Crowded street in Mexico City
Crowded street in Mexico CityiStock

The percentage of Latin Americans with Jewish ancestry could be far higher than previously thought, according to a new study.

The study, published last week in Nature Communications under the title “Latin Americans show wide-spread Converso ancestry and imprint of local Native ancestry on physical appearance”, tested 6,589 Latin Americans from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

According to the genetic tests, approximately 23% of the sample had a statistically significant – defined by the study as more than 5% - of their ancestry coming from sources likely attributable to Sephardic Jewish heritage.

The study found that on average, the 23% of Latin Americans with likely Sephardic Jewish heritage had on average 12.2% ancestry from known Sephardic groups, or from sources in the Mediterranean which correlate strongly with Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal after 1492.

The Iberian Peninsula was home to a large Jewish community prior to the Reconquista, and most Jews were forced out of the region after 1492.

Many remained, however, after being forcibly converted to Catholicism. Some retained their Jewish identity in secret, and were dubbed the “Anusim” (Force Ones)

As Spain and Portugal colonized Latin America, many descendants of Jews forcibly converted to Christianity immigrated to the Western Hemisphere, in many cases marrying into the local population, the study claimed.

“For instance, mtDNA and Y-chromosome data suggest that historical admixture in North West Colombia involved local Native women, and that some immigrant men carried haplogroups common in Jewish populations.”

Ashley Perry (Perez), the President of Reconectar, an organization which assists the descendants of Anusim and other ‘lost Jews’ to reconnect with their heritage, called the survey “unprecedented”. He added that it showed that the number of ‘lost Jews’ was “far beyond anything anyone ever imagined.”

"This unprecedented survey demonstrates that the number of descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities is far beyond anything anyone ever imagined,” Perry told Arutz Sheva.

“The fact that a quarter of all Latinos and Hispanics in Latin and North America have Jewish ancestry represents a tremendous challenge and opportunity for the global Jewish community. At the dawn of the Twenty First Century we have an opportunity to right a historic wrong and reconnect with the tens of millions who seek it. This is a potentially game changing moment without precedent in Jewish history and we dare not waste it."