Anna Ruth Henriques Showcase Transcript

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Dalia Kandiyoti: So, were there like customs and you had the religious customs, and were there other customs or languages that remained in the family?

Anna Ruth Henriques: No, no. After 400 years I mean English… they didn’t even pronounce the last name properly.  I come to Portugal and… they, we say Henriques. And I arrive in Portugal at the airport for the first time and the guy says, “Oh, Anna Henriques.” [En-ree-ksh]. And I’m like, Enriksh? That’s how you pronounce it? [Laughter] And he said, “Yes, of course!”  He said, “You’re Portuguese!”  I said, “Well, thank you very much.” [Laughter]

Rina Benmayor: …When you had that first encounter with Portugal…, how did you feel about it?

Henriques: Well, it was actually my second time. I came here in 1992, and I thought, “What a dump. I will never come back. I have no desire.” It was really depressing in ‘92. And… when Jamaica didn’t work out, and I thought, “Where am I gonna go?”  I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna just visit Portugal because they’ve been nice enough to approve an EU passport [sic – certificate of Sephardi origins] for me.”  Once I got on the plane, I started to feel like I was surrounded by people who were very familiar, even though I didn’t understand a word they were saying. There was something in their whole demeanor, energetically almost. And when I landed at the Lisbon airport, I really felt like I had come home. And when the guy said to me, “Welcome home!” He said, “Welcome home!” I was like, “Oh my God, this is like, too many signs,” you know? 


Kandiyoti: So I’m going to ask about how the whole citizenship…

Benmayor: How did you find out about it?

Henriques: I had heard about it from my father years earlier. Spain and Portugal.  And then […]

I learnt more about the history and I realized that I was actually Portuguese, not Span…, or if I was Spanish, it was earlier than the 1400s.  So, when I sent in the information for the Jewish community to approve me, and they did, and very easily… in spite of not having all my ducks in a row because you’re supposed to have a stamp from the rabbi of your synagogue to prove you’re Jewish. Jamaica has not had a rabbi since I was about seven years old, because in the ‘70s […] the rabbi left and they weren’t able to replace the rabbi […].  Anyway, I learnt more and more about my […] specifically Sephardic heritage, and thought, “Let me give this a shot.” And what happened was, we had no rabbi, so I wrote and said my father was considered… one of the leaders in the community, and […] he wrote the letter to say, “I am considered one of the leaders of the community.  Yes, Anna Ruth Henriques is Jewish, and she is my daughter.” And I sent in some articles that he was quoted in, you know, because he’s always quoted somewhere. And it was a shoo-in. And I sent the genealogy thing that he had done, which is the entire family history that he’s researched.  The Henriques name, apparently, plus a few of the other names, for the Portuguese Jewish community were just almost automatically approved, if you were Jewish. 


Kandiyoti: So…you’re almost a citizen of Portugal. So what does that mean to you, now that you’re there, you know?  You must have had, before and after feelings.

Henriques: Well, the elation came when I got the approval from the Jewish community, even though I kinda knew I was gonna get it.  Because at that point that was going to be the only step that I could see as a holdup, especially with no rabbi, and literally just a genealogical report that had been generated by my father. I mean, it was a one man show! [Laughs] Rabbi, genealogist, everything!!  [Laughter].  No, but once that paper arrived, there was something that was so embracing about it, the fact that that community in Portugal had considered me one of theirs, you know? In their fold. There was a moment of really like, just sort of like elation. And everything else since then has just been logistical. Because the amount of paperwork one has to gather for this citizenship is a nightmare; fingerprinting, FBI reports, …it was a headache! 


Benmayor:  Does the ancestry play a big part in that feeling at home, or…? 

Henriques: Um, that’s a good question. I think the ancestry — I think that there’s something that’s deeply familiar about the place. The only other place I’ve had that sense of familiarity, and I think it’s more spiritual than it is…, I don’t even know what it is. But when I landed in India, I felt I had been there before.  And I spent five weeks cumulatively in India. And so much about it felt familiar, so deeply familiar. As if almost if in another lifetime I had lived in India.  But, but, this… that was familiar, this feels like home. Like I should establish roots here, that sense of rootedness.  […] There’s something that feels ancient for me in this place. And it’s not familiar territory, because the tropics and here are very different climates and vegetation and everything else. I just look at the faces of the people and I feel very, like they’re familiar, and like I belong. Indians thought I was Indian, but — because I understand mixes a lot, I know mixes from Jamaica. The Portuguese faces felt like they were….  So many people could be related to me a hundred times over. The mixes here go far and wide. Asia, Africa, everywhere.  I can see the traces in people’s faces, even if they have no knowledge of that lineage, I can see it and feel it. 

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