The ‘Secret Jews’ of San Luis Valley
The discovery of the 185delAG mutation in the valley and subsequently in New Mexico hints at a different story, with its own trail of blood and persecution. The significance of the genetic work was immediately recognized by Stanley M. Hordes, a professor at the University of New Mexico. During the early 1980s, Hordes had been New Mexico’s official state historian, and part of his job was assisting people with their genealogies. Hordes, who is 59, recalls that he received “some very unusual visits in my office. People would drop by and tell me, in whispers, that so-and-so doesn’t eat pork, or that so-and-so circumcises his children.” Informants took him to backcountry cemeteries and showed him gravestones that he says bore six-pointed stars; they brought out devotional objects from their closets that looked vaguely Jewish. As Hordes began speaking and writing about his findings, other New Mexicans came forward with memories of rituals and practices followed by their ostensibly Christian parents or grandparents having to do with the lighting of candles on Friday evenings or the slaughtering of animals.
Hordes laid out his research in a 2005 book, To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico. Following the Jews’ expulsion from Spain, crypto-Jews were among the early settlers of Mexico. The Spanish in Mexico periodically tried to root out the “Judaizers,” but it is clear from the records of trials that Jewish practices endured, even in the face of executions. According to Hordes’ research, settlers who were crypto-Jews or descended from Jews ventured up the Rio Grande to frontier outposts in New Mexico. For 300 years, as the territory passed from Spanish to Mexican to United States hands, there was almost nothing in the historical record about crypto-Jews. Then, because of probing by younger relatives, the stories trickled out. “It was only when their suspicions were aroused decades later,” Hordes writes, “that they asked their elders, who reluctantly answered, ‘Eramos judos’ (‘We were Jews’