The Genetic Legacy of the Spanish Inquisition
DNA Reveals the Hidden Jewish Ancestry of Latin Americans
In 1492, best known as the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Spain also decided to expel all practicing Jews from its kingdom. Jews who did not leave—and were not murdered—were forced to become Catholics. Along with those who converted during earlier pogroms, they became known as conversos. As Spain expanded its empire in the Americas, conversos made their way to the colonies too.
The stories have always persisted—of people across Latin America who didn’t eat pork, of candles lit on Friday nights, of mirrors covered for mourning. A new study examining the DNA of thousands of Latin Americans reveals the extent of their likely Sephardic Jewish ancestry, more widespread than previously thought and more pronounced than in people in Spain and Portugal today. “We were very surprised to find it was the case,” says Juan-Camilo Chacón-Duque, a geneticist at the Natural History Museum in London who co-authored the paper.
This study is one of the most comprehensive genetic surveys of Latin Americans yet. The team also found a mix of indigenous American, European, sub-Saharan African, and East Asian ancestry in many people they sampled—a legacy of colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade, and more recent pulses of immigration from Asia. This is the history of Latin America, written in DNA.