Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My grandparents were cousins, as were their parents before them

as were their parents before them down through the generation where as far as I can tell they never strayed further than a marriage with a second cousin.

It was a tradition dating back to when my family came to the new mexico area from Asturias Spain at the founding of the land grant. A land grant my grandparents emigrated from up to Colorado.

It was a tradition that not only kept the Jewish blood in the family, but likewise gave assurance of the traditional matrilineal succession of the Jewish religion.

The family were conversos, they practiced Jewish customs while appearing outwardly as Catholics. My grandfather was an atheist, and whether my grandmother still knowingly thought of herself as Jewish I don't know.

Consanguinity was one of the family's traditions, marriage with the Indians and others was strictly forbidden. A tradition strictly enforced as I always knew by looking at my own father who was very fair skinned, blond haired and blue eyed. There was a story I heard of one of the family members breaking with that tradition down on the land grant, he was ostracized and moved away.

I didn't grow up knowing any of the Jewish customs, let alone their Jewish origin, my mother tells me my grandmother and aunts performed all the Jewish customs mostly in a furtive manner talking among themselves. And since my father was an atheist and my mother an outsider we didn't practice any of them. Except perhaps baptizing us and similar outward appearances of Catholicism.

( I should note, I grew up thinking I was Catholic, the first clue that something was amiss was when I read a book written by my grandmother on the history of the family. Not a single word on the Catholic Faith, but lots of strange references that I at first thought were masonic.)

My grandparent's children, (my father and his siblings), broke with virtually all tradition. They stopped practicing the customs, and all married locally outside of the family. My father married a pretty German girl. 500 years of tradition came to a very quick end.

The tradition of keeping the family Jewish ended for me with my mother, whose family is distantly Catholic. A tradition that remains intact through my fraternal aunts who have passed on the family religion to my cousins. But even that last vestige of passing on the Jewish religion will over the generations dilute itself into non existence.

[ as an aside : there is, of course, the modern understanding of succession through the father. An understanding my brother's friends apply to him in insisting that he's likewise Jewish. And the law of return would grant me Israeli citizenship ]

My grandparents when they emigrated off the land grant spoke only spanish, I can't speak or understand a word of it. And I only know the old customs such as covering the mirrors with black cloth at someone's death, candles in the window and similar from my mother and other family members telling me of their practice.

Cultural memory is very easily lost.

I could go down to New Mexico as one of my sisters has done to look into our past, but would it be any better than archaeology? Even if the last remaining parcel of the land had not been sold off some years back by my great uncle Henry, and I had instead inherited it as I was in line to do, it would not have made a difference, I'm no longer connected to that land, nor to the surrounding land and culture that continues to occupy it. They mostly live according to the old ways, but I am from a different and modern time.

I am for the most part a creature of the local culture I grew up in, albeit with an earthy Catholic twist. A culture that now exists solely in some of those my own age who grew up in similar social-economic and other formative circumstance. The area I grew up had changed by time I graduated from school, rude immigrants from the east coast and similar radically changed my neighborhood and extending social environs.

The social conditions of my childhood are gone, and while most of those I grew up with changed and progressed as our society has changed, I have remained as I was.

My grandparents grew up in the stability of familiar traditions and culture, they grew up in a world as it should be.

They moved to Colorado, as other members of the family also did. And the society they moved into became the leaven transforming the family.

The local area they moved to was the Jewish neighborhood on the north side, and that neighborhood is likewise gone, in recent years it's turned upscale with an influx of homosexuals and young hip money. And so it goes, the city has always been in a state of flux, with the only constant being instability.

All our family friends growing up, save one, were Jewish. And when I was young I would go with my father to the Jewish bath house on the north side. My mother says it's because my father always knew his own. It's where he was comfortable.

The town I grew up in south of Denver had a large number of Jewish families, and most of my own clients have been Jewish, but I wouldn't say it's because I'm more comfortable, but more because they are who I know. Although I will say given the choice I will take a Jewish client over the alternatives because they're cordial and professional, something I can't say is a common occurrence among the alternatives.

I do find it strange though that virtually everyone I know, (other than the Catholic subculture I am now part of), is Jewish, because there are not many Jews in the Denver metro area. Perhaps like my father before me, I too gravitate towards my own.

more to come

1 comment:

  1. LTG, I recently discovered I was from a Marrano family too. I hope to read more about your family history in future posts.