Should the Jews Return to Spain?        By Norma Libman In 1492, following hundreds of years of escalating anti-Jewish violence on the Iberian Peninsula, Spain formally expelled its Jews. Along with the Muslim population and anyone else who was not Christian (i.e. witches, gypsies),  Jews were given the choice of converting to Christianity, leaving the land they loved, or risking death if they stayed. In the year 1000 there had been approximately a million Jews, a million Muslims and a million Christians in the area. By 1492, seventy-five percent of the Jews were already gone, either by death, conversion or actually leaving for other places. Of the remaining quarter of a million or so, probably about half went to Portugal as a result of the Edict of Expulsion. They were invited to Portugal by King Manuel, but four years later all those who accepted that invitation were forcibly converted to Christianity by the king. He committed this act in exchange for the hand of the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. And so, ultimately, the Inquisition found its way to Portugal. Most of the rest of the Jews in Spain chose conversion, either sincerely or, more likely in many cases, professing a conversion to Christianity while clinging to Judaism in secret. For the Muslims it was considerably easier. Islam had spread quite widely in the world by then and they had many places, ranging from Northern Africa to Indonesia, where they could safely make new homes. But for the Crypto-Jews, those who converted but decided to remain Jewish in secret, choices were more limited. Still, within fifty years new possibilities were opening up in the New World and many found their way to North and South America. For those who wound up in Mexico and what later became the United States Southwest, they were merely travelling to New Spain, not even leaving the mother country officially, but getting far away from the headquarters of the Inquisition. Which is not to say that they found safety. By the seventeenth century the Inquisition had moved over to the New World and trials and autos-de-fe took place in Mexico City, pushing more people farther north to join their co-religionists who had already made their way up to what would eventually become New Mexico and other parts of the United States. Now, suddenly, Spain has offered citizenship to anyone who can prove they are a descendant of Jews expelled in the fifteenth century. (Portugal has made the same offer and Germany has made a similar overture to Jews and their descendants who left that country during World War II to escape the Holocaust.) Why would Spain do such a thing now? And why would any Jews take them up on the offer? First, why are they offering a short-cut to Spanish citizenship? Suddenly, in a time of growing anti-Semitism in Spain and the rest of the world, the Spanish government wants to bring more Jews into the country. In an article for the Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto Jews (Vol. 6, Summer 2014) Jonatas  D. Dasilva points out that there are only 12,000 Jews in Spain, which has a population of 42 million, and suggests that low number may reflect the fact that various recent surveys show Spain to be very anti- Semitic. For example, he says, “a report about European anti-Semitism published by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League says that 54 percent of Spaniards believe that ‘Jews have too much power in international markets.’”  Some believe that Spain’s offer of citizenship is more about economics than a desire to right a wrong or to enrich the culture of their nation. This would be a great irony since the expulsion, too, was more about money than religion. While Isabella’s concern for saving souls was apparently sincere, Ferdinand and the Spanish government were more interested in keeping the coffers filled in order to support Spain’s operations as a super power. When New Christians were discovered to be practicing Judaism in secret they were tried for heresy, generally convicted if they didn’t die in jail first, and their property confiscated. If they chose to leave Spain to escape forced conversion or death they had to sell their property or businesses for whatever they could get in a hurry, generally at a great loss. And when they left Spain if they were owed money, either privately or by the government, those debts were erased, leaving the Jewish lender impoverished and the borrower free of debt. Now Spain is suffering the same economic problems as the rest of Europe and much of the world. While they speak of the richness these new citizens will add to their culture, it is also true that offering an easy road to citizenship to some Jews will not only bring in cash, but will surely result in new start-up businesses of all sorts throughout the nation. The offer does not require that the individual give up citizenship in his or her native country. This is a departure from earlier Spanish law and indicates how important they must feel it is to acquire these new citizens. And what is the appeal of this offer to Sephardic Jews, descendants of the forced converts, the expelled, the murdered? Fernando Peinado writes in TheSpectrum.com, July 18, 2014, that the Spanish government expects most of the applications for citizenship to come from Israel, “where crowds have lined up outside the Spanish Embassy and consulate to request information.” He also says that many Sephardic Jews in Miami and New York “have directed queries to organizations like the American Jewish Committee, which the Spanish government consulted during the drafting of the bill.” Clearly there is an interest and some of it is about a cultural attachment to Spain that exists for some people despite the horrible things that happened to their ancestors there. Author and lecturer, Daniel Diaz-Huerta says, “My interest in pursuing Spanish citizenship under the recent legislation that allows dual citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews is really quite simple: I wish to honor my faith and ancestors . . . my Spanish/Hebrew heritage.” Chip Espinoza, and educator and consultant, echoes this sentiment. “My grandfather always told us we came from Spain,” he says. “He instilled a love of Spain in us. Even my eight-year-old daughter, who never knew her great- grandfather, has an affinity for Spain.” Getting Spanish citizenship would be “a closing of the loop,” he says. But, again, some of it is economic. Spanish citizenship confers membership in the European Union and all the privileges that go with it, from the ability to live and work in any member country, to a passport that can sometimes get one through a European airport more quickly than can an American passport. It is not necessarily the case that those who acquire Spanish citizenship would actually live there. Israelis, however, are currently suffering from issues of extreme high cost of living and some might feel they would benefit from actually moving to Spain and enjoying a more financially comfortable life. It is also worth noting that there have been a number of reports of difficulties in applying for this supposed easy gift of citizenship. In a two-part article in the January 31 and February 21, 2014 issues of Forward Josh Nathan-Kazis detailed his attempts to get Spanish citizenship and the many roadblocks he encountered, possibly because the Spanish government is still working out the criteria for citizenship. Descendants of Conversos can trace their ancestry through Inquisition and Church records, which were meticulously kept. Nathan-Kazis went to Spain with a variety of documents proving his Spanish heritage and was told by Maria Royo of the Spanish Jewish Federation that “This is just a piece of paper.”  At that point he knew, says Nathan-Kazis, that “this was going to be harder than I thought.” Espinoza has also encountered difficulties. “There is a language proficiency test,” he says. “It is a little ambiguous as to what they want. It is still a discussion.” Clearly the dust has not entirely settled on this issue. Sephardic Rabbi Marc D. Angel, in a June 29, 2014 issue of The Times of Israel, calls his reaction to the new Spanish policy as mixed. “On the one hand,” he says, “reconciliation is a good thing, even after five or more centuries. On the other hand, is this particular policy a real act of reconciliation or is it rather only a gesture that will appeal to few Sephardim in an attempt to soothe the Spanish conscience?” His answer to this question is that if atonement is what Spain wants “it needs to correspond directly with the nature of the sin.” This, he says, is hatred of the Jews and Judaism. And the atonement must be a commitment to fight anti-Semitism and eliminate religious and ethnic fanaticism. “Spain needs to be outspoken in its opposition to religious fanaticism wherever it manifests itself,” he says. “. . . how wonderful it would be if Spain would be a world leader in helping Sephardim – and all the Jewish people – to live in a world free of anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. That would be Spain’s great gift to humanity for our generation and the generations to come.” ©Norma Libman - All rights reserved - No portion of this article may be republished without the express written permission of the author TOP OF PAGE
©2017 Norma Libman Website design and maintenance by gwpriester.com
©2017 Norma Libman Website design and maintenance gwpriester.com
Simon J. Ortiz — Acoma Storyteller and Poet By Norma Libman Simon J. Ortiz, a member of the Acoma Pueblo, is an American poet, fiction writer, essayist, storyteller, and university professor, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on May 27, 1941. He grew up on the pueblo in the town of  McCartys ("Deetseyamah"),  and worked in the uranium mines, served in the military, attended college, and then took up what was considered an unlikely career for a native person: writing. His work has won numerous awards, including National Endowment for the Arts, New Mexico Humanities Award, Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Writers Award, Lifetime Achievement Award: Returning the Gift-Native American Writers, Headlands Center for the Arts: Artist-in-Residence, Lifetime Achievement Award: Western States Arts Federation, Lannan Foundation: Artist-in-Residence Award, and New Mexico Achievement in the Arts Award. He is the father of a son and two daughters and grandfather to their children. In his writing, Ortiz has consistently heralded the spirit of the people of the world, and their relationship to family, community and the land. In his own words, his work is directed at "that great mass of people who I think need to be reaffirmed of their humanity. Kind of a tall order, but what's a poet for?" (1) Ortiz' first language is Keres, the language of the Acoma people. His first knowledge of the world came from his parents and his siblings, through oral storytelling and singing. He calls the Acoma language the language through which he first knew himself. He says, "The infant's early life is usually his family. So my first awareness of language, whether it was to eat or whether it was to be comforted, was the language my family spoke to me as an infant, before I had any real rhetorical understanding of how certain sounds come to you. It's very basic: you don't understand semantically, don't understand the meaning of the words, but you know that something is there, someone is singing you a sweet song, rubbing your back. You associate those early sounds with something soothing." (2) Then Ortiz was introduced to English when he began to attend St. Catherine's  School and, later, the Albuquerque Indian School, run by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs). None of the teachers spoke Keres so the children were forced to learn English in order to communicate with them. He says indigenous children were made to feel hesitant or intimidated if they didn't speak English and in some cases were punished if they were discovered speaking Keres. Also, children from different pueblos spoke various languages, all different from each other, so English became the common language with which they could interact with their peers at school. Ortiz acknowledges the presence of both languages in his education process, and also the two histories that they represent. Stories are information and knowledge, he says, and literature in school was presented to him via the Dick and Jane books and the Weekly Reader magazines. All instruction was in English, non-Acoma, non indigenous. But at home he was getting another form of knowledge: more stylized, more imaginative. Not that it wasn't true, but an oral history, exaggerated, imagined, from a long time ago. Not always factual, but in a more poetic form. (3) And since oral tradition is a link with the past, "most Native Americans will insist it is at the core of who they truly are." (4) His parents told him that he should always learn, and they were open to knowledge in any language. Now, when he writes, Ortiz includes words from the Acoma language in his stories and poems. Languages are equal to each other, he says, but we have different ways of understanding each other. "The primary knowledge of the Americas is indigenous," Ortiz says. "That is where all things of knowledge, of awareness, of consciousness come from. That is a thing that is not taught in school or in churches. When Western Europeans came here knowledge already was here. There was extensive civilization in the Americas, millions of people. You can't build civilizations in the Andes, or Peru, or the rainforests, or Yucatan or Mexico or here in the Pueblos without knowledge. Indigenous knowledge is foundational and it's basic and it's primary." (5) Walt Whitman was a big influence on Ortiz, one of the earliest, going back to his high school days. Later, he says, he had some reservations about him, would have preferred that he incorporate more native language into his work, as Ortiz himself does. But he feels Whitman's sense of strength comes from the land and that resonates with Ortiz and his love of the land. Some later influences were Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson, Vachel Lindsey. "Later, in the same kind of spirit," Ortiz says, "I began to read more serious American literature, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor Carson McCullers, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Malcom X to some extent. And then in the 50's the Beat Generation, which I have to admit I was sort of on the outside, Gary Snider, Allen Ginsberg, people like that. I identified with them; I felt very much that they were part of my formation in my development as a writer. I began to think about and experiment with Buddhism, which I felt was a kind of correlation to the indigenous belief system, somewhat of an expression of what our lives were culturally." (6) Ortiz's writings, both poetry and prose, champion the land and the relationship of people to the land. "Land, to me, is so basic to our survival," he says. "Not just mine, but our. Our survival and continuance, which is the word I prefer. The land is where we come from. In an abstract philosophical way we credit our existence to some higher power, or higher force, that came about, that was able to initiate our lives as human beings. But it's still the land, the landscape of rivers, mountains, deserts, prairies." (7) It's also part of how we conceptualize ourselves as beings, as existence, he says. Ortiz says he honors the land because it is who and what we are. "It is how we are able to fare in the world. 'We' means all, not just Acoma." (8) And although he is frequently away from Acoma, he says almost every day, "This land is still me, this land is still who I am . . . . it is like a prayer." (9)  Ortiz frequently uses poetry and prose together. He says he does not know, technically, where that comes from, but explains how they work together as follows: "Storytelling is very basic to our people. One recognizes himself as a person and also he is recognizing himself in relation to others. That's true of the oral tradition of storytelling. So story, as a concept, is one of connection. And the poetry is really part of a story because it is the underlying meaning, it is how we understand. Poetry is that key to comprehension. In the way we put down words. We look at each other's eyes, at the hands, it's poetic osmosis. We understand what is meant by the wave of a hand or a blink of the eye or a kiss or a touch. A wordless gesture. A wordlessness, and yet there is so much communicated. And it's a poetic power that is evoked, that makes sense and gives sense to life, to the story. I think in terms of form, the verse form, or the lack of structure, communicates in ways, where prose is more formal, more structural, rhetorically. It just communicates differently. So I use them together in order to give a much more complete or holistic grasp. I use them together in order to enhance my means of communication. And that is holistic: in order to make a good talk you go back to the beginning to make it work." (10) Ortiz speaks of wholeness, not only in literature, but in all of life: "We are whole when the world is whole. In other words, I  am o.k. if the world is o.k. I think there is a lot of individual dysfunction these days because the whole is dysfunctional. And we can only get well, be whole, if the external is also whole. And the world does tell us that we are notdoing the right thing. My children are more whole if I am doing the right thing. And how I regard my mother and father is how I regard myself. How they live their lives in accordance to traditional belief, respecting of those before you, respecting their own elders, is a guidance system that is traditionally and culturally available and possible." (11) On indigenous life today, Ortiz says, "Sometimes we get the feeling the indigenous way of life is disap-pearing. It's true to some extent. Colonization has resulted in the disengagement of those oral traditions and the cultural dynamics and connection to the land. But being battered or being diminished does not mean the entire abandonment of the traditions." (12) Zuni Lucero wrote of Ortiz, following an early interview with him, "His native language, the stories of his people, his traditional upbringing permeate his thought, his writing, his voice, his presence. He speaks forth the Indian experience in a way people, white and Indian, urban and reservation, recognize and embrace. . . . No matter where he is, he always comes home to reconnect, to contribute, to participate. His writing, his life, truly is for the land, the community, the next generation." (13) Ortiz says literature was knowledge to him because his father and grandfather and other elders spoke of the old stories as knowledge. That which is ours, which comes from our own, this is how you are going to know yourself, they told him. So for him literature was a natural attraction. "It is part of the way we bring knowledge to people. Look into me in order that you may see yourself. That is what a poet or any writer does." (14) ——— END NOTES: 1. Dunaway, David King. Writing the Southwest. Plume Book, 1995, p. 150. 2. Interview with Simon J. Ortiz, Albuquerque, NM, August 20, 2009. 3. ibid. 4. Brill de Ramirez, Susan Berry and Lucero, Evelina Zuni (eds.). Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance. University of New Mexico Press, 2009, p. 94. 5. Op.cit. Interview. 6. ibid. 7. ibid. 8. ibid. 9. Brill de Ramirez and Lucero, op.cit. p. 121. 10. Op.cit. Interview 11. ibid. 12. ibid. 13. Lucero, Evelina Zuni. "Writer Ortiz Tells Indian Joys, Struggles, Victories and Sorrows." Pueblo News Aug. 1978. Quoted on website of New Mexico Office of the State Historian. 14. Op.cit. Interview ——— SOURCES: Brill de Ramirez, Susan Berry and Lucero, Evelina Zuni. Simon Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance. University of New Mexico Press, 2009. Dunaway, David King. Writing the Southwest. Plume/Penguin, 1995. Lucero, Evelina Zuni. "Writer Ortiz Tells Indian Joys, Struggles, Victories and Sorrows." Pueblo News, August 1978. Quoted on website of New Mexico Office of the State Historian. Ortiz, Simon (ed.). Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing. University of Arizona Press, 1998. Ortiz, Simon. from Sand Creek. University of Arizona Press, 1981. _____. Woven Stone. University of Arizona Press, 1992. _____. After and Before the Lightning. University of Arizona Press, 1994. _____. Men from the Moon. University of Arizona Press, 1999. _____.Out There Somewhere. University of Arizona Press, 2002. ——— PUBLISHED WORKS BY SIMON J. ORTIZ: Beyond the Reach of Time and Change  2005 The Good Rainbow Road  2004 Out There Somewhere  2002 From Sand Creek  1981, 2000 Men on the Moon  1999 Speaking for the Generation (ed.)  1998 After and Before the Lightning  1996 Woven Stone  1992 A Good Journey  1985 Earth Power Coming  1983 Fightin': New and Collected Stories  1983 Blue and Red  1982 The Importance of Childhood  1982 Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land  1980 Welcome Howbah Indians  1977 The People Shall Continue  1977 Going for the Rain  1976 Naked in the Wind  1971 ©Norma Libman - All rights reserved - No portion of this article may be republished without the express written permission of the author TOP OF PAGE