Democratic congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has claimed that she is descended from Sephardic Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism.
Ocasio-Cortez, who was elected last month to the US House of Representatives for New York State’s 14th congressional district, told supporters at a Hannukah party organized by the left-wing Jews for Racial and Economic Justice that she has Jewish heritage.
“A very, very long time ago – generations and generations ago – my family consisted of Sephardic Jews,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“The story goes, during the Spanish Inquisition, so many people were forced to convert on the exterior to Catholicism, but on the interior continued to practice their faith and continued to be who they were, even though they were pressured to not be that on the outside world.”
Her family later fled to Puerto Rico to escape persecution, Ocasio-Cortez said.
Following the expulsion of non-Christians from Spain in 1492, thousands of Sephardic Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism. Many continued to practice Judaism in secret even after ostensibly converting to Catholicism.
Many of these secret Jews, dubbed the “Anusim” (‘Coerced Ones’), emigrated to the Western Hemisphere, settling in colonies across what would become Latin America.
According to Reconectar, an NGO which helps descendants of Anusim reconnect with their Jewish heritage, there are at least 14 to 15 million self-identified ‘Bnei Anusim’ (descendants of Anusim), with as many as 100 million descendants worldwide of Iberian Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism.
“Given the birthrate over the years, studies have estimated the number of descendants of these Jews at anywhere from 100 million to 150 million and even some who claim there are as many as 200 million around the world descended from Spanish and Portuguese Jews,” Reconectar President Ashley Perry told Arutz Sheva.
According to the Beit Hatfutsot (Diaspora Museum) in Tel Aviv, Cortez, Ocasio-Cortez’s mother’s maiden name, was a Jewish family name.
Last month, Ocasio-Cortez drew criticism after she compared Jewish Holocaust refugees to members of the so-called ‘migrant caravan’ from Central America seeking to enter the United States.
“Asking to be considered a refugee & applying for status isn’t a crime,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez.
“It wasn’t for Jewish families fleeing Germany. It wasn’t for targeted families fleeing Rwanda.
It wasn’t for communities fleeing war-torn Syria. And it isn’t for those fleeing violence in Central America.”