(NPR) There were the grandfathers who refused to eat pork and wore hats at Saturday church services, the grandmothers who lit candles on Friday nights. The sheep and cattle ranchers who slit the throats of their animals, drained the blood, removed the sciatic nerve and salted the meat. These kinds of stories aren’t uncommon in the American Southwest.

At a bedside altar facing the room’s East wall, Sonya Loya’s maternal grandmother, a staunch Catholic, would pray three times daily with a shawl over her head. Living in Alpine, Texas, a small town isolated in the high desert, she taught her family to routinely check their hens’ eggs for spots of blood. Her last request before she died was that she be buried with her feet facing the East.

“There’s something about it, deep within our souls,” Loya says.

It wasn’t until Loya was an adult that she learned of a possible Jewish legacy in the region — a narrative that the media would magnify and scholars would dispute.

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