From Spain To Latin America, How A Mass Migration Created A Thriving Latino/Jewish Community

UNSPLASH

The days of stereotyping Latinos are over, dead to 2019. We are an ethnicity, not a race, which means we have every range of skin tone and practice every major religion. The arc of Latinidad is so entrenched in imperialism and immigration that it makes sense we would be so diverse. To be Latino has often meant being a native Latin American indigenous person or ancestry that, at some point, hailed from somewhere else in the world and landed in Latin America. The Spanish Inquisition is largely responsible for the present-day stereotype of Catholic Latinos, but the Inquisition is responsible for the mass immigration of Spanish Jews as well. During the 16th century, the Inquisition mandated that all Jews convert to Catholicism. Many of them did and were known as conversos, but many of them continued to practice their religion in secret, becoming known as crypto-Jews. The rest were expelled from the country and would eventually make their way to Latin America.

Today, an estimated half-million Jews live in Latin America, with Argentina having the second-largest Jewish community in the Americas, at an estimated 300,000 total.

Studies have revealed that almost 25 percent of Latinos have Jewish DNA.

CREDIT: UNSPLASH

Immigration has long been the defining mark of non-Indigenous Latinos. Historians have long wondered how many descendants were produced from those original Jews expelled from Spain to Latin America. What’s more interesting is understanding that conversos offered a whole other lineage of people with Jewish heritage hatefully stamped out by an empire–an erasure of identity that can now be found through genetics research. A Nature Communications study from December 2018 has concluded, based on the research of dozens of professors around the globe, that 25 percent of Latinos have Spanish or Portuguese Jewish DNA. Today, 20% of the 60 million people in the Iberian peninsula have significant Jewish ancestry. Researchers suspect that the total number of descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities range in the 200 million.

Immigration has long been the defining mark of non-Indigenous Latinos. Historians have long wondered how many descendants were produced from those original Jews expelled from Spain to Latin America. What’s more interesting is understanding that conversos offered a whole other lineage of people with Jewish heritage hatefully stamped out by an empire–an erasure of identity that can now be found through genetics research. A Nature Communications study from December 2018 has concluded, based on the research of dozens of professors around the globe, that 25 percent of Latinos have Spanish or Portuguese Jewish DNA. Today, 20% of the 60 million people in the Iberian peninsula have significant Jewish ancestry. Researchers suspect that the total number of descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities range in the 200 million.

In a world without anti-Semitism, would Latinos be more widely known as Jewish because their ancestors weren’t forcibly converted?

CREDIT: UNSPLASH

Given the shocking estimates, it seems likely that there could have been as many as 1 in 4 Jews in the Latino community. In Miami Dade County, a third of all Jews identify as Latino Jews, and many Latino-American Jews have begun advocating for their Latino culture within the Jewish community. “[Although we] don’t generally inhabit the same spaces, we have to come together and become aware of the commonalities, the linguistic, cultural and historical ties the two communities have. Latino Jews could play an important role in being the link between Jews and Latinos, so what we’re trying to do is create more and more spaces for this interaction and cooperation to happen,” Dina Siegel Vann, Director of Latino Affairs at the American Jewish Committee told Aish.com.

Even though anti-Semitism and radical political ideology have erased the Jewish heritage that could have been passed down to the existing Latino population with Jewish DNA, many Jewish customs and traditions have prevailed in Latino culture without due credit. Por ejemplo.

Puerto Rican Sofrito came from the Sephardic Jews.

CREDIT: @IZZY_MONEY85 / TWITTER

That’s right my fellow Boricuas, sofrito might be the ultimate symbol and base of our cuisine, but Spanish Jews had long been using the garlic, onion, pepper, tomatoes, cumin, and olive oil base salsa to slow-cook chicken, veal, beef or lamb by Spanish Sephardic Jews. In fact, we owe it to the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition for bringing their recipes with them. Their cultural influence made an impact on Spanish cuisine, which then had a ripple effect on Latin America as it became colonized by Spain. Originally, sofrito was most often celebrated in the Balkans, the Levant, Turkey, and the Maghreb before making its way to become a Puerto Rican staple. Whatever you decide to make for your Hanukkah meal, including sofrito is a no-brainer crowd pleaser.

Lachmazikas, a meat-stuffed pastry, is quite similar to empanadas.

CREDIT: UNTITLED. DIGITAL IMAGE. TABLETMAG. 20 DECEMBER 2019.

While most Latino-Americans are unified in speaking Spanglish, Latino Jews speak Ladino. Israeli Jews delight in sufganiyot, while American Jews often see it as an afterthought, just a jelly-filled donut. Spanish Jews made lachmazikas, which were filled with everything from lamb and mushrooms to ricotta, herbs, and whitefish. A meat stuffed bread might sound familiar to you *cough* empanadillas *cough*.

Looking for more Latino-Jewish foods for your Hanukkah celebration? Look no further.

Archive Search

Search the world's largest online archive of material about Jewish diversity.


Archive Search

Search the world's largest online archive of material about Jewish diversity.


.