Page 183 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Double Quincentenary
part have led to the auto-denomination of scattered groups of In­
dians and mestizos as Jews. This phenomenon is now occurring in
Brazil and Peru, particularly in the Amazonia area where interna­
tional boundaries meet. Visited by conversionary rabbis but not
otherwise studied in a serious way, some of these groups have un­
dergone orthodox conversion and emigrated to Israel.
One dimension ofJewish quincentenary history, which received
a great deal of attention during the 400th anniversary year, did not
attract much notice this time around. Nineteenth-century Ameri­
can Jewry was eager to show that their ancestors had participated
in the making of the New World, and considerable research was
carried out on the people whom Boleslao Lewin was later to call
the “Yiddishe deroberrer.”39 That theme moderated in 1992,
probably because all the conquerors with converso ancestry had al­
ready been identified, and also because of enhanced awareness of
the Native American perspective on the conquest.
The activities of the quincentenary year established links be­
tween past and present racism without moving us closer to under­
standing its teleology. Unanswered questions remain. Did the
Spanish/ Portuguese exclusion of Jews from the New World be­
queath to contemporary Latin Americans a legacy of intolerance
which no amount of education can overcome? Does the Quincen­
tenary mark a new stage in the evolution of race politics in the
United States? Is racism an innate quality of all peoples, finding
only its current manifestation in tracts such as the one by the Na­
tion of Islam?
The Columbus Quincentenary Year provoked an historians’
war over interpreting the motivation, the dimensions, and the con­
sequences of the Old World’s conquest of the New. The scholar­
ship surrounding it produced new insights into events long
38. A fact rendered visible by the reluctance of the University o f Michigan
to count a Cuban Jew as Hispanic. Ruth Behar, “Imagining Cuba,” a paper deliv­
ered at the conference on Jews and the Encounter with the New World 1492/
1992 at the University o f Michigan on December 6, 1992.
39. The Argentine Jewish historian published
Yiddishe deroberrer un mar-
tiren in Lateyn Amerika
in Buenos Aires in 1968.