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The fingerprints of the past

Apparently the New York Times has discovered that the Askenazim aren't the only Jews around here - and they're not even the first ones to get here. Those of you who know me well know that my mother's family were Spanish Jews way back in the day, so this doesn't exactly come as a big surprise to me. In contrast to Ms. Gonzalez, though, I think Mom's people got serious about converting somewhere along the line, or maybe the habits and customs just died out, since I don't recall our family adhering to any of the customs. Most of what I know about Judaism comes from my father's fascination with it, which had its roots in his friendship with a Jewish sergeant in his section at the Pentagon, and in those days nobody knew there were any crypto-Jews in the Southwest. In fact, I have this book my mother loaned me, The Jews In Old New Mexico, which is all about the advent of peddlers and jewelers arriving from New York. I sometimes wonder what the hidden Jews thought of these newcomers and their Yiddish, which didn't have anything in common with Ladino.


I am struck by reading Cobb's post about Black v. Negro how ignorant the Sixties attempt to unite blacks and latinos under one political banner was. The surprising thing about the black/brown alliance was that it worked as well as it did for as long as it did, because historically the two groups have little in common culturally and socially. Hell, as I've remarked before, the "brown" side of it isn't even real: Mexicanos and Borinquenos don't speak for all Latinos in this country, some of whom (and I refer partially to the Cubanos with whom I have much in common politically and culturally) can pass for white better than some whitefolks. Forty years on, with the huge uncontrolled surge of immigration across the Mexican border bringing in all manner of other Central and South American immigrants, the notion that there is any such thing as a "Latino vote" is the kind of idiocy that only a journalist/pundit from the Northeast Corridor could come up with. Lurking beneath the surface, meanwhile, are the crypto-Jews and other Mexicans who woke up one morning in 1848 after the Mexican War to find out they were Americans now. How much do they have in common with the Chicanos who came north (legally or illegally) in the 160 years afterward? How does Don Francisco of Sabado Gigante really relate to the folks from the Dominican who watch his show on Univision, considering that he's Argentinean, and those folks tend to have more than a little Italian and German in their gene pool? Then you have the Filipinos - how exactly do they fit into the mix? That one's actually easy for me; most of the ones I know are either retired Navy, Navy brats, or FOBs, but I have no delusion that I have anything like a grip on the real situation.

So you basically have a dozen or so nationalities with little in common except for the twin legacies of language and Spanish colonial rule. The Catholic Church used to be a third uniting factor, but evangelical Protestantism has made enough inroads in recent decades that you can't really consider that a common bond any more. The ethnic backgrounds of those nations, as I've pointed out above, are as varied as the native tribes subjugated by the conquistadors, with the additions of later immigrant groups. It makes it a bit tough to figure out where, exactly, one fits into all this. Despite my half-serious adoption of Falangism as part of my political identity, I know full well that I have little in common with the Blue Shirts, Carlists, disaffected soldiers and other malcontents who wound up in the portmanteau party Franco cobbled together during the Spanish Civil War. That whole deal was born of unhappy circumstances that don't obtain here in los Estados Unidos and if God is merciful, never will. I also don't have a lot in common with most of the folks who speak my madrelengua and attend the same Church I do. It makes for an unpleasant rootless feeling, and makes me think seriously about looking deeper into the family genealogy on Mom's side of the family...strange to think that I know more about the history of Spain itself than I do about the history of my own family, considering that my ancestors left Spain 400 years ago in an early version of the brain drain.