval Inserting these irrelevant details about Nathan’s and Ferry’s personal appearance creates an excitement in the reader almost as though one is reading a “true crime” narrative anticipating a scandal on EEntertainment News or entering the vivid world of clues that make mysteries so exciting
Earlier the article described the reason why Stanley Hordes came to New Mexico with the following qualifier ” As he tells it his main reasons for coming to the Southwest were the weather and the hiking” (pg 87) The phrase “As he tells it” plants a doubt in the reader’s mind regarding the reasons for Dr Hordes arrival in New Mexico as though his straightforward statement is only his official version of events and that there remain other darker reasons for Dr Hordes’ arrival that are yet to be revealed This manipulative tone of writing continues throughout the entire article Every detail each nuance might have a sinister deeper meaning to be revealed in the “improbable” outcome waiting at the ending Certainly this is skilled writing and sexy journalism but is it an accurate fair reporting of the facts?
That tone is one of the main reasons why the article leaves such a negative lingering aftertaste When I read it I immediately found myself upset and angry as did many others with whom I have communicated with on the Anusim or Crypto Judaic listserves Rereading the article I realized that so much of what bothered me was in the actual telling the language used and the structure of the narrative itself Certainly some of the facts that Nathan and Ferry have cited are true but they are juxtaposed with other untrue halftrue or completely speculative assertions in a mad jumble Because of this the entire subject is muddied and everything and everyone connected to the crypto Jews of Northern New Mexico are soiled by association
The authors take sides although tentatively with Judith Neulander’s thesis that Crypto Judaic phenomena are actually recollections of the “faux” Jewish practices of Israelite Protestant sects They announce this conclusion in the article’s opening “Imagine descendants of Jews pursued by the Spanish Inquisition still tending the dying embers of their faith among Latino peasants in the American Southwest: The truth of the matter may turn out to be vastly different and nearly as improbable” (pg 85) This announcement is a tease and the reader is entreated to read on in order to discover the even more improbable truth behind the strange improbable emergence of Jews in the bodies of “Latino peasants”
The authors use the term “peasant” several times to describe the modern and colonial Hispanic inhabitants of New Mexico I found the use of this term to be extremely offensive By continuously describing us as “peasants” the authors betray their unconscious ( I hope and assume) racism towards the Hispanos of New Mexico and set a subliminal undertone of disbelief and condescension Their indiscriminate use of this loaded term unfortunately directs me to conclude that its difficult for them to visual New Mexico Hispanos as anything but barefoot and begging in the doorways of shacks
Possibly this racist stereotype is not an accurate reflection of the authors conception of Hispano people but simply another verbal contrivance to manipulate the reader’s own possible prejudices setting the stage for a growing disbelief in the assertions of Sephardic Jewish ancestry of the New Mexico Hispano population After all the image of ignorant illiterate and poor peasants isn’t in sync with the image most people have of Jews (although this is actually another stereotype as “peasants” or people similar to them have historically been found in all cultural groups) What is left out is the fact that many of the families of Northern New Mexico were landholders who in the context of Colonial New Spain were often among the upper or middle class Also most of the Northern New Mexicans were sheepherders and not agriculturists and therefore not technically peasants or tillers of the soil
This word peasant is possibly the clue to the most pressing problem here It hints at a deeper nearly preverbal attitude: the “oohs” and “aahs” of outsiders peeping at what they regard to be a weird although quaint foreign culture It reminds me of the judgments and exoticising observations of other outsiders in history who have peeked into the world of Northern New Mexico Hispanos and described what they saw with a tone of moral outrage or ethnocentric superiority To the trapper Rufus Sage in 1842 the Hispanic people of Taos appeared to be “a mongrel race” and a “degenerate people: possessed of little moral restraint and interested in nothing but the demands of present want they abandon themselves to vice” Another Anglo American observer Albert Pike in 1831 was amazed that New Mexican women would drink smoke and gamble and that both sexes might be observed drinking whiskey and dancing Spanish dances publicly “It is a strange sight a Spanish fandango”
So in the narrative of Nathan and Ferry it becomes strange sad and oddly exotic that the Hispanos of Northern New Mexico “yearn for their villages with imagery that evokes the lovely paintings and coffeetable books for sale in Santa Fe Few remember in the haze of recollection that the villages also had a mean dark side typical of many peasant enclaves” (pg 86) While Nathan and Ferry rightfully point out that the culture of Hispanics has been commercialized and put up for sale they fail to grasp the multidimensionality of that culture or to give the people who have inherited it much credit for understanding or cherishing its mystery continuity or actual history
Ferry and Nathan also paint a negative aura around the work of Dr Stanley Hordes who along with Rabbi Joshua Stampfer is one of the founders of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies I cannot claim to be unbiased as I have met Dr Hordes and find him to be a man of integrity intelligence and genuine warmth However I can note the fact that the authors chose to leave out the details of some of his most compelling research the research concerning Oñate and the initial 1598 colonizing expedition by the Spanish In 1596 Luis de Carvajal the nephew of the Governor of the province of Nuevo Leon was burned at the stake along with his mother and sisters for judaizing His uncle was put into an Inquisition jail and all 170 colonists of the capital of Neuvo Leon Cerralvo began an expedition north into what is now New Mexico They were stopped and turned back Their illegal departure into a dangerous and relatively uncharted area gives the appearance of flight Later many would try again in the 1598 legal expedition by Juan de Oñate Dr Hordes has been able to match names of many settlers on that expedition to Inquisition records of people in trouble for the crime of judaizante or judaizing practicing Judaism in secret Successive waves of settlers also included conversos including the secretary to the leader of the 1694 De Vargas expedition Alonso Rael de Aquilar Leaving this information out which is so central to Dr Hordes research and the story of New Mexican Crypto Jews is a serious omission When Dr Hordes genealogical research is mentioned it is in a flip and dismissive manner “Hordes is undaunted by the powers of two: when lineage is traced back to 1492 each person has : as many as 131072 to 1048576 direct ancestors Given these numbers every southwestern Latino is practically guaranteed Iberian Jewish ancestry: ” (pg 96) As anyone who has undertaken a careful and laborious researching of his or her family tree knows it is indeed possible to trace family lines back extremely far with a fair degree of accuracy The authors are completely dismissive of this research without citing its most powerful evidence
In researching this article I asked Dr Hordes his response to some of the charges by Nathan and Ferry and he brought to light other odd and harmful omissions as well as apparent distortions
The authors have cited Judith Neulander’s criticism of Dr Horde’s interviewing style: “on that visit to Garcia Herrera that Neulander made with Hordes she was shocked by how leading his questions were When Garcia Herrera said that she didn’t recognize the language her father used when he prayed Hordes started reciting the Kaddish the Jewish mourners’ prayer in Hebrew” (pg 92) Neulander then went on to question why Garcia Herrera would confirm to Hordes (after he suggested the term) that her father used the term “Yahweh” for God when “Yahweh” is a sacred name that can never be uttered by observant Jews This passage was a maze of jumbled logic After all why wouldn’t she use the term out loud if Hordes himself an Ashkenazi Jew had suggested that it was alright that they would? And although it is possible that Garcia Herrera would have recognized Chinese or Navajo as the language her father had prayed in if Dr Hordes had recited a prayer in one of those languages instead of in Hebrew it is also possible that she recognized the Hebrew because it was exactly that Again we must refer to the work of other scholars either ignored or passed over quickly by Nathan and Ferry David Gitlitz author of Secrecy and Deceit The Religion of the Crypto Jews is mentioned earlier in the article and the authors (and Neulander) should recall his research here As he points out within many generations the religious practice of crypto Judaism became fragmentary as participants forgot the rules of official observance in their isolation Although the authors cite Gitlitz early on they fail to make the connection here Also the fact that the grandfather of Nora Garcia Herrera prayed when slaughtering sheep sounds more indicative of Jewish practice than anything else to me
Although I didn’t discuss this particular incident with Dr Hordes his response to the issue of “Jewish symbols” (a sixpointed star) on gravestones leads me to question the efficacy and reliability of Judith Neulander’s interviewing methods She claims that she found a gravestone in a cemetery by chance one that she had seen in a slide show by Dr Hordes and unnamed “others” (pg 92) Nathan and Ferry describe how she called on the relatives of the deceased questioned them about the stone and found that the person who died had died only recently and that an Irish Catholic priest had chosen the odd design Dr Hordes pointed out to me that Dr Neulander apparently cold called on the family at their home arriving in person uninvited and out of nowhere and inquired out of the blue the intimate facts about the origins of this symbol and those surrounding their deceased loved one It is possible that this form of “research” which is disruptive and invasive would not necessarily lead to accurate results Dr Hordes tells me that the privacy of the people involved is of paramount importance to him and that “I do not make cold calls on people even if the visit might yield helpful information Rather I prefer to respect the privacy of the families involved and would not want to put them in the uncomfortable position of having to confirm or deny any of my unwelcome hypotheses” Additionally he says “And so when I show the slide I make no pronouncement about having reached any conclusions about the meaning of the Star only that it was there and what it MAY have represented” (email from Stanley Hordes to Max Valerio Dec 11 2000) The fact that Neulander would make cold calls in this manner leads me to wonder about her investigative techniques and their ultimate integrity Also I question her attitude towards the people interviewed if their privacy is of so little consideration or concern to her
The authors repeat Neulander’s claim that “When she asked where the grave was she was given inaccurate information” (pg 92) Dr Hordes has told me that “This is not correct I didn’t give her inaccurate information I gave her no information with regard to the location of this or any other headstone As a matter of fact at the time we had this conversation I myself didn’t know where the cemetery was located (the photograph had been taken by another party and given to me) ” (email op sit) The assertion that she was given “inaccurate information” as to the location of the headstone might seem trivial but it helps to create the overall suspicion that possibly Dr Hordes is setting up a sinister plot to create a fantasy Crypto Judaic ancestry for New Mexican Hispanos
Why would he want to do this? Nathan and Ferry claim that “in 1994 he was a member of the faculty for a package tour that advertised a chance to meet “descendants of the ’Hidden Jews’ of the Southwest” (pg 91) Again we have the implication of a possible exploitation occurring for personal gain Dr Hordes has told me that “this was a weeklong tour organized by the American Jewish Historical Society to include sites in Arizona and New Mexico My part of the trip involved about a day and a half lecturing on the overall history of the Jews of New Mexico and leading tours of Ashkenazi Santa Fe and Las Vegas If the AJHS advertised the tour as meeting crypto Jews I certainly was not aware of it and had nothing to do with the promotion a fact that I clearly shared with the editors of AM prior to publication during the factchecking phase They chose to ignore this” (email) Dr Hordes also included in his correspondence to me a list of the itinerary that he devised for the New Mexican phase of the tour I can testify that I didn’t find anywhere on it a lurid advertisement to “meet the crypto Jews of New Mexico” or even to discuss them as such He does have a lecture titled “The History of Jewish Settlement of New Mexico” but this is not described by Nathan and Ferry
Dr Hordes also told me that he gave the authors the names of other “specialists in Jewish folklore who have views radically different from Neulander but they apparently chose not to contact them” They also interviewed Seth Kunin professor of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen who is an ordained rabbi He has spent the last six summers interviewing descendants of the crypto Jews and according to Dr Hordes has taken Judith Neulander’s perspective “apart point by point” again his research is noticeably absent
Certainly one needs to approach research into crypto Judaism with care and professionalism; however this subject by its very nature is slippery and not immediately subject to proof It helps to attempt to understand the ways in which people organize and assume identities and to examine the ways in which we determine “authentic identities” The idea of briccolage as explained so well by Dr Kunin helps to clarify these processes I had an opportunity to hear him speak at the 2000 conference of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies and wrote about his lecture in my article on that event in the last newsletter His remarks about context and the dynamic living process of identity would have been illuminating and positive additions to this article The fact that he was left out is again indicative to me that Nathan and Ferry were intent on creating an atmosphere of scandal and doubt instead of a wellrounded and fully informed perspective
Also impugned is Isabelle Medina Sandoval a wellknown poet Crypto Judaic Society member and contributor to these pages Isabelle’s lyrical evocative and delicately beautiful poems about Sephardim crypto Judaism and New Mexico are reduced to “tortured angry verses” with “confrontational titles” It is clear in the article and therefore to the authors that Isabelle has never hidden the fact that she grew up in Laramie Wyoming as they state clearly in this article that “she spent her childhood: in Laramie Wyoming but her parents grandparents and cousins hailed from a village in the Mora Valley between Taos and Santa Fe” (pg 90) Nathan and Ferry nonetheless cannot resist their impulse to cast aspersion on Isabelle’s motivations and authenticity claiming that she is a selfstyled cryptoJewess writer and teacher who has “reconstructed a happier past: Now her girlhood occurred not in a drab neighborhood in Laramie Wyoming but in a quaint New Mexico Village Now her mother and grandmother enthusiastically venerated a saint Esther and clothed little Isabelle for Saint Esther’s Day in a lovely pink dress: ” (pg 96) Again Nathan and Ferry twist small details to create a nonexistent deceit The reader is led to believe that Isabelle has nearly constructed her past whole cloth and for somewhat amorphous professional gain I don’t think they understand that there isn’t a great deal of money in poetry (believe me I am a poet and there is hardly a penny in it and unfortunately most people would rather watch a sitcom than sit down with a book of poems) As for the business of professional cryptoJewess this negative article hardly inspires confidence in that as a career option Instead it leads me to believe that there is a great deal of personal and professional risk involved Indeed if Isabelle had chosen to present herself as the more common and politically correct “Chicana/Latina” poet rhapsodizing about Aztlan or “mestiza border dweller trangressive mixed blood roots” she wouldn’t be getting impugned in an article in a national magazine like this Although currently professor at a reputable higher institution in Santa Fe she would probably be teaching at Stanford by now if she had taken that less controversial more wellworn path!
Unfortunately Nathan and Ferry feast on the deeds of an alleged conman Juan Sandoval and conflate his alleged misdeeds with Isabelle Dr Hordes and crypto Judaism in general From what I know of this situation this is the one section of the article where Nathan and Ferry didn’t have to work overtime to create an air of scandal Suffice to say the unfortunate presence of a person allegedly a con artist does not mean that the vast majority of Hispano people purporting to have Sephardic Jewish ancestry are con artists themselves nor does it weaken the historical credibility of that claim
Ferry and Nathan continue in a jumbled heap of statements that strung together as they are do not bring clarity to the historical situation but muddle the facts with strange and irrelevant halftruths as well as falsities For the sake of brevity I will attempt to dispute these as they are written “It is a history that includes both fundamentalist Protestants and other groups whose behavior could be wrongly construed as cryptoJudaism Muslims too fled the Inquisition settled in New Spain eschewed pork and ignored priests” (pg 94) The authors fail to provide evidence for this statement and settling in “New Spain” does not always mean settling in what was Northern New Spain or New Mexico There are specific records regarding settlement as Dr Hordes and others including Fray Angelico Chavez have researched I have yet to see evidence of significant Muslim settlement in New Mexico “Sephardic immigrants also came to Mexico and the Southwest from countries such as Morocco and Turkey where they had practiced Judaism openly for centuries” (pg 94) What the authors fail to realize is that when Sephardic Jews went into areas such as Northern New Mexico which were still under the auspices of the Inquisition they would go underground with their religious practices by necessity since Judaism was outlawed becoming crypto Jews! Apparently there is evidence of Sephardim in other countries communicating with or coming to join the Hispanos of Northern New Mexico If anything this adds weight to the claim for Sephardic identification “Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe have been in Mexico and the Southwest for 150 years They have intermarried with Latinos and many have even embraced the Catholic Church They might have kept dreidels in the house but that is no sign of the Inquisition” (pg 94) This is a particularly muddled series of assertions and its inclusion in the article indicates that Nathan and Ferry have yet to understand the intricate ways in which people maintain and assert their identities It is also historically inaccurate to my knowledge to assert that Ashkenazi Jews intermarried with New Mexican Hispanos with enough frequency to create the phenomenon of Crypto Judaic practice Until quite recently the last fifty years New Mexican Hispanos have been culturally and geographically isolated My grandmother for example never spoke English and my father didn’t until he was around seven years old Although Hispano crypto Jews could have been influenced by what they saw of Ashkenazic customs (like dreidels) this possibility does not disprove an authentic Sephardic ancestry After all imitation of Jewish customs imported from other cultures might actually occur in a group of people identified as Jews even covertly
There are too many jumbled and misleading statements throughout this article for me to take on in these pages The following did jump out at me immediately and demands clarification The rare skin disease pemphigus vulgaris affects Jews disproportionately and has been found in New Mexican Hispanos with startling frequency Nathan and Ferry cite this evidence of a genetic connection and attempt to debunk it stating “it predominantly affects Ashkenazic not Sephardic and in fact occurs in Mediterranean people of various ethnicities” (pg 93) Although the authors cast aspersion on the claims of the Hispanos of Northern New Mexico to Spanish ancestry in this instance they appear to believe What is left out is the intriguing fact that upon further testing a protein sequence found in Ashkenazic Jews with pemphigus vulgaris was found in the Hispanos with the same disease As new research shows that Sephardic and Ashkenazic populations are genetically very similar although not identical these results could point to a genetic connection
The authors weave an involved narrative that culminates in a tentative although confusing assertion that possibly the Church of God Israelite a branch of the Church of God (Seventh Day) said to be common in New Mexico in the early twentieth century is the true source of the decidedly unCatholic rituals and habits that have been cited as crypto Judaic This is the hypothesis of the ethnographer Judith Neulander Ferry and Nathan summarize “One would never know this if one read only the Santa Fe touriststore books that depict nonAnglo New Mexicans as either Kachina dancers or carvers of wooden saints One might not even know if one’s own parents had once experimented with a fundamentalist sect and then abandoned it because Catholic neighbors were getting vicious or because the church leaders decided that Hispanos were not a lost tribe after all: This seems to be what happened two generations ago when the Church of God (Seventh Day) pulled its ministers out of New Mexico Fifty years later Neulander believes the children and grandchildren of former members are recalling their elders’ Old Testament customs and misinterpreting their last words about being Jews These recollections Neulander says have been skewed by Stanley Hordes and others who are ignorant of the Southwest’s true recent history” (pg 94) I immediately wondered upon reading this how a former State Historian of New Mexico Stanley Hordes could be so ignorant of recent twentieth century New Mexico history? Dr Neulander as reported by the authors is extremely overreaching in her negative assessment of the abilities and motivations of other people
Nathan and Ferry have already admitted that Dr Neulander’s Hebraic Protestantism theory of Crypto Judaism is somewhat tortured by calling it “nearly as improbable” (as genuine Crypto Judaism) in their opening volley Improbable as the notion is that Northern New Mexico Hispanos would forget a recent familial entanglement in a rather flamboyant Protestant sect and ascribe all of their odd nonCatholic religious or personal habits to an even more remote and stigmatized Jewish past the theory is nonetheless more logical to Nathan and Ferry than the authenticity of the claims Personally I find it hard to believe that a grandmother saying on her deathbed that she is Jewish or even Israelite or Hebrew is anything other than what it appears to be a declaration of Jewish ancestry It is beyond me why a dying grandparent would cry out that “We are Jews (or Israelites or Hebrews) as though revealing an anguished longkept family secret and really mean a nonmainstream Protestant sect that although slightly controversial is not absolutely hidden from view There may be some lingering antiProtestant feeling in Northern New Mexico but there is no Inquisitional Tribunal prosecuting Protestants now and there wasn’t any in the early part of the twentieth century either A Protestant identity is not that scandalous at this point and unless there are herds of senile grandparents in Northern New Mexico confusing the Seventh Day Adventist idea of Israelites and Hebrews with Jews in deathbed delirium I don’t see why this would be a suddenly cried out secret It strains credulity actually and adds another layer of improbability to the entire subject Now we have secret Protestants of the twentieth century pretending to be Jews and their descendants can’t even remember what church their families went to a generation back! The air in the mountains of New Mexico might be thinner than in other regions but I doubt that all of the inhabitants are that high!
Dr Neulander has decided according to this article that the reason that New Mexican Hispanos would invent a Jewish past is because we are in effect racists Colonial Spaniards were obsessed with proving that they had pure blood untainted by that of what they regarded as inferior peoples The same has been true for many New Mexicans and Dr Neulander believes that the concern for purity limpieza de sangre is intensifying now that Hispanos are being boxed in by Anglo newcomers and Mexican immigrants: what better way to be a noble Spanaird than to be Sephardic since Sephardim almost never marry outside their own narrow ethnic groupand would certainly not intermarry with Native Americans?” (pg 94)
There are many things wrong with the above series of statements First what the authors fail to take into account like Neulander apparently is that for most of the Hispanos who uncover or suspect Sephardic ancestry the discovery is not immediate cause for celebration This aspect of the cryptoJudaic saga is entirely left out Also that even if some of the informants that Dr Neulander interviewed were racist (I am hypothesizing here for the sake of argument and certainly antiAmerican Indian attitudes probably exist) that still doesn’t prove that they are anything other than who they say they are It is very condescending to secondguess a group’s motivations or identity by stating that if you say you are not X (and possibly do not have good positive feelings about X) that means that you really are X Possibly the people in Northern New Mexico know exactly who they are or at very least who they are not The impression I get from Dr Neulander’s conclusions and the admitted bias of Nathan and Ferry (who state that “many Hispanos have the high cheekbones and dark complexions associated with Mestizos people of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry”) (pg 86) is that they are not familiar with the complex history of social and legal separation sporadic intermarriage (or sexual relations not always legitimized by the church) intense hostilities and strained alliances between the Native American Indian tribes and the Spanish settlers They reduce a complex fabric to a simple formula of “mestizo” In any case Sephardic Jews (and Ashkenazi for that matter) can also have “high cheekbones and dark complexions”
The fact that the dialogue about Jewish ancestry has been literally tearing families apart and causing many people to endure painful crisis of identity is ignored Seth Kunin stated at the most recent Crypto Judaic conference that the assertion that Hispanics who claim Sephardic ancestry are simply attempting to gain status reveals only that the person who made that assertion (Neulander most notoriously) believes that being Jewish is a raise in status for the Hispanic in question Looking at the world through the lens of the Hispano community being Jewish is a controversial identity that was hidden for a good reason the same antiSemitism that fueled the Inquisition for nearly four hundred years lives on and the fear and pain that it caused has not entirely evaporated
I also found the use of the term limpieza de sangre in this context to be inaccurate and given its true historical meaning an appalling choice of words Limpieza de sangre was a term used to distinguish the “Old Christians” from the “New Christian” or converso population It pointed toward a purity of Christian/Catholic lineage as the ideal To use it as a delineator of pure Sephardic heritage as opposed to mixed racial background is inaccurate and nearly insulting to the Sephardic Jews who were persecuted because of this twisted ideal I doubt that Nathan and Ferry meant to denigrate the real suffering of Sephardic Jews by using this term so inaccurately However this usage does reveal that they did not always complete their homework when researching this article
It should also be noted that although most Sephardim were endogamous and Stanley Hordes’ careful research of the genealogies of a selected group of Northern New Mexico families is revealing the same historically some Conversos in the New World did marry American Indians Old Christians or Africans If they didn’t always marry people of other races they apparently sometimes had children with them although these children might never be legitimized The ones who were brought up as crypto Jews were also prosecuted by the Inquisition regardless of their mixed race background “The offspring of conversos’ sexual liaisons with African or Indian women were occasionally introduced to cryptoJewish practices The New Christian Esperanza Rodrigues was born in Seville of a Portuguese merchant and a Guinean black Esperanza married an old Christian German sculptor emigrated with him to Mexico and raised their three daughters as crypto Jews The four women were punished by the Inquisition in 1646
Nathan and Ferry will grant that many Hispanos are uncomfortable with the “easy assertion that they are racists in search of a noble Spanish past”: since they are “politically liberal involved in civilrights work and proud of their mestizo complexions and ancestry: ” (pg 94) However they manage to twist what should be regarded as a positive attitude into a negative speaking with cynicism about the idea of “Raza Cosmica” (pg 88) Here the Hispanos of Northern New Mexico cannot win if not racists we are collectors The authors write “the currency that a Sephardic ancestor might add to the blend for the nonracist civil rights activist Hispanos They are eager to stir into their Raza Cosmica mixture what they see as the ultimate outsider blood that of Jews” (pg 9496) It is unfortunate that Ferry and Nathan have such a consistently cynical perspective on the motivations and longings of Hispanic New Mexicans Might it also be possible that this supposed eagerness if it is sometimes true is not a negative trait but a sign of openness an attempt to make a genuine and honest engagement with all of one’s ancestry?
The authors fail to bring into focus the conflict crisis searching and confusion that the question of Jewish ancestry can bring up in those previously brought up to regard themselves as Catholic (or Hispanic Protestant with a Catholic past) Like any family secret or family skeleton that is suddenly exposed to light and exhumed there is trauma as well as excitement wonder and sometimes just plain shock In some respects this is the very real and human aspect of the story that would have imbued this article with a depth and needed empathy for the Hispanos of New Mexico an empathy that is entirely missing The authors are correct to muse in conclusion about how in a time when many American Jews are intermarrying or losing sight of the value of their rich and powerful religious heritage that it is ironic and possibly oddly auspicious that some of the most sincere converts or returnees to observant Judaism are arriving from unexpected places Although this intriguing aspect of the story is touched upon briefly other layers remain unexplored
Instead we are left with a bad taste in our mouths after reading what could have been an informative and inspiring article one that could have told both sides of this controversy while not resorting to the tone of a negative earthscorching expose It occurs to me that Nathan and Ferry can now add their own names to the list of people that they believe are exploiting and profiting professionally from the saga of the “Hidden Jews of New Mexico” Their cynicism and carelessness prevents them from doing otherwise
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