Thursday, October 25, 2007

thoughts from Santa Fe

This week I have been spending time visiting with friends in Santa Fe, NM. I was thinking about the first article we read in class about the origins of mole. I also got to thinking that I had heard that there had been a Jewish presence in Santa Fe at some point, but I couldn't really remember where I had heard that. So I got to researching, figuring there must be some link between the land where I am sitting now, and that of Andalusia.

Though I didn't some across much, there are definitely histories being compiled about the "hidden Jewish presence in the South West." People have been looking into Hispanic ancestry that traces itself back to "crypto-Jews" or "conversos" in the Americas.

Though the expulsion of the Jews from Spain was in 1492, the first synagogue in New Mexico did not appear until the mid-late 1800s. (this was the first visible, publicly acknowledged Jewish place of worship, though there may have been places where people had worshiped in secret). But it is very plausible that conversos came to New Spain earlier than that. Part of what may have kept the Jewish heritage in New Spain underground is that the Jews were not only kept out of Spain, but were not allowed to settle in New Spain either. This made me think about what it might have been like in 1492 and if I was a cryto-jew who had the option to find a way to New Spain, where there might be a way to find more freedom with new territory.

In my brief research, I came across the Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives. There I read some excerpts from interviews that have been conducted by the archives. Here is some of what has been recorded there.

An administrator on the University of Arizona campus recalls that when he grew up in Tucson "there was a kid who spoke a funny Spanish. We used to kid him. One day when I was in the University library I ran across a Ladino dictionary. I finally realized that kid had been speaking Ladino. I asked myself: `Was he a descendant of conversos from Spain?' Then I began to think about my own family and I puzzled as to why we always had a menorah in our Catholic home!"

A young man from a small, ingrained community in New Mexico, described the different feelings within families. He told interviewers that he remembered seeing his grandfather carve menorahs and place them in the window of their house at Chanukah. "My grandmother," he said, "would take them out quickly and insist we have a Christmas tree." He also remembered that in the spring his grandfather would hang a lamb, cut the jugular vein (according to Jewish tradition) and let the blood run into the ground. "He would cover the blood with soil," the young man said, "but my grandmother would get angry because she wanted the blood to make sausage. I also remember my grandfather going to a secret house to pray. I think he prayed there in Hebrew, although we were raised Catholic."

Ruth Ruiz Reed also recalled that her grandfather told her that his father used to take candles "and do certain ceremonies" at night in his room and also read the Old Testament. She said, "My mother never served pork or shell fish in our home."

one other quote I found on the Bloom site reads, "...scratch a New Mexican and his Indian blood will flow. Scratch a little deeper and his Jewish or Moorish blood will flow. Scratch no deeper 'cause that's all you need to know. Can you believe, 500 years and we're still looking for our identity?"

I have found some other more lengthier articles that I will hopefully get a chance to read later today, but I wanted to get something posted while it was on my mind.


LHL said...

Wow! What cool research. I love that sense of finding out something previously unknown (to me) about a place or culture. . .and then the accompanying realization that there are probably umpteen more such discoveries to be made!

I think it's interesting that anecdotally I've heard many more stories about Catholic families having Jewish secrets than I have about Protestant ones. I wonder why that is. . .Any idea, KTM?

I love the stories you dug up and shared. Thanks.

... said...

If I had to guess (which you are forcing me to), I would say that historically it has been Catholics that persecute Jews in such a way that they have the option to convert or die or leave. Which is what leads to the "hidden" Jewish traditions of people "converted" to Catholicism.

LHL said...

Well, ask a cheerful question and get a cheerful answer, I guess!