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Latinos along border discover Sephardic Jewish heritage
The Spanish spoken along the border these days may be slightly different from the Spanish you'd find in Mexico City or in Dallas-Fort Worth.
And there would be a reason for that: its Ladino influence. That's the language spoken by Sephardic Jews who left Spain after 1492, the year they were officially expelled by the Catholic kings there.
That's the conclusion of Dr. Peter Tarlow, a rabbi and professor at Texas A&M University and the chairman of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. He's also the director of the Center for Latino-Jewish Relations and Crypto-Jewish Studies.
He presented his research Sunday at a seminar on the crypto-Jewish experience at the University of Texas at Dallas Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies.
In the 16th century, most of the Spanish colonists who arrived after the Spanish conquest of the area known today as Mexico settled in or around Mexico City.
But others had a different idea.
They were a little rougher, a little less educated, Tarlow said. And they wanted to hide their Jewish heritage from the surrounding community. Many were sailors who were trying to escape the inquisition in Spain.
Many of them came to Texas. It was viewed as a new frontier to Spanish colonists.
"The people who were doing well, they stayed in Mexico City," Tarlow said. "The people who were afraid or seen as second class — as a minority among minorities — who were seen as having sangresucia [impure blood], they tended to go north to the frontier."
They had to convert or die if they stayed in Spain.
"Their attitude was, 'I'm a bad Jew. I'll be a bad Catholic.'" Tarlow said. "They went with the hope that nobody else would bother them."
And they settled along the area now known as the Texas-Mexico border and farther south.
By the 1800s, one could say there were three cultures thriving in this area, known as the Tejas-Coahuila region, Tarlow said.
There was the culture north of San Antonio that was English-speaking and Anglo-dominated.
And if you went farther south to Monterrey, you'd hear Spanish.
"But if you're 100 miles either side of the border, that's Ladino," Tarlow said.
He estimates that 3 million people who live in South Texas and along the Rio Grande Valley today have crypto-Jewish blood.
For Xico R. García, a Southlake doctor who was born in Corpus Christi, finding out about his Jewish heritage enthralled him.
It just felt right.
"I had grown up with Jewish people in Mexico City" and attended bar mitzvahs and saw the touching of the prayer shawls, he said.
He booked a flight to Israel in 2014 and was in awe when he got there.
"When I touched the Wailing Wall, it brought tears to my eyes," García said. "I felt an incredible energy there."
By then, he had explored his DNA heritage at FamilyTreeDNA.com and found he had Jewish blood.
Former WFAA-TV (Channel 8) news anchor Gloria Campos was looking to solve a family mystery as to where her great-great-grandfather had come from.
She ended up uncovering her Jewish heritage.
"I had no clue about the Sephardic connection in the New World," she said. "I'm proud of my heritage, both European and Native American. The sense of pride is therefore twofold that my ancestors, native and Jew, still survive in me and in thousands like me."