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Surnames in New Mexico: Clues to Our Past

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The surnames of Jews in New Mexico.

Just as the Native Americans were forced to convert to Christianity while secretly honoring their own spirituality, many of New Mexico’s early Spanish settlers also practiced a hidden faith. They were the Sephardic Jews who had eluded the Inquisition under the guise of being conversos, Jews who had converted to Catholicism. They became known as crypto-Jews because they practiced their Jewish faith secretly while presenting a different persona to the public. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that revelations of their existence came to light.

Documenting Jewish Roots

Since then many books have been written on the subject, including the groundbreaking work of Henry J. Tobias in 1992, A History of the Jews in New Mexico (University of New Mexico Press). Tobias documented Judaism in New Mexico from the colonial period through the 20thcentury. Another book, To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico by Stanley M. Hordes, was published by Columbia University Press in 2005. Hordes also provided a detailed account of the Sephardic Jews in New Mexico and this newfound identity for Hispanic New Mexicans in the 21st century.

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