16 November 2008

Hispanic Catholic "crypto-Jews" of mid-America


Their family names are Martinez and Valdez and Sanchez. They are obviously Hispanic, and devoutly Catholic - yet they are descended from the Jews of Central Europe.

The connection occured 500 years ago when Jews emigrated to a "new world" in North America before the existence of a United States. The significance lies in the fact that the women in these families, because of their Ashkenazi genes, are at immense risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

I encounted the story in the most recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine; you can read it fulltext online at the link. The most immediate relevance of the story has to do with the genetic risk for breast cancer, but the larger implications are equally stunning; the interconnectedness of virtually all of humanity if/when peoples' heritage and family trees are traced far enough into the past. VERY thought-provoking.

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