When he was seven years old, Francisco Caravayo’s Puerto Rican grandmother told him a secret that he didn’t really grasp until decades later when he tested with 23andMe.
When he tested with 23andMe, Francisco had wanted to contribute to research while exploring a little of his family’s Portuguese ancestry.
“My brother and I always felt as if there was a culture of secrets in our family,” said Francisco. “When my grandmother said to all my cousins, ‘Never forget, you are of God’s chosen people,’ I knew what she meant, but didn’t understand why we couldn’t talk about it.”
In telling his story, Francisco goes back to his childhood, growing up in a Latino neighborhood. Most of his friends were Catholic, and although his family was Lutheran and went to church regularly, something didn’t feel quite right to him.
“We went to church, but my father was always saying things like ‘Remember, Jesus was a Jew,’” Francisco said.
After Francisco went away to college, he had a discussion one day with a Portuguese professor about his last name. She told him that his surname was taken by Portuguese Jews many of whom had been forced to convert to Catholicism by the Inquisition, and many of these Conversos fled to Latin America to escape persecution.
There were other clues. His grandmother lit candles on Friday nights. She taught the family that dairy and milk were not to be mixed and that shellfish was to be avoided. Pork was eaten apologetically. Christmas and Easter were not celebrated with joy, but with what can only be described as obligation, as if performing a chore. And when Francisco’s father died, Francisco followed family tradition: no clergy were present at the funeral and no Christian iconography was put on the gravestone.
He began to explore his Portuguese roots and studying more about Judaism. Shortly afterward, he saw an article in OUT Magazine about 23andMe’s research. Francisco decided to get tested as a way to not just contribute to research, but also explore his own ancestry.
His results indicated Iberian ancestry, but also he saw that his paternal haplotype was shared by 20-to-30 percent of Sephardic Jews.
“That information was so grounding,” said Francisco. “I didn’t expect to find that I was 100 percent Jewish, because my ancestors tried to blend in and marry non-Jews, but I finally had evidence.”
He traced his haplogroup’s migration, and it matched up with the diaspora’s migratory patterns. He was one of thousands of families whose ancestors had escaped persecution by hiding their religion.
“I was sitting at the computer crying,” said Francisco
Not only did Francisco find answers to his past, but he also found a community of people on the 23andMe message boards that shared the same haplotype. Through the online community, he’s been able to meet others like him and trade stories and information.
Francisco has now completed his conversion process to Judaism. While he was going through the conversion, he met his current partner, who is Jewish too.
“I finally felt whole,” he said.