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San Luis Potosí

San Luis Potosí


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San Luis Potosí, which has some of the richest silver mines in Mexico, is also where Gonzales Bocanegra wrote the Mexican national anthem in 1854.

History

Early History
While scant information exists on the state’s pre-Hispanic era, the Huastecos, Chichimecas and Guachichile Indians are believed to have inhabited the lands that now comprise San Luis Potosí as far back as 10,000 B.C. Their descendants make up a large segment of the state’s present population, many of whom continue to speak their native language.

The Huastecos culture left behind two cities that have recently been discovered in the area: Tamtok and El Consuelo, both of which probably had their golden age between the 3rd and 10th centuries. Researchers suspect that these cities influenced other groups in the region including the Chichimecas, Pames and Otomis and are examining the relationships between the cultures.

The name Chichimeca came from the Mexica (Aztecs), who applied it to a wide range of fierce, semi-nomadic peoples who inhabited the northern parts of the country.

Middle History
The Chichimecas eventually dominated the region, but were conquered by Spaniard Hernán Cortés not long after his arrival in October 1522. Soon after, Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán was appointed governor of the region by the Spanish crown. In 1539, Franciscan priests Antonio de Rosa and Juan Sevilla arrived from Spain and began converting the Indians to Roman Catholicism. When minerals were discovered in 1546, Spanish settlements grew quickly throughout the area, outraging the Chichimeca Indians, who rebelled against the Spanish in 1550. The ensuing Chichimeca War cost thousands of lives and threatened the operation of many Spanish-held mines.

On October 18, 1585, Alonso Manrique de Zuñiga, the Marqués de Villamanrique, was appointed the seventh viceroy of Mexico. Villamanrique was convinced that he could end the bloodbath and restore peace to the area. One of his first gestures was to free the Indians who had been captured during the war. He then launched a full-scale peace offensive, negotiating with Chichimeca leaders and providing the Indian population with food, clothing, lands and agricultural supplies. On November 25, 1589, the war between the Spanish and the Chichimec Indians came to an end and peace was, for a time, restored. However, the Spanish population and their power continued to grow after the end of the Chichimeca War, further aggravating and marginalizing the indigenous tribes. In 1592, the year that the city of San Luis Potosí was founded, the area experienced another gold rush after new deposits were discovered.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the state remained Mexico’s most prolific mining center. In 1772, silver was discovered in the local mountains of Real de Catorce, located in San Luis Potosí’s desert region. A town of the same name was quickly erected, and the area became another of the state’s many lucrative mining operations.

The Mexican independence movement reached San Luis Potosí in 1810. Nevertheless, Spanish loyalists continued to control the region, and the state functioned as a base for conservatives who wanted the country to continue under the dominance of Spain. The country extricated itself from Spanish rule in 1821, and San Luis Potosí received its statehood in 1824. A constitution was drafted two years later.

Recent History
San Luis Potosí, like every state in Mexico, experienced a time of political and social turmoil during the latter part of the 19th century. In 1846, Mexico´s army led by Santa Anna marched through San Luis Potosí to fight against the U.S. troops invading Mexico. No battles were held in the state, but locals provided the Mexican army with supplies and moral support.

When the French invaded Mexico in 1862, Mexican President Benito Juárez relocated the federal government to San Luis Potosí. Juárez continued to move the country’s seat of power until the death of Maximiliano–the emperor installed by the French government–in 1867. Juárez briefly ruled from San Luis Potosí again after Maximiliano was executed by Mexican Republicans in Querétaro.

A period of relative calm followed the defeat of the French, and in 1877, Porfirio Díaz was elected president, an office he would hold on and off over the next three decades. At the close of the 19th century, San Luis Potosi experienced economic growth that mainly benefited Spanish landholders and merchants. While the area’s indigenous groups continued to struggle for the right to own land and to lead free and fulfilling lives, factions opposed to Díaz’s corrupt and violent regime began to grow in number and intensity.

A particularly vociferous critic of the Díaz administration, Francisco Indalécio Madero, was arrested in July 1910 and sent to San Luis Potosí. He successfully escaped and issued the Plan of San Luis on October 5th, which encouraged Mexicans to take up arms against the government and marked the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.

Because the railroad from Mexico City to Laredo, Texas, passed through San Luis, it became a pivotal region in the Mexican Revolution, since controlling the city also meant controlling access to the Mexican-American border.

In 1911, Díaz was forced to resign the presidency due to increased pressure from revolutionaries. Madero was elected president the following year. His assassination in 1913 threw the country into turmoil and sparked further conflicts among political factions throughout Mexico, such as those loyal to Francisco Pancho Villa, Victoriano Huerta and Emiliano Zapata. Between 1914 and 1920, numerous power shifts occurred before a new party, Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), was formed. The PRI won popular support and controlled the presidency until 2000.

San Luis Potosí Today

San Luis Potosí’s economy owes much of its success to the state’s thriving manufacturing and agriculture industries.

The largest economic sector in San Luis Potosí is manufacturing, which accounts for about 26 percent of the economy. General service-based companies represent 18 percent, followed by trade activities at 17 percent, finance and insurance at 15 percent, agriculture and livestock at 9 percent, transportation and communications at 9 percent, construction at 5 percent and mining at 1 percent.

Most of the state’s industrial activities–food processing, automobile manufacturing, mining and textiles–take place in or around San Luis Potosi, the capital city. Many large foreign companies have facilities there, including Bendix (auto parts), Sandoz (pharmaceuticals), Union Carbide (chemicals) and Bimbo (food products). Some of the richest silver mines in Mexico are located in the northern part of the state. Gold, copper and zinc are also mined.

Fruit crops such as oranges, mangoes, bananas and guavas are abundant in this region. Corn and beans are primary crops throughout the state, with goats, sheep and cattle being the chief livestock commodities.

The dominant indigenous group in San Luis Potosí today is the Huastecs, also known as the Teenek, which means “those who live in the fields with their language, their blood and share the idea.” Most of this population lives in the eastern portion of the state in the Pánuco river basin, which covers 10,238 square kilometers (4,000 square miles) and is distributed among 18 municipalities. The Teenek share the basin area with the mestizos (mixed race) and the Nahuas, who inhabit the southern portion of the region. Most of the Teenek population lives in the Aquismón, Tanalajás, Ciudad Valles, Huehuetlán, Tancanhuitz, San Antonio, Tampamolón and San Vicente Tancuayalab municipalities.

As of 2000, San Luis Potosí was home to more than 2 million people over the age of five. Of those, 11 percent spoke an indigenous language.

Facts & Figures

  • Capital: San Luis Potosí
  • Major Cities (population): San Luis Potosí (685,934) Soledad Diaz Gutierrez (215,968) Ciudad Valles (116,261) Matehuala (70,150) Rio Verde (49,183)
  • Size/Area: 24,266 square miles
  • Population: 2,410,414 (2005 Census)
  • Year of statehood: 1824

Fun Facts

  • San Luis Potosí’s coat of arms depicts San Luis Rey (Louis IX of France, the city’s patron saint) standing on San Pedro Hill. The scene includes a mine entrance flanked by two silver and two gold bars, which represent the state’s wealth. The background colors of blue and yellow symbolize night and day.
  • San Luis Potosí takes its name from the area’s original designation, Valle de San Luis. The Spaniards added Potosí (which means fortune) to the name when they discovered gold and silver there.
    li>The city of San Luis Potosí is home to three dance companies: the Ballet Provincial de San Luis Potosí, the Grupo de Danza Folklórica and the Danza Contemporánea.
  • The resort town of Santa María del Río, which is known for its thermal baths and spas, also has an ancient stone aqueduct, El Arquillo, that crosses the river and forms a beautiful waterfall.
  • The region known as La Huasteca Potosina has some of the most important ecotourism sites in Mexico´s northern region and features attractions such as waterfalls, rapid rivers, caves and camping sites. Ciudad Valles is in the middle of La Huasteca Potosina.
  • El Sótano de las Golondrinas is a 376-meter (1234-foot) deep cave popular among spelunkers and rock climbers. Every morning thousands of swallows fly out in a synchronized spiral flight, and every afternoon they return.
  • The town of Xilitla features a surreal castle built in the middle of the jungle. Edward James, an Irish-American millionaire and owner of railroad businesses, built the castle in 1950 and lived with the natives of the region, practicing alternative medicine for more than a decade.
  • In December 1853, General Santa Anna selected an untitled poem by Francisco Gonzalez Bocanegra, a poet from San Luis Potosí, to be the lyrics for the country’s new national anthem. A Spaniard, Jaime Nuno Rocco, provided the musical score.

Landmarks

Colonial Center
In the capital city of San Luis Potosí, the Cathedral Potosina and the Palacio de Gobierno rise above the Plaza de Armas, the city’s central square and home to many other beautifully preserved and historically significant colonial buildings. Benito Juárez, who completed five terms as president of Mexico between 1858 and 1872, served two of those terms at the Palacio. The colonial center has since been closed off to traffic to help preserve its architectural treasures.

Museums & Art
The city of San Luis Potosí is home to several art and history museums, including the Museo Nacional de La Máscara (National Mask Museum), which offers permanent and temporary mask exhibits. The Museo del Centro Taurino Potosino (Potosí Bullfighting Center Museum) offers an extensive collection of bullfighting memorabilia, including photographs, posters, clothing and equipment that once belonged to famous matadors.

Mines
San Luis Potosí is known for its mining history. Cerro de San Pedro, now a ghost town, is located eight kilometers (five miles) east of the capital. Founded in 1583 after several mines in the vicinity began operations, the town was abandoned during the late 1940s when the gold, lead, iron, manganese and mercury deposits finally began to dwindle. The section of town known as La Colonia de Los Gringos contains the dilapidated offices and living quarters of the American Smelting and Refining Company, and the ruins of shops, churches, estates and a hospital are scattered throughout the town. Local firms continue to extract limited quantities of minerals from the mines.

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San Luis Potosí

In north-central Mexico lies the state of San Luis Potosi. It is a landlocked state that borders Nuevo Leon, Zacatecas, Veracruz, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, and Queretaro. The capital of the state, also called San Luis Potosi, is the state’s largest city. Admitted as a state in 1823, San Luis Potosi was named in part for Louis IX of France.


Historical sites begin in the central core

The Plaza de Fundadores, the Founders’ Square, was established in 1588 by Captain Miguel Caldera and local Franciscan monks. Originally a church and monastery, the restored Neoclassical-style building now houses the San Luis Potosi University administrative offices. The original central patio and four corridors remain symbolizing one of the oldest buildings in town. The plaza, located in front of this great architectural building, is a full city block lined with pavers. It provides an outdoor venue for socializing, relaxing, and several community events.

Just a few blocks away, the grand historic Cathedral stands. The Baroque façade features 12 Italian marble sculptures representing the 12 apostles. The original limestone sculptures representing the apostles were moved to the side facades, making this the only Cathedral in the world with 24 sculptures of the apostles. The interior holds a Byzantine-style stone cypress and tubular organ, which attracts worshippers from around the world.

The Cathedral sits on the Plaza de Armas. This central plaza is beautifully landscaped with fountains, trees, benches, and grassy areas surrounding a pink octagonal kiosk in tribute to great Mexican musicians. Both the City Hall and State Government Palace also surround this plaza. Local Huastecan women peddle their fresh honey and tortillas in the square. On weekends, a variety of musical groups serenade visitors. The Plaza buzzes with activity from dawn to nightfall and beyond.


The mining towns of San Luis Potosí, Mexico

Both the name and the coat-of-arms of San Luis Potosi recall the tremendous importance of mining to Mexico’s economy. Called Potosí in emulation of the mines of that name high in the Bolivian Andes, the city’s coat-of-arms, awarded in 1656, has its patron saint standing atop a hill in which are three mine shafts. Left of the hill are two gold ingots, and right of it, two silver ones.

Real de Catorce

Some early mining towns faded into obscurity, others became centers for ranching and commerce. Some, once abandoned, are now being resuscitated by tourism. Here are the past glories and changed fortunes of four former mining towns, a number echoing the four ingots on the coat-of-arms.

Our first stop is Charcas. Thirty kilometers west of the state capital, via highway 49 (towards Zacatecas), is the road north for Charcas, paved all the way, which emerges to join highway 57 south of Matehuala.

A brief stop in Charcas will allow you to sample the town’s special flavor. This was a frontier post. First attempts to found a town were thwarted by bands of wild natives. When Charcas was successfully refounded in 1584, the war-weary victors received land for mining and cattle ranching. They constructed not only a Franciscan church (1574) but also a fort.

Today few old buildings survive but the town’s irregular streets, narrow alleyways and small plazas evoke its humble origins. The old granary is now part of a school. The eighteenth century parish church houses a statue, more than four hundred years old, of the Virgin of Charcas (fiesta every September).

North, towards Matehuala, was Mexico’s graveyard for deceased railway engines for many years. Hundreds of locomotives, reduced to bare skeletons, sat idle in the hot desert sun.

Matehuala, on highway 57, has a full range of tourist services. This is the ideal overnight stop for a trip to the ghost town of Real de Catorce, reached via Cedral to the west. Shortly after Cedral a 24-kilometer-long cobblestone road climbs up the mountain to Catorce.

REAL DE CATORCE

Real de Catorce

The first surprise for visitors is a single file 2,300-meter-long tunnel – the only entrance to the town from the north – a unique introduction to the many strange things awaiting you on the other side. The second surprise is how such a large place, which produced more than 3 million dollars worth of silver each year, could become a ghost town. Between 1788 and 1806, the La Purisima mine alone yielded annually more than $200,000 pesos of silver – and that was when a peso of silver was equivalent to a dollar.

The large, stone houses, often of several storeys, with tiled roofs, wooden window frames and wrought-iron work, were so well built that they have survived to tell you their tales as you wander through the steep streets, soaking up the atmosphere of one of Mexico’s most curious places.

You need time to really appreciate the former grandeur of Real de Catorce. Fortunately, there are several simple hotels and restaurants. It is well worth hiring a local guide. Jorge Quijano Leyva, who lives near the church, is outstanding. His enthusiasm for his native town will wear your feet out long before you tire of his informative commentaries.

Seek out the beautifully restored palenque. Pause in the church to examine the mesquite floor, imaginatively described in some guidebooks as comprised of a mosaic of coffin lids. The ‘ church is dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. The two week long fiesta in his honor, centered on October 4th, is a huge affair, attended by hundreds of returning Real de Catorce families.

In front of the church, across the small plaza of Carbón, is the former mint. This gorgeous building is now used for photographic exhibitions and for a jewelry workshop run by an enterprising Italian – why not acquire an original, handcrafted item made of locally mined silver?

From Real de Catorce, return to Matehuala and head south, past the Tropic of Cancer monument. Twenty-five minutes beyond El Huizache, where highways 57 and 80 meet, still following the -main highway to San Luis Potosi, is the side road to Guadalcázar.

GUADALCAZAR

Only 18 kilometers from highway 57, through yucca-covered hills and along the side of a deep canyon, an oasis of green countryside and the towers of two main churches provide a refreshing and photogenic change.

The miners here constructed two magnificent Franciscan churches. One, near the entrance to the town, is seventeenth century. The other, eighteenth century and dedicated to San Pedro, has a glorious gilded retablo with original paintings and figures. Two blocks away is the ornate sandstone facade of the former Casa de Moneda.

The Sierra de la Mesa hills near the town inspired the local poet Manuel José Othón (1858-1906) to write some of the finest poems in the Spanish language. Othón’s’s former town house is now the Othoniano Museum, in the center of San Luis Potosi.

SAN PEDRO

Less than forty minutes from the state capital, Cerro San Pedro was the original site of San Luis Potosí and is the hill depicted on the coat-of-arms. Lacking adequate water, however, the early settlers chose to move their embryonic city to the valley floor.

Cerro San Pedro

In the cooler, windier climes of this ghost town, a handful of old buildings have been restored as stores and restaurants. San Pedro is full of character and should not be missed by anyone visiting San Luis Potosí.

The paved road leaves the Rio Verde highway near the village of Garita de (Los) Gómez. At the entrance to the town, explore the empty streets and peek into the abandoned houses. Today, cacti growing in the cracks and crannies of the walls outnumber the residents. Some buildings seem to be maintained by invisible guardians, reluctant to completely relinquish their hold over real estate which, in this desperately desolate terrain, cost them the best years of their youth.

Nearby, you might see miners exiting from one of the few mines still worked. Steeped in sweat – there are no mules or tramways here – they heave their heavy cargoes of ore into a small, dark strongroom before relaxing, cigarettes in hand, chatting and joking. They definitely expect to strike it rich one day.

San Pedro, founded in 1592, was abandoned about fifty years ago. The center of town, higher up the valley along a dusty, winding road, is still largely intact with an imposing parish church towering over a small, neat plaza. San Pedro comes back to life again for its main fiesta on the Sunday before June 27th. Fiesta over, the lizards, spiders and other critters crawl out from their hidey holes to reclaim their territory.

Nowhere in Mexico are the changing styles and fortunes of former gold and silver mining towns better displayed than in these four in the state of San Luis Potosí. For your next trip to Mexico, consider seeing for yourself the hidden treasures of Charcas, Real de Catorce, Guadalcázar and San Pedro.


The ‘Secret Jews’ of San Luis Valley

One September day in 2001, Teresa Castellano, Lisa Mullineaux, Jeffrey Shaw and Lisen Axell were having lunch in Denver. Genetic counselors from nearby hospitals and specialists in inherited cancers, the four would get together periodically to talk shop. That day they surprised one another: they'd each documented a case or two of Hispanic women with aggressive breast cancer linked to a particular genetic mutation. The women had roots in southern Colorado, near the New Mexico border. "I said, 'I have a patient with the mutation, and she's only in her 40s,'" Castellano recalls. "Then Lisa said that she had seen a couple of cases like that. And Jeff and Lisen had one or two also. We realized that this could be something really interesting."

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Curiously, the genetic mutation that caused the virulent breast cancer had previously been found primarily in Jewish people whose ancestral home was Central or Eastern Europe. Yet all of these new patients were Hispanic Catholics.

Mullineaux contacted Ruth Oratz, a New York City-based oncologist then working in Denver. "Those people are Jewish," Oratz told her. "I'm sure of it."

Pooling their information, the counselors published a report in a medical journal about finding the gene mutation in six "non-Jewish Americans of Spanish ancestry." The researchers were cautious about some of the implications because the breast cancer patients themselves, as the paper put it, "denied Jewish ancestry."

The finding raised some awkward questions. What did the presence of the genetic mutation say about the Catholics who carried it? How did they happen to inherit it? Would they have to rethink who they were—their very identity—because of a tiny change in the three billion "letters" of their DNA? More important, how would it affect their health, and their children's health, in the future?

Some people in the valley were reluctant to confront such questions, at least initially, and a handful even rejected the overtures of physicians, scientists and historians who were suddenly interested in their family histories. But rumors of secret Spanish Jewry had floated around northern New Mexico and the San Luis Valley for years, and now the cold hard facts of DNA appeared to support them. As a result, families in this remote high-desert community have had to come to grips with a kind of knowledge that more and more of us are likely to face. For the story of this wayward gene is the story of modern genetics, a science that increasingly has the power both to predict the future and to illuminate the past in unsettling ways.

Expanding the DNA analysis, Sharon Graw, a University of Denver geneticist, confirmed that the mutation in the Hispanic patients from San Luis Valley exactly matched one previously found in Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. The mutation, 185delAG, is a variant of a gene called BRCA1. When normal and healthy, BRCA1 helps to protect breast and ovarian cells from cancer. An extremely long gene, it has thousands of DNA letters, each corresponding to one of four chemical compounds that make up the genetic code and run down either strand of the DNA double helix a "misspelling"—a mutation—can occur at virtually any letter. Some are of no consequence, but the deletion of the chemicals adenine (A) and guanine (G) at a site 185 rungs into the DNA ladder—hence the name 185delAG—will prevent the gene from functioning. Then the cell becomes vulnerable to a malignancy. To be sure, most breast and ovarian cancers do not run in families. The cases owing to BRCA1 and a similar gene, BRCA2, make up less than 10 percent of cases overall.

By comparing DNA samples from Jews around the world, scientists have pieced together the origins of the 185delAG mutation. It is ancient. More than 2,000 years ago, among the Hebrew tribes of Palestine, someone's DNA dropped the AG letters at the 185 site. The glitch spread and multiplied in succeeding generations, even as Jews migrated from Palestine to Europe. Ethnic groups tend to have their own distinctive genetic disorders, such as harmful variations of the BRCA1 gene, but because Jews throughout history have often married within their religion, the 185delAG mutation gained a strong foothold in that population. Today, roughly one in 100 Jews carries the harmful form of the gene variant.

Meanwhile, some of the Colorado patients began to look into their own heritage. With the zeal of an investigative reporter, Beatrice Wright searched for both cancer and Jewish ancestry in her family tree. Her maiden name is Martinez. She lives in a town north of Denver and has dozens of Martinez relatives in the San Luis Valley and northern New Mexico. In fact, her mother's maiden name was Martinez also. Wright had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, when she was 45. Her right breast was removed and she was treated with chemotherapy. Later, her left breast, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries were removed as a precaution. She had vaguely known that the women on her father's side were susceptible to the disease. "With so much cancer on Dad's side of the family," she said, "my cancer doctor thought it might be hereditary." Advised by Lisa Mullineaux about BRCA testing, she provided a blood sample that came back positive for 185delAG.

When Wright was told that the mutation was characteristic of Jewish people, she recalled a magazine article about the secret Jews of New Mexico. It was well known that during the late Middle Ages the Jews of Spain were forced to convert to Catholicism. According to a considerable body of scholarship, some of the conversos maintained their faith in secret. After Judaism was outlawed in Spain in 1492 and Jews were expelled, some of those who stayed took their beliefs further underground. The exiles went as far as the New World.

For the first time Wright connected this history to memories of conceivably Jewish customs, such as sweeping dust into the center of a room and covering mirrors while mourning a loved one's death. She read up on the Spanish "crypto-Jews" in the library and on the Internet. In 2001, she and her husband made an extended visit to the valley and northern New Mexico. Tracking down as many of her paternal relatives as she could find, she alerted them to their dangerous genetic legacy and their ethno-religious heritage. "I have 60 first cousins, some I never knew I had," she says. "So I went fact-finding. I made the trek because I needed to know where I was from. 'Did you know about our Jewish heritage?' I said. It wasn't a big deal to some of them, but others kind of raised an eyebrow like I didn't know what I was talking about."

Part of New Mexico Territory until the U.S. government delineated the Colorado Territory in 1861, the San Luis Valley lies between two chains of mountains, the San Juans to the west and the Sangre de Cristos to the east. The Rio Grande begins here. The town of San Luis—the oldest in Colorado—is the Spanish heart of the valley. With an old church on the central plaza and a modern shrine on a mesa overlooking the town, San Luis bristles with Catholic symbols. It seems a short step back in time to the founding of the New Mexico colony, when picaresque gold-hungry conquistadors, Franciscan friars and Pueblo Indians came together, often violently, in a spare and sunburnt land. As Willa Cather put it in Death Comes for the Archbishop, perhaps the best novel about the region, the sunsets reflected on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are "not the colour of living blood" but "the colour of the dried blood of saints and martyrs."

The discovery of the 185delAG mutation in the valley and subsequently in New Mexico hints at a different story, with its own trail of blood and persecution. The significance of the genetic work was immediately recognized by Stanley M. Hordes, a professor at the University of New Mexico. During the early 1980s, Hordes had been New Mexico's official state historian, and part of his job was assisting people with their genealogies. Hordes, who is 59, recalls that he received "some very unusual visits in my office. People would drop by and tell me, in whispers, that so-and-so doesn't eat pork, or that so-and-so circumcises his children." Informants took him to backcountry cemeteries and showed him gravestones that he says bore six-pointed stars they brought out devotional objects from their closets that looked vaguely Jewish. As Hordes began speaking and writing about his findings, other New Mexicans came forward with memories of rituals and practices followed by their ostensibly Christian parents or grandparents having to do with the lighting of candles on Friday evenings or the slaughtering of animals.

Hordes laid out his research in a 2005 book, To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico. Following the Jews' expulsion from Spain, crypto-Jews were among the early settlers of Mexico. The Spanish in Mexico periodically tried to root out the "Judaizers," but it is clear from the records of trials that Jewish practices endured, even in the face of executions. According to Hordes' research, settlers who were crypto-Jews or descended from Jews ventured up the Rio Grande to frontier outposts in New Mexico. For 300 years, as the territory passed from Spanish to Mexican to United States hands, there was almost nothing in the historical record about crypto-Jews. Then, because of probing by younger relatives, the stories trickled out. "It was only when their suspicions were aroused decades later," Hordes writes, "that they asked their elders, who reluctantly answered, 'Eramos judíos' ('We were Jews')."*

But were they? Judith Neulander, an ethnographer and co-director of the Judaic Studies Program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, was at first a believer of Hordes' theory that crypto-Judaism had survived in New Mexico. But after interviewing people in the region herself, she concluded it was an "imagined community." Among other things, Neulander has accused Hordes of asking leading questions and planting suggestions of Jewish identity. She says there are better explanations for the "memories" of unusual rites—vestiges of Seventh-Day Adventism, for example, which missionaries brought to the region in the early 20th century. She also suggested that perhaps some dark-skinned Hispanics were trying to elevate their ethnic status by associating themselves with lighter-skinned Jews, writing that "claims of Judaeo-Spanish ancestry are used to assert an overvalued line of white ancestral descent in the American Southwest."

Hordes disagrees. "Just because there are some people who are wannabes doesn't mean everybody is a wannabe," he says. But he acknowledges that Neulander's criticisms have made him and other researchers more cautious.

Hordes, pursuing another line of evidence, also pointed out that some of the New Mexicans he was studying were afflicted by a rare skin condition, pemphigus vulgaris, that is more common among Jews than other ethnic groups. Neulander countered that the same type of pemphigus vulgaris occurs in other peoples of European and Mediterranean background.

Then the 185delAG mutation surfaced. It was just the sort of objective data Hordes had been looking for. The findings didn't prove the carriers' Jewish ancestry, but the evidence smoothly fit his historical theme. Or, as he put it with a certain clinical detachment, it's a "significant development in the identification of a Jewish origin for certain Hispano families."

"Why do I do it?" Hordes was addressing the 2007 meeting, in Albuquerque, of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, a scholarly group he co-founded. "Because the fabric of Jewish heritage is richer in New Mexico than we thought." His research and that of others, he said at the gathering, "rip the veneer off" the accounts of Spanish-Indian settlement and culture by adding a new element to the conventional mix.

One conference attendee was a Catholic New Mexican who heartily embraces his crypto-Jewish heritage, the Rev. Bill Sanchez, a local priest. He says he has upset some local Catholics by saying openly that he is "genetically Jewish." Sanchez bases his claim on another genetic test, Y chromosome analysis. The Y chromosome, handed down from father to son, provides a narrow glimpse of a male's paternal lineage. The test, which is promoted on the Internet and requires only a cheek swab, is one of the more popular genealogy probes. Sanchez noted that the test suggested he was descended from the esteemed Cohanim lineage of Jews. Still, a "Semitic" finding on this test isn't definitive it could also apply to non-Jews.

Geneticists warn that biology is not destiny. A person's family tree contains thousands of ancestors, and DNA evidence that one may have been Hebrew (or Armenian or Bolivian or Nigerian) means very little unless the person decides to embrace the implication, as Sanchez has done. He sees no conflict between his disparate religious traditions. "Some of us believe we can practice rituals of crypto-Judaism and still be good Catholics," he says. He keeps a menorah in a prominent place in his parish church and says he adheres to a Pueblo belief or two for good measure.

At the Albuquerque meeting, the new evidence about 185delAG prompted discussion not only among academics but also among some of the subjects. Robert Martinez, no immediate relation to Beatrice Wright, teaches history at a high school near Albuquerque. During his summer vacations he helps Hordes sift through municipal and church records in Latin America and Europe, studying family histories and looking for references to Judaism. He traces his roots to members of the first expedition to New Mexico, led by Juan de Oñate, in 1598. The Spanish explorer himself had converso relatives, Hordes has found, and included conversos in the expedition.

When he went to work as Hordes' assistant ten years ago, Martinez, who is 45, was well aware of the disease in his family: several relatives have had breast or ovarian cancer. "Of course, I'd always heard about the cancer in our family on our mom's side," he says. "And then two of my sisters were diagnosed within months of each other." Both women tested positive for 185delAG and have since died. "I carry the mutation too," he says.

The Jewish connection caused no stir in his family, he says. "Me, I'm open. I want to know, Who am I? Where am I? We're a strange lot, New Mexicans. We refer to ourselves as Spanish, but we have Portuguese blood, Native American, some black too. We descend from a small genetic pool, and we're all connected if you go back far enough."

Teresa Castellano, the genetic counselor, has spent time in the San Luis Valley explaining BRCA to community leaders, patients and others. BRCA carriers, she tells them, have up to an 80 percent risk of developing breast cancer, as well as a significant risk of ovarian cancer. If a woman tests positive, her children would have a 50-50 chance of acquiring the flawed gene. BRCA mutations are passed down by men and women alike. If a family has mainly sons, the threat to the next generation may be masked.

A year and a half ago, Castellano got a call from a laboratory technician advising her of another patient with a connection to the 185delAG mutation. The patient's family had roots in the San Luis Valley and northern New Mexico. Their name was Valdez. At the top of the pedigree were eight siblings, two of whom, sisters, were still living. In the next generation were 29 adult children, including 15 females. Five of the 15 women had developed breast or ovarian cancer. Then came an expanding number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who were as yet too young for the disease but who might have the mutation. Only one or two members of the disparate clan still lived in the valley.

Ironically, Castellano's initial patient, Therese Valdez Martinez, did not carry the mutation herself. Her breast cancer was a "sporadic" case, not associated with a known mutation. But Therese's sister Josephine and her first cousin Victoria had died of ovarian cancer. Their DNA, retrieved from stored blood samples, tested positive for 185delAG. "Something's going on with our family," Therese said. "We need to wake up."

Castellano offered to hold counseling sessions with members of the Valdez extended family in April 2007. With Therese's backing, she sent out 50 invitations. A total of 67 people, including children, attended the session in a hospital conference room in Denver. Therese said, "One cousin—he won't come. He doesn't want to know. To each his own."

The tables were arranged in a U-shape, rather like the mountains around the valley. Castellano stood at the open end. She pointed out that in addition to breast and ovarian cancer the Valdez family had several cases of colon cancer. "There's some risk, it appears," Castellano said, "and therefore everyone in the family should have a colonoscopy at age 45." That caused grumbling among her listeners.

"This family has a lot of ovarian cancer," she went on, "but appears not to have a breast cancer case under age 35. So we think the age for women for starting their annual mammograms should be 30 to 35. We recommend that our '185' families do it by MRI every year. And if you do have 185," she added bluntly, "get your ovaries out at age 35."

A silence, then a question from a young woman in her 20s: "Can't a healthy lifestyle help? Do you have to have your ovaries out at 35?"

"Taking them out will decrease your risk but not eliminate it," Castellano said. Looking for support for this harsh measure, she smiled down the table at Angelita Valdez Armenta. Angelita had undergone the operation, called an oophorectomy. "Angie is a great example of how someone here is going to get old!" Months after the meeting, Angelita had her DNA tested and learned she was indeed a carrier of 185delAG.

The point of the meeting, which Castellano came to quickly enough, was to encourage family members to sign up for the DNA test. "Do you have to be tested?" she said. "No. But then you have to pretend you're positive and be more proactive about your health and your screening." Noting that the men were also at some risk of breast cancer, Castellano urged them to check themselves by inverting the nipple and feeling for a pea-sized lump.

Shalee Valdez, a teenager videotaping the session, put down her camera. "If you have the mutation," she wanted to know, "can you donate blood?" Yes. "Can it get into other people?" No, you had to inherit it. Shalee looked pleased. Castellano looked satisfied. As of this writing 15 additional Valdezes have undergone testing for the 185delAG mutation, with six of them testing positive.

Even Stanley Hordes, whose two decades of historical research has been bolstered by the 185delAG findings, says that the greatest value of the genetic information in New Mexico and Colorado is that it "identified a population at risk for contracting potentially fatal diseases, thus providing the opportunity for early detection and treatment." In other words, genes are rich in information, but the information that matters most is about life and death.

As she prepared for the Valdez family meeting, Castellano recalled, she wondered how the group would respond to what she had to tell them about their medical history. Then she plunged into her account of how 185delAG originated in the Middle East and traveled to New Mexico. The revelation that the Valdezes were related to Spanish Jews prompted quizzical looks. But, later, Elsie Valdez Vigil, at 68 the oldest family member there, said she wasn't bothered by the information. "Jesus was Jewish," she said.

Jeff Wheelwright, who lives in Morro Bay, California, is working on a book about the 185delAG breast cancer mutation.
Photographer Scott S. Warren is based in Durango, Colorado.

*Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly translated 'We were Jews' as 'Erasmos judios.' Smithsonian apologizes for the error.


December 27, 1966: Cave of Swallows Discovered

At least the first documented exploration of the cave by T.R Evans, Charles Borland and Randy Sterns. The Cave of Swallows is the largest known cave shaft in the world. It is so deep that clouds form inside it.

The Cave, also called Cave of the Swallows, is an open air pit cave in the Municipality of Aquismón, San Luis Potosí, Mexico. The mouth is 49 m by 62 m (161 ft x 203 ft) wide. The floor widens to a room approximately 303 by 135 meters (994 ft by 442 ft).

The floor of the cave is a 333 meter (1092 ft) freefall drop from the lowest side of the opening, with a 370 meter (1,214 ft) drop from the highest side, making it the largest known cave shaft in the world, a skyscraper such as New York’s whole Chrysler Building could easily fit within it.

Despite its name, this natural refuge doesn’t host swallows, but rather white-collared swifts (apus apus) and the parrots Aratinga holochlora, known as green conures.

These birds do a morning ritual. At dawn, thousands fly in an orderly fashion to the coasts of Veracruz, more than a hundred kilometers away, in search of food. To exit the cave, the birds fly in circles, gradually flying upwards until they reach the surface. This exodus has become part of the tourist attraction.

The cave is a popular vertical caving destination. The high side of the mouth is covered with heavy foliage, so cavers most often fix their ropes on the low side, where bolts have been fixed into the rock and the area is clear of obstructions. Rappelling to the floor takes about twenty minutes, in which time abseil (descending) equipment and rope can heat up to hazardous levels. Cavers use water spray to cool their equipment.

Climbing back out may take from forty minutes to more than two hours. A person without a parachute would take almost ten seconds to freefall from the mouth to the floor. An average-sized hot air balloon has been navigated through the wide opening and landed on the floor below. Base jumping, or being extracted by rope is no longer allowed. Local villagers are focused on protecting the birds.


Warnings & Dangers in San Luis Potosi

OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM

San Luis Potosi aims to attract tourists, so serious crimes are rare here. There are almost no showdowns of drug gangs in the city, but minor robberies and violations are possible. Be cautioned in crowded places and public transportation.

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW

Public transport can be safe if you do not use it late at night and do not ride on crowded buses. Taxis are safe enough, do not catch them on the streets, use a licensed service.

PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM

The risk of pickpocketing is high enough here. The city is touristy, and travelers are a target for petty crimes. You should do not leave valuables unattended and keep especially important documents and things in the hotel safe.

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW

The area is liable to landslides and droughts. Check specialized sources for those risks before your trip.

MUGGING RISK : HIGH

Mugging risk is high in this area. Since police corrupt, travelers can't feel safe for their belongings. You need to take high-security measures to protect your life and belongings.

TERRORISM RISK : LOW

The risk of a terrorist attack is not so high but as usual in Mexico, you should be prepared for anything. Tourists or locals rarely find themselves in a conflict zone.

SCAMS RISK : MEDIUM

In San Luis Potosi you can meet scams with travel entry fees in popular sight. Make sure you buy tickets in a licensed place.

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW

Women traveling alone should take precautions. It is safe enough if you use your car and do not appear on the street after sunset.


10 Interesting and Fun facts about San Luis Potosi

The charms of San Luis Potosi are more subtle than those of the other cities in Mexico, but there are charms nonetheless. The lively streets and plazas always ensures there are a ton of things to do in San Luis Potosi, but a good deal of it also happens to take place outside city limits. This fascinating region of Mexico is practically unknown to foreigners, but among the scenic mountain ranges of the Huasteca Potosina region, the countryside delivers some of the best river rafting in Mexico.

Elsewhere, the city has maintained its poise as the prosperous state capital, orderly industrial center, and university seat, and though it sees relatively few visitors, this is a city that plays a large part in the astonishing history of Mexico.

Here are ten fun facts about San Luis Potosi.

1. Fortune favors the bold

The city takes its name from the area’s original designation, Valle de San Luis. The Spaniards added Potosi (which means fortune) to the name when they discovered gold and silver there.


Aquismón

Recently recognized as a Magic Town, Aquismón is one of the most important towns in the Huasteca Potosina region. It is located approximately 45 kilometers north of Xilitla and 55 kilometers south of Ciudad Valles, and from here you can start an incredible adventure to discover some of the most amazing cultural and natural wonders of the state of San Luis Potosí.

Aquismón is mostly inhabited by the Teenek Indians, speakers of this language, but there are also, to a lesser extent, speakers of Nahuatl and Xi’u or Pames. The women of the teenek community can be found proudly embroidering their incredible textile pieces in the Mercado de La Mora, where coffee, vanilla, piloncillo and handicrafts made by the skilled hands of the potosinos artisans are also offered.

The most important monument of the Magical Town of Aquismón is the parish dedicated to Saint Michael, patron of the town, whom the inhabitants celebrate on September 28th and 29th with great dances accompanied by regional music. If your visit coincides with these dates, you cannot miss these colorful festivals that reveal much of the tradition, an ancient heritage, that is still alive in this region of the Potosi territory.

But if adventure activities are your thing, from Aquismón you can launch yourself to the conquest of spectacular rivers, waterfalls and impressive basements and caverns very abundant in the area. Among these natural beauties that you cannot miss are: the Tamul waterfall, with a fall of 105 meters, on the Santa María river the Tampaón river, with turquoise waters and ideal for rafting and discovering its four canyons as well as the basements of Las Golondrinas (with a depth of 512 meters) and Las Huahuas (with two shots, one of 202 and another of 153 meters). Not forgetting the various caves that abound in the local geography, such as Mantetzulel, with spectacular games of natural light, and that of El Aguacate, where traditional doctors still make cleanings, healings and other rituals.

Are you ready to visit Aquismón?

Este artículo fue escrito por:Ángel Gallegos

WHERE IS AQUISMÓN?

EXPLORE!

Hola, este viaje fue algo maravilloso, cómo encontrar la comunicación y la paz que la misma naturaleza te da, no se diga el cielo limpio y estrellado del desierto, el contacto con lo mágico de las montañas, la cabalgata, la visita a Real de Catorce, ver esos lugares que aún se conservan y trasladarte a esas épocas son. bueno que te puedo decir, visitalos y sí lo haces a través de Dianita y Tona es una experiencia increíble. no pierdas la oportunidad de vivirla. saludossssssss

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[Message from Manuel de Iturbe and the Intendant of San Luis Potosí]

Message from Manuel de Iturbe and the Intendant of San Luis Potosí saying that the first sale of salted meat is exempted from tax. The document is signed and dated by local Spanish officials acknowledging their having received the notice from the governor.

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