Judaism in Mexico began in 1519 with the arrival of “Conversos” or “Crypto-Jews,” those forcibly converted to Catholicism due to the Spanish Inquisition. Over the colonial period, a number came to Mexico despite Mexican Inquisition persecutions in the late 16th and mid 17th centuries. However, most Conversos eventually assimilated into Mexican society with no immigration of practicing Jews allowed into the country until the 19th century. Religious freedom was established in the second half of that century and around that time, Jews began immigrating to Mexico from Europe and later from the crumbling Ottoman Empire and what is now Syria continuing into the first half of the 20th century.
Today, most Jews in Mexico are descendants of this immigration and still divided by ethnic origin, principally Yiddish speaking Ashkenazim and Ladino speaking Sephardim. It is an insular community with its own religious, social and cultural institutions, mostly in Mexico City. However, since the 1880s, there have been efforts to identify descendants of colonial era Conversos both in Mexico and the Southwestern United States, generally to return them to Judaism. However, this effort is controversial.
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