ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - More and more Hispanics in northern New Mexico and southernColorado are uncovering a secret Jewish ancestry, and a hiddenhealth risk that sometimes comes with it.
"Nothing survives but a name, a blood line, and curiously enougha tendency to contract certain auto-immune diseases," saidUniversity of New Mexico adjunct professor Stanley Hordes - authorof the book "To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jewsof New Mexico".
"It's absolutely fascinating to see the intersection between thehistorical and the cultural and the genetic and the genealogical,"Hordes said.
Research shows Sephardic Jews held on to their religion insecret after leaving Spain and Portugal during the Spanishinquisition in the late 15th century, which eventually followedthem into the New World.
Many Hispanics are starting to find out there is more to theirhistory than they thought.
"Our family had been in the Pojoaque Valley forever and ever andever," said Albuquerque resident Bernadette Martinez. "We thoughtthat we were just the descendants of Spaniards that came into NewMexico."
Martinez confirmed she has Jewish blood, through DNA testingthree years ago.
Father Bill Sanchez, a priest at the St. Edwin Catholic Parishin southwest Albuquerque, discovered his Jewish ancestry throughDNA testing in 2001.
"That's when it was verified through science," Sanchez said. "Isay my ancestry is Jewish."
Other Hispanics are learning of their Jewish ancestry throughgenetic testing, that is also revealing a serious healththreat.
"We do bring up the fact that this is a mutation that isrelatively common in Jewish ancestry," said Kelly Topf, ageneticist at the Swedish Medical Center in Denver.
The 185delAG mutation affects a gene designed to protect thebody from cancer cells. The origin dates back to the Hebrew tribesof Palestine 2,000 years ago.
The defect makes women especially vulnerable to breast andovarian cancer.
It also increases the risks of contracting male breast cancer,and colon and pancreatic cancer in both sexes.
"A small piece of that DNA is missing from that gene, and itrenders the gene useless. It's not going to perform the way it'ssupposed to," Topf said.
Rosie Trujillo, a Washington resident whose family once settlednear Taos, tested positive for the mutation in 2000.
"That confirmed that we really were Sephardic Jews," Trujillosaid.
Trujillo has a long history of family members who have died ofbreast cancer.
Her daughter, who also had the mutation, died of ovarian cancerin 2006.
"We try to spread the word out," Trujillo said. "I try toeducate my family members by giving them brochures and by advisingthem to please, get tested. Don't be afraid."
Some who have the mutation are taking extreme precautions.
"I was tested in May. I found out the results in June, and I hadthe double mastectomy and hysterectomy in November," Melissa Martinsaid.
Martin is seeing geneticist Kelly Topf at the Denverhospital.
"I have a cousin that she had a complete hysterectomy, hadeverything taken out, and had a bilateral mastectomy," Trujillosaid. "She didn't want to take any chances whatsoever."
Trujillo calls the discovery of the genetic defect a "mixedblessing".
While mindful of the health risk, she is also embracing herJewish heritage.
"I'm Christian, but I am also going to the messianic Jewishcongregation," Trujillo said.
Father Bill Sanchez, who wears a Star of David around his neckwhile walking around his southwest Albuquerque parish, is embracinghis heritage, too.
"Moses and Aaron, those are my ancestors. God was working withthem and God is still working with us," Sanchez said. "It wasn'tsomething that we were looking to verify. It just is."
New details about the two New Mexico men arrested Tuesday for the murder of a Texas woman.
Should a doctor be able to help a patient end his or her life? It's a controversial question that has been debated across the U.S. and on Wednesday, it was New Mexico's turn.
Investigators called it one of the worst animal cruelty cases they've seen. Now, more than a month after dozens of animals were seized from a property in San Miguel County, the owners are facing jail time.
The Office of the Medical Investigator identified the two victims in Sunday's plane crash which happened just south of the airport.
Gov. Susana Martinez is ordering that flags be flown at half-staff on Thursday to honor a Sandoval County sheriff's sergeant who died after being struck by a vehicle during a snow storm.
While Bernalillo County leaders continue to look for a way out of a risky investment plan that’s already cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Treasurer’s Office insists it has an exit strategy well in hand.