When she began to inquire into her family roots, the tapatia Laura Garza never believed that her inheritance would lead her to one of the darkest chapters in Spain: the Inquisition.
After several investigations behind documents that gave her clues about her genealogical tree, both on the maternal and paternal side, she discovered a vein that extended beyond Los Altos de Jalisco or Northern Mexico and reached a community persecuted by the Holy Inquisition since colonial times.
According to studies by the Spanish historian Julio Valdeón, about 20,000 Jews were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century for professing a religion other than Catholicism, now known as Sephardim.
Although the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition was abolished in 1834, it was only in 2015 that the Government of Spain announced that it would grant citizenship to the descendants of Jews expelled during the Inquisition as historical reparation.
From that moment on, Garza, who is a visual artist, and the architect Carlo Baroccio, both from Guadalajara with a family in Los Altos de Jalisco, pursued the lineage of their ancestors and traced their Sephardic origin through almost detective work.
“I think I remember that my dad once said we were Jewish, even though I didn’t believe it. It turned out to be true,” Garza recalls.
She says that in this process, the person who wants Spanish nationality in this modality has to demonstrate the 16 generations that separate him from the converted Jew who emigrated because he was persecuted by the institution founded by the Catholic Monarchs.
As Laura and Carlo discovered, a large part of the Jewish converts who migrated came mainly to the north of Mexico, in areas like Nuevo León and, some also, to Los Altos de Jalisco.
Others, as documented, emigrated to North Africa, the Netherlands, or the Balkan countries.
With the help of various forums and Internet pages such as familysearch.org, through thousands of documents that maintain historical records of the Catholic Church in sites around the world, as well as data from institutions such as INEGI, in Mexico, Carlo began to look for his Italian roots.
In that investigation, he unwittingly found his Sephardic roots.
Currently, there is no serious academic research that describes Jewish settlements in Los Altos de Jalisco, and it is something that, at least in the families of Carlo and Laura, was not discussed.”In the Altos de Jalisco people are very Catholic, very religious and to some extent there is a lot of denial that the people of El Alto have Jewish blood, even the Facebook groups where I interact the most, there are people who continue to be annoyed and offended if you tell them that some Alteños have Jewish blood.
“In my family, it was a bit the case. Of the few old people that remain in my family, there were some who did not even want to know it and also, on the part of a cousin, his father forbade him to talk about those things “, laments Carlo.
For him it is a natural concern inherent in any person: to know where they come from says Garza, for his part, he received his foreign nationality in May.
“In the process, without meaning to, I also unearthed family secrets and even learned the story of a great-grandfather, who was shot in the Cristero War. Genealogy is fascinating: it is your family history at the end of the day,” he says.
Among those inquiries, they have linked dishes and traditions in Los Altos that could be related to Sephardic culture: cooking carnitas outdoors to show that pork is eaten, something contrary to Jewish tradition.
Garza felt he recovered something that had been stolen from him and that gave an explanation to many things from the past, cultural issues and family thinking that did not fit into the traditional tradition of Los Altos or Jalisco, or the north of the country, where it comes from a part of his maternal nucleus.
“Marcos Alonso de la Garza came to Mexico because a good part of his family was executed in the Canary Islands and they appear on the lists of burned by the Inquisition. It was a list of De la Garza.”
For her, it is a pity that this story is still buried, that it is not in the textbooks, and that historians deny it.
“Many people in Los Altos prefer to think that they come from French, that calls my attention a lot, an aspect of our roots that has been denied. Coming from Jews makes them very ashamed when it should be rescued and vindicated, it becomes a source of pride to know about where do you come from and make sense of its origin to legitimize what you have and not live on made-up stories “, she points out.
“If it is a myth, why is the Spanish Government giving nationalities to these people and why can they prove it with documents?”
Baroccio, for his part, says that in this research he met with very good genealogists in Los Altos de Jalisco and with people who have dedicated their lives to studying the history of the Altos de Jalisco, a chronicler in Encarnación de Díaz and a historian in Spain.
For him, the denial of this part of his origin in Los Altos is something cultural and religious and not a discriminatory rejection of the Jewish community.
“I do not feel Jewish, I am Catholic and if I had Jewish ancestors like many people, from my point of view it is more a treasure, but it does not change my life or my beliefs, it is a way of recognizing that this root exists in Los Altos, as we have the Castilian roots, the Afro-descendant roots, and the indigenous roots. It is simply a matter of respecting and recognizing those roots, “he asserts.
For the artist, this document that now recognizes her as part of two nationalities is proof of the enormous diversity that Mexico inhabits.
In parallel to their jobs and occupations, both Laura and Carlo have helped many other people from Los Altos and other parts of the country and the world to find their Sephardic origins to claim their Spanish or Portuguese nationality through the mail.
For Dr. Celina Guadalupe Becerra, a research professor at the University of Guadalajara and a member of the Conacyt National System of Researchers, there are several reasons for not having documents about Jews in this area of Jalisco.
“I have found, as expected, zero news of inhabitants or characters who had that type of inheritance, belief or religious practice: Jews were not allowed to enter America,” explains the author of Indians, Spaniards, and Africans in the Highlands of Jalisco, research edited by the Los Lagos University Center.
Becerra, who has documented the area of Los Altos de Jalisco from the Municipality of San Miguel el Alto and Jalostotitlán to Lagos de Moreno and Ojuelos, details that from the beginning of the Colonization process in which the Spanish called Las Indias, Isabel the Catholic and her successors to the throne were concerned with making it clear who could pass to America.
Since the justification of his Conquest was the evangelization of the Christian faith, other religious practices such as Muslims, Gypsies, or Jews were prohibited from entering America.
However, the doctor does not rule out that there may have been families of Jewish converts to Christianity in Los Altos, at some point, but since to survive in the territories of New Spain it was necessary to prove the Christian or Catholic faith, the documents or files that could seriously check it have not been found so far.
“If they passed they had to do it hiding that condition, changing their surnames, many of them had already changed them from Spain and since the expulsion of the Jews by the Holy Inquisition, to hide that past that left them on the sidelines of important positions”
If they did, the northern border of the Spanish settlements, from 1563, in what is now Lagos de Moreno, Aguascalientes or León, being less numerous populations, it was preferable to have distance from the central area of the territory, near of authority where you can know someone’s past more easily.
In the documentation of that time, certificates of baptism, marriages, and burials, issued by the same Church, the people were always referred to as Christians.
Other documents that could serve to confirm or deny the Jewish settlements in Los Altos are the documents of the Inquisition, the denunciations of people for Judaists, witchcraft, or unorthodox religious practices that were made from New Spain but those who study it have not found these complaints in Los Altos.
“The witnesses or traces of their practices would have been clandestine behaviors and they should have done it at home, behind closed doors, although there are chroniclers and families who have suspicions of this inheritance, we still do not have opinions and documentary evidence,” concludes Becerra.