A growing number of U.S. Hispanic people are looking to their European roots as a way to flee the social tensions stirred up in the country since President Donald Trump was elected, reports the Guardian. Under Sephardic Jew citizenship law in Spain, people who can prove they descended from Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492, forced to convert to Catholicism, or burned at the stake, can apply for Spanish citizenship.
The Jewish Federation of New Mexico offers certification for Sephardic descendants and has reported seeing a sharp increase in applications since the fall of 2016. The federation’s director of community outreach, Sara Koplik, commented on the surge of applications.
“With the election in November 2016 it was ‘bam!’ and our numbers started to go up significantly. Before the election, we issued maybe 20 or 30 certificates. But we have now issued 1,500 – from multiple countries.”
Koplik explained that the Spanish citizenship law came into effect a year prior to Trump’s election, yet the organization received few applications in the months leading up to November of 2016. She added that although they receive applications from dozens of countries, the majority come from the U.S., Mexico, and Venezuela.
“It’s a big jump and of course some of it had nothing to do with the United States – it has to do with Venezuela and violence in Mexico – but for Americans, they see this as an insurance policy just in case, against hatred.”
This insurance policy comes from the discrimination and hatred felt by those of Latin American origin. Rob Martínez, from New Mexico, is one descendant of Spanish settlers who arrived in the country in the 15th century and is proud of his culture and heritage, writes the Guardian.
However, Martínez reports feeling personally targeted by Trump’s rhetoric, commenting that when Trump speaks badly of Mexicans and Hispanic people, it makes him feel sick.
“He’s got something against Mexico … and against all Latin American people.”
Although not all applicants are motivated by fear, Koplik notes that Latino and Jewish cultures have a tendency to look to the future when feeling threatened and make a strategy for self-protection.
“We know Jewish history, and unfortunately Latinos who have Jewish heritage also have that history of putting things in hiding, being secretive, protecting yourself to survive. In both of these cultures, there’s this instinct to just have a plan B, just something a little extra just in case. And this fits very well into those ideas of, ‘Oh well, if things don’t go well in the US … If racism increases, OK, then there might be another way forward.'”
Ultimately, many of those looking to Spain for citizenship are eager to connect with their past and discover where they come from.