Texas Mexican Secret Spanish Jews Today
Posted on Sunday, December 13th, 2009
By: Anne DeSola Cardoza
>Jewish food, oral traditions, culture, and
>secret, religious customs are showing up today
>in the folklore, habits and practices of the
>descendants of early settlers in southern Texas
>and the surrounding areas of Mexico. In northern
>Mexico and what today is Texas, the Jews of
>Nuevo Leon and its capital, Monterrey, Mexico,
>lived without fear of harassment from the Holy
>Office of the 1640's and beyond.
>Many of the leading non Jewish families today of
>that area are descended from secret Jewish
>ancestors, according to scholar, Richard G.
>Santos states there are hundreds, if not
>thousands of descendants of Spanish and
>Portuguese Jews living today in San Antonio,
>Texas, USA and throughout South Texas. Not all
>are aware of their Jewish heritage. Santos is a
>renowned San Antonio, Texas scholar in ethnic
>studies of South Texas secret Spanish Jewry.
>He presented a paper to the Interfaith Institute
>at the Chapman Graduate Center of Trinity
>University on May 23, 1973 on secret Sephardic
>Jewish customs in today's Texas and nearby
>Here's how we know a lot of Tex-Mex Hispanics
>today are of Jewish ancestry. It's a well
>accepted fact that the founding families of
>Monterrey and the nearby Mexican border area,
>"Nuevo Reyno de Leon" are of Sephardic Jewish
>If we go back to The Diccionario Porrua de
>Historia Geografia y Biografia, it states that
>Luis de Carvajal y de a Cueva brought a shipload
>of Jews to settle his Mexican colony - with some
>Jews being converts to Catholicism from Judaism
>and others "openly addicted to their (Jewish)
>According to the late Seymour Liebman, a scholar
>on Mexican colonial secret Jews, in his book
>"Jews in New Spain", explained why Jews settled
>in areas far away from Mexico City in order to
>escape the long arm of the Inquisition in the
>There's an old, universally known anti-Semitic
>Mexican joke, one-liner that says, "la gente de
>Monterrey son muy judios ... son muy codos". In
>English it translates, "The people of Monterrey
>are very Jewish ... very tightwad".
>Secret Jews colonized the states of Nuevo Leon,
>Coahuila, Tamualipas and good old Texas, USA in
>the 1640's-1680s and thereafter. The majority of
>Texas's Spanish-speaking immigrants came from
>Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, and Coahuila (the old
>Neuvo Reyno de Leon) beginning in the 1680s.
>Seventeenth century secret Jews who settled in
>what is today southern Texas, particularly
>around San Antonio took with them their Jewish
>foods, particularly what they call "Semitic
>bread" or pan de semita ...
> Sephardic Jewish foods in old Texas.
>Why do Mexican Americans in Texas and in the
>Mexican province of nearby Monterrey eat
>"Semitic bread" on Passover/Lent? According to
>scholar Richard G. Santos, Tex-Mex pastries such
>as pan dulce, pan de semita, trenzas, cuernos,
>pan de hero, and pan de los protestantes
>(Protestant's bread) are similar to familiar
>Jewish pastries eaten by Sephardic Jews today in
>many other parts of the world.
>Pan de semita was eaten in pre-inquisition Spain
>by a Jew or an Arab Moor. Today, it's popular in
>Texas and in that part of Mexico bordering
>Texas. It translates into English as "Semitic
>bread". It's a Mexican-American custom in the
>Texas and Tex-Mex border area today to eat pan
>de semita during Lent which occurs on or around
>the Jewish Passover.
>You bake pan de semita by combining two cups of
>flour, one half to two-thirds cup of water, a
>few tablespoons of butter or olive oil, mix and
>bake unleavened. Even among the devout Catholic
>Mexicans pork lard is never used, that's why
>it's called Semitic bread. Pan de semita is
>really the recipe for 17th century secret Jewish
>Matzoth, and it's eaten by all Mexicans today in
>the north Mexican/Texas border area, regardless
>Only in Texas and along the Texas-Mexican border
>is a special type of pan de semita baked,
>according to Dr. Santos, who himself is
>descended from secret Spanish Jews of the area
>who've lived in that part of Texas and Monterrey
>since colonial times.
>The special Texas pan de semita of the border
>has special ingredients: only vegetable oil,
>flour raisins, nuts, and water. The raisins,
>pecans, and vegetable oil were identified,
>according to Dr. Santos, as selected ingredients
>of secret Jews of New Spain.
>You take two cups of flour, a cup or less of
>water, a handful olive oil and mix with a half
>cup to two thirds cup each of raisins and
>pecans. Then you knead and bake at 350 degrees
>until lightly browned and easy to chew.
>This pan de semita is only found in the
>Texas/Mexico border area and in Texas. Pastry
>bakers from Mexico claim this type of pan de
>semita is unknown in central Mexico. Other pan
>de semitas are found in Guadalajara made from
>wheat (Semita de trigo) in which milk is
>substituted for the water. In Texas and also in
>Guadalajara, one also finds Semita de aniz
>(anis). However, semita de trigo and semita de
>aniz never include raisins and pecans, and to
>use pork lard is forbidden. Only olive oil or
>butter can be used to make Semitic bread.
>In addition to the Mexican matzo makers of Texas
>and Monterrey, Mexico, chicken is slaughtered in
>a special way. In Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas,
>Coahuila, and among Mexican Americans in Texas,
>two ways of butchering fowl is performed.
>Chickens can only be slaughtered by either
>wringing the neck by hand or by taking the head
>off with only one stroke of a sharp knife, and
>immediately all blood must be removed from the
>chicken into a container. The fowl is next
>plunged into hot water to get rid of any blood.
>This method is the same today as the crypto Jews
>performed in the 17th century in Mexico as
>described by scholar Seymour Liebman. The secret
>Jews of Mexico in the 1640s decapitated their
>chickens and hung them on a clothesline so the
>blood would drain into a container of water.
>Then the fowl was soaked in hot water and washed
>long enough to remove all the blood.
>In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, there's a
>ritual today of using this method of butchering
>chickens with an added gesture of drawing a
>cross on the ground and placing the chicken at
>the center of intersecting lines.
>Eating cactus and egg omelets is a custom during
>the Passover week/Lent of secret Jews of the
>17th century and of Mexican Americans from Texas
>and northern Mexico today. The omelets are
>called nopalitos lampreados. It's a custom to
>eat only this food during Lent. Is this and old
>Passover rite of secret Jews as well?
>No other bread except pan de semita was allowed
>during Lent, and pan de semita is unleavened and
>contains the same ingredients as Matzoh.
>Rural Mexican Americans in Texas also drink mint
>tea, fruit juices, or chocolate during Easter
>week. There's much evidence in the foods that
>these people were also observing Passover in
>addition to Lent and Easter, although many
>didn't know it until it was pointed out that
>they were eating traditional 16th century
>Sephardic foods, especially the bitter herbs
>added to the meal.
>Mexican Americans in Texas cast the first piece
>of the 'masa' (dough, sounds like Matzoh) into
>the fire - before cooking up a batch of corn
>tortillas or bread. These same people also do
>not eat pork on Fridays. Some Mexican Americans
>don't eat pork after 6 p.m. or sundown on Friday.
>Another Lenten/Passover food is 'capirotada'.
>It's wheat bread (pilon-cillo) to which raw
>sugar, cinnamon, cheese, butter, pecans, peanuts
>and raisins are added. These are identical
>ingredients to those used by secret Spanish Jews
>in the New Spain of 1640 to make their breads
>and cakes. Even the ingredients and recipes have
>been recorded by the Holy Office of the
>Inquisition and saved to this day in the
>Mexican Americans from Texas don't practice
>abstaining from meat on Fridays, long before the
>Catholic Church relaxed the rule of not eating
>meat on Fridays. Also older women cover their
>hands while praying in the same manner as Jewish
>women cover their heads. The Holy Office never
>extended its long arm to the area known today as
>Texas. Descendants of Canary Islanders, 16
>families who came to Texas in 1731 established
>the township of San Fernando de Bexar which
>today is San Antonio.
>These families intermarried wit the local
>population of nearby Nuevo Reyno de Leon, many
>of whom were Spanish and Portuguese secret Jews
>who moved tot he area specifically because the
>Holy Office of the Inquisition didn't operate in
>18th century 'Texas'. All Mexicans of the area
>today are not of Sephardic descent.
>However, a large number still use the oral
>traditions which are eminently of Sephardic
>origin. Historical exposure to and intermarriage
>with Sephardic secret Jews has occurred in the
>parts of Mexico that were "safer havens" for
>secret Jewish settlement, and those havens
>happen to be southern Texas and the surrounding
>Mexican border and adjacent areas. Today, Texans
>in the San Antonio area are giving celebration
>to the secret Jewish origin of some of their
>foods, culture, and oral traditions.