Tuesday, November 05, 2013

in the spanish inquisition hundreds or thousands of jews were forced to convert to christianity or be killed. some found that if their son was a priest he was able to talk to other conversos and thus some communities of jews remained secret. in their public life they would be catholic, perhaps more catholic than their friends, and in their private life they would perpetuate the survival of judaism and try to keep it alive, swearing dfriends and family to secrecy. part of this program included finding faraway places to establish communities; both spain and portugal encouraged exploration and the settlement of communities in brazil, mexico, the caribbean, etc. sometimes groups of conversos would head out for these wild parts where they suspected that, once the other catholics gave up and went home, they could live life as they pleased, and become jewish again. and they tried, in various corners of the world. the enemies of the survival of judaism were the forces of assimilation and the forces of the colonial governments which demanded extreme loyalty to the church and to spain.

onate had relatives who were conversos; he led the expedition up from mexico city through el paso and las cruces, all the way up to santa fe which he settled and claimed for spain. in his zeal to prove that he was converting the indians, in this case the acomas, as he was directed, he had the left foot of many of them cut off. you could say he was not a friendly guy, or that he was a racist, clearly, but this was 1600, and history reads like that in 1600. anyway here he is in northern new mexico, and apparently some of his people who had come up from mexico, were conversos, and went and settled in northern new mexico in the deeply forested san luis mountains on the colorado border wherupon they disappeared for 300 years or so. onate himself, who knows how he felt about his judaism, or about the position he was in, he went on to fight other wars, and make himself a name, a name one sees nowadays on a high school in las cruces, and on an onate center kind of museum near roswell.

the thing about racially-directed brutality is that people remember it longer than the other kind, if, for example, he had just gone bonkers and randomly killed a bunch of people at the local tsa. at first when they made special penalties for "hate crimes" i objected because, i figured, if you killed someone you hated, what difference did it make if you used a foul word in the process? murder is murder. but one can clearly see that some murder is more than murder, though i don't know what makes it worse.

these days there is a general movement to promote spanish heroes in the new world, in part because the hispanic community feels a bit of its hispanic-ness slipping away with the relentless influx of white folks into the southwest, as well as the general forces of assimilation. after a couple generations, everyone is watching football, speaking english, driving a ford. so they start making statues to onate and other "heroes" so that nobody forgets. they put this one statue up near espanola, but this town was not far from the acoma territory where needless to say they hadn't forgotten him. in the middle of the night the foot of the statue was cut off. the sculptor later put another one on, but it didn't matter, you can still see it.

meanwhile dna testing comes out and sure enough, some women up in the hills of san luis turn up with a kind of cancer known only to jews, pretty much, genetic evidence traceable back through spain to the holy land, a certain rare genetic mutation. there had apparently been rumors for maybe 300 years, that people were jewish up there in the mountains, but they were secret about it, nobody knew that for sure. the women who were tested and found to have the gene were catholic, always had been, as far as they knew, had some awareness maybe of relatives who were jewish but only vaguely. the sands of time had washed away any practicing customs, that would have maybe tipped you off. i mention this because sometimes i still dream of heading way up into the remote mountains of new mexico, where it's hard to make a living, but basically, it's quite beautiful all the time, and just living out life up there. not that i'm jewish, or even have any customs to take with me. i could write, of course, but who would read it? sometimes i like to cough up this ancient history, just because, you never know, what kind of ghosts you might trip over, as you go tromping around.


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