How did these
descendents of American Indians and Catholic settlers end up with a Jewish gene?
I think it's because of the period when the colonists
came to the area. New Mexico is the longest-running extant colony in the United States. That means it was colonized the
closest in time to the 1492 expulsions. For the Jews and Crypto-Jews who left
Spain and went to the New World, New Mexico would have been one of the earlier
places they would have gone. California, where I live, was colonized by the
Spanish 200 years later, so there were 200 more years for things to get
diluted, both genetically and culturally.
You write that Jews,
more than any other ethnic group, have been willing to have their genes studied and their traits defined. That's sort of surprising, considering the sinister fascination Nazis had with Jewish biology.
And that point is certainly always discussed. But I think the
willingness came from a medical need to get a handle on Jewish genetic
disorders, starting with Tay Sachs. Also, the people doing the research are largely Jewish scientists and doctors. So they're going right down the street
in their own communities saying, "We think we can figure out how to eliminate
Tay Sachs. Won't you volunteer?"
Besides, if you're a good Jew, you're trying to repair the
world. I learned a bit about Judaism when my daughter married a Jewish man and converted.
From what I understand, if you're a faithful Jew, you're not only motivated to
figure out the genetic disorders of your own tribe. You also want to provide information that could help all of humankind.
One of the characters
in your book remarks that genetics are an equalizer across socioeconomic lines.
What does he mean by that?
When you have a country of immigrants, the world's peoples come
here for whatever reason and bring their genetic baggage with them. We all call
ourselves Americans, but what's in our particular genetic suitcases? You end up
with all these genes that just happened to find their way here. So you have this group in the rural Southwest dealing with this medical issue and
translating it through own cultural background. Yet that same piece of DNA is
active in social circles that include highly educated, sophisticated urban
A lot of the families in your book gave up Catholicism to become Jehovah's Witnesses. Why did that religion attract so many people in this particular group?
When you look back through their family history, you see Pueblo Indians
who were forced to convert to Catholicism. If they didn't, their feet were cut
off. They ostensibly became good Catholics, and
in fact many of them became quite fervent in the 19th century,
almost in reaction to the American Protestant regime. But when the 20th century came along, there was a
loosening of religion everywhere. You saw that even out in the little villages,
people just going through the motions. Some of their children and grandchildren
wanted something deeper, stronger, and more powerful in the faith department.