A correspondent emailed me to tell me that Linda Chavez, whose father was a New Mexican Hispano, was found to have Sephardic Jewish ancestry in Henry Louise Gates Jr’s Finding your Roots series. This brings me to point to a recent paper, The impact of Converso Jews on the genomes of modern Latin Americans:
Modern day Latin America resulted from the encounter of Europeans with the indigenous peoples of the Americas in 1492, followed by waves of migration from Europe and Africa. As a result, the genomic structure of present day Latin Americans was determined both by the genetic structure of the founding populations and the numbers of migrants from these different populations. Here, we analyzed DNA collected from two well-established communities in Colorado (33 unrelated individuals) and Ecuador (20 unrelated individuals) with a measurable prevalence of the BRCA1 c.185delAG and the GHR c.E180 mutations, respectively, using Affymetrix Genome-wide Human SNP 6.0 arrays to identify their ancestry. These mutations are thought to have been brought to these communities by Sephardic Jewish progenitors. Principal component analysis and clustering methods were employed to determine the genome-wide patterns of continental ancestry within both populations using single nucleotide polymorphisms, complemented by determination of Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA haplotypes. When examining the presumed European component of these two communities, we demonstrate enrichment for Sephardic Jewish ancestry not only for these mutations, but also for other segments as well. Although comparison of both groups to a reference Hispanic/Latino population of Mexicans demonstrated proximity and similarity to other modern day communities derived from a European and Native American two-way admixture, identity-by-descent and Y-chromosome mapping demonstrated signatures of Sephardim in both communities. These findings are consistent with historical accounts of Jewish migration from the realms that comprise modern Spain and Portugal during the Age of Discovery. More importantly, they provide a rationale for the occurrence of mutations typically associated with the Jewish Diaspora in Latin American communities.
The evidence for the Lojano community is stronger in the paper than the Hispano samples. Nevertheless, it is interesting to view this in light of the 2000 piece in The Atlantic, Mistaken Identity? The Case of New Mexico’s Hidden Jews”. Long story short, cultural anthropologists posited in the late 1990s that the Jewish cultural features of Hispanos were distortions of the beliefs of Protestant missionaries. Thank god for genetics.