Conversos: The Story of Latin America’s Crypto Jews

Conversos: The Story of Latin America’s Crypto Jews


– At a Hanukkah celebration in 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,
the popular Puerto Rican congresswoman from New York,
surprised a small crowd by announcing that she
has Jewish ancestry. – My family consisted of Sephardic Jews. – Later that same week, a groundbreaking study
came out of Latin America. After testing DNA samples from 6,000 randomly selected people
across the region, researchers found that 23% of them had at least 5% of their DNA
from Spanish Jewish heritage. Back in 2015, the Spanish
government announced that they’d grant citizenship
to any non-Spaniards who could prove that they
are descendants of Jews who were expelled from the
country in the 15th century. By late 2019, Spain revealed that they had received
127,000 applications. The most popular countries? Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia. All this points to one big question; why do so many Latin Americans
have Jewish heritage? To understand the answer, we’ve got to go back to the year 1492. Two huge historical events
took place that year and both had serious lasting consequences. First, Spain started to
colonize the Americas, and second, back on their
side of the Atlantic, the Spanish government
enacted the Alhambra Decree, which forced Jews to either
convert to Catholicism or leave the country for good. Spain had already been murdering or forcibly converting
Jews for over a century. That was part of the Spanish Inquisition, but this was the final nail in the coffin. Now, Jews had only two options;
get baptized or get out. Nobody knows exactly how many Jews chose the second option and fled. Keeping a census of Jewish citizens wasn’t exactly a priority
for medieval Spain. On the low end, some historians think it was tens of thousands,
though others think it could’ve been as many as one million. Regardless, it seems
that most of Spain’s Jews decided to stick around and
agreed to become Catholics. But not all Jews handled
the transition the same way. Some weren’t very religious to start with, so changing creeds
wasn’t such a hard choice given the alternative. These types of converts
became known as New Catholics. Others were determined to
practice their Judaism in secret. They were called Marranos, but today, that’s generally considered
a derogatory term. The phrase Crypto-Jews
has become more popular. In Hebrew, both groups are called Anusim, which means “people who are
forced to abandon their Judaism.” And in English they
are known as Conversos, literally “people who converted.” Regardless of the name, back in the 1400s, the Spanish Inquisition and later Spanish policies had one goal when it came to Judaism; eliminate it. At the same time, Spain ramped up its colonization of the Americas. Over the next four centuries,
millions of Spaniards arrived on the shores of the New World. Even though the government
tried to restrict the movement of conversos, it was really
difficult to keep track of them, since they were, after all, Catholics now. Many conversos wound up
escaping to the Americas, hoping to start a new life, but the Spanish government caught on and sent agents of the Inquisition to the American colonies
to locate undercover Jews. When they found them, they
burned them at the stake. Despite the dangers, lots of conversos held onto
Jewish traditions in private. Some lit candles on Friday nights, others refused to eat
leavened bread around Easter, which always falls within
a few days of Passover. As generations passed, the descendants of those original conversos began noticing curious things about their families like, why do we place stones
on our family’s graves? How come mom never cooks
pork like everyone else? And why does Grandma refuse
to travel on Saturdays? Today, with DNA tests that are
popular and affordable, more and more Latin Americans,
from the southern tip of Chile to the deserts of New Mexico, are discovering that they
have Jewish ancestry. Their reactions are diverse. Some are happy with the Catholic faith and the culture they were brought up in. Others blend their
Judaism with Christianity. For example, the Adventist Church, which has many Latin American members, combines elements of
Judaism into Christianity, such as observing the Sabbath on Saturday. But others choose to
embrace their heritage. Some even convert. For those who do, their genealogy can be a ticket to a new life. On top of Spain’s repatriation plans, Israel has its own Law of Return, which offers citizenship
to Jews around the world. The country’s Ministry of the
Diaspora is exploring ways to make it easier for
conversos to make aliyah. What began as a tragedy in
the 15th century could today become a multicultural boon
for the Jewish homeland. It’s also a testament to the
strength of the Jewish identity after hundreds of years of persecution. Even though conversos haven’t had it easy, their story is a fascinating
and important one. With the rise of simple DNA tests and a growing interest in heritage and identity, more Latin Americans and people around the world
are learning just how complex their identity and heritage really are. Discovering our shared ancestry can help us better understand history, both on a personal and global scale. And hopefully, with that knowledge, we can overcome the intolerance and prejudice that have divided religions and cultures for thousands of years. Thanks for watching. If you liked this video,
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16 thoughts on “Conversos: The Story of Latin America’s Crypto Jews

  1. יש לציין כי אלכסנדריה אוקסיו-קורטז היא חלק ממערכה שמאלנית אנטישמית בארה"ב הידועה כ- THE SQUAD
    Just Saying

    בלי קשר שאר הסרטון מעניין מאוד.

  2. I love this topic. I met many bnei anusim who were doing their conversion in Machon Meir in Jerusalem. But please remove that disgusting picture of AOC from the video. Thanks.

  3. Dear Journalists….Attaching the word "popular" to AOC, a politician endlessly caught promoting debunked ideologies unconnected to reality, isn't the best way to establish the credibility of a story.

    …. Regards, from a multi racial Puerto Rican Jew
    (100% Ashkenazi Jewish mother/2% Jewish father, w a range of 24% to 9% of Portuguese, Spanish, French & native Puerto Rican DNA)

  4. AOC does not have any Jewish heritage. She just said it to claim a new identity to promote her ideology. She doesn't care about Jews at all and in fact stands by anti-semitic fascists who call for the extermination of Jews.

  5. These are His Hidden Treasures He speaks about in His Prophets. And He will bring them all home with His Might Right Arm in the Acharit Hayamim.

  6. Simple Many Jews converted to stay in the country, marry other none jews Christians, then many of their decedents move to south america

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