The Lost Tribe of New Mexico

Visiting Tularosa from his home in Texas while taking a break from production of a documentary, Delfino Sanchez and his wife Helen took about 50 people on a journey of 3,000 years. On Sunday, at the Hidden Artists Gallery in Tularosa, Sanchez told his audience there could be 66 million Hispanic/Latino people with a family lineage in Israel. In short, their forefathers were Jews. “The majority of our people don’t know who they are,” Sanchez said.

The term Sanchez uses for these people is Sephardic Anusim. Sephardic refers to those whose ancestors were among the Jews expelled from the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) during the Spanish Inquisition. Anusim means to be coerced or pressured to convert from a Jewish to a Catholic way of life, Sanchez said.

“This is our calling, our passion,” Sanchez said of his and Helen’s explorations to discover and educate the Southwest. “This is a journey to identify millions of our people who were tucked away in the ashes of life,” he said. “They are waking up to historic Jewish roots.”

Ten years ago, Sanchez’ father told him he had been adopted and his real parents had been Sephardic. Since then, he has been looking into his roots. Sanchez said many forefathers of modern Hispanics hid their Jewish identity so well for so long, they forgot what the secret was.

Sanchez then gave his listeners a history lesson beginning 1,000 BC, when the first waves of Jews migrated from Israel to the Spanish coast. In 70 AD, because of the Roman exile, the largest such migration took place. Spain was the home away from home for many Jews, Sanchez said. And then the golden age of Spain brought prosperity to everyone.

But when the Catholic church decided everyone had to convert, anti-Semitism began. It started with absurd laws and forced conversions. Jewish people were forced to wear clothing and hats identifying them as Jews, and they were forced to eat pork. The situation blew into the full Spanish Inquisition and, in 1492, culminated in a decree to expel all Jews from Spain.

“One day after the expulsion of the Jews, Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492,” Sanchez said. He believes Christopher Columbus and many of his passengers were Sephardic. “Columbus’ wife, mother and mother-in-law confessed to being Jews,” Sanchez said.

Many Jews fled to Mexico when they were ejected from Spain, but the Inquisition followed them and persecuted Jews in Mexico for 300 years, beginning in 1524 and ending when Mexico won its independence form Spain on Sept. 16, 1820. Throughout that period, those suspected of being Jews were tortured, often to death.

Sanchez visited Mexico, documenting through photographs secret prisons used by the inquisition and, in Mexico City, the numerous devices used for torture. Many Jews who fled the devastation moved up through what is now New Mexico and southern Colorado, Sanchez said. “There is evidence of New Mexico having an Inquisition, too,” he added.

Finally, Sanchez showed slides and talked about some of the evidence found here and there throughout the state. At San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque, Sanchez found stars of David over the altar. On gravestones in forgotten graveyards, he found the first letters of the 10 commandments in ancient Hebrew, on others, stars of David and menorahs 9 the candelabras used by Jews during Hanukkah. Sephardic sacred objects even have been found in hidden niches behind the walls in old homes, he said.

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