New Mexico's Hispanic Culture
Insights from writer Rudolfo
"New Mexico's Best"
By Richard Mahler
If one is to savor
New Mexico's best qualities fully, it is good to know something
about the people who make this their home. No group is more significant
in this regard than los
Hispanos-the people of mixed Spanish, Native American and
Mexican blood, whose ancestors have been here for generations.
Although they make
up the largest single ethnic group in New Mexico-an estimated
40 percent of the state's 1.6 million people in 1996-Hispanos
are little understood by many who live in the other 49 states.
It is not widely known, for example, that the first Europeans
to establish settlements within the present borders of the United
States were the Spanish colonists of the upper Rio Grande Valley-in
1598-and not the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock or the English settlers
Another common misconception
is that the Spanish-speaking people of today's New Mexico area
mostly south-of-the-border immigrants or the descendants of recent
immigrants. The reality is that New Mexico's Spanish-language
culture is something apart from that found in Mexico, Latin America,
Spain, Texas, Puerto Rico or California. This is why many of the
state's Spanish-speakers bristle when outsiders label them "Mexican,"
"Chicano" or "Latino." None of these labels really fit, thus the
widespread acceptance of the term "Hispano," a usage here that
dates back many years.
When I broached the
subject with New Mexico's best-known Hispano writer, Rudolfo Anaya,
a native of the state's eastern plains and the author of the widely
acclaimed novel "Bless Me,Ultima" and other books, this is what he said:
"The best way to get
a fee for the Nuevo Mexicano culture is to get off the
beaten path. If you're lucky, you'll be invited by someone to
visit a home. Perhaps a baptism is taking place, or a wedding
dance. Maybe the Matachines are dancing in Bernalillo,
or if it's December, they'll be dancing at Jemaz Pueblo. If someone
invites you, go! Nuevo Mexicanos are proud of their
history and traditions-they love to show them off.
who invites you into a small village church will share real
history with you, and the living experience of being New Mexican.
The mayordomo of an acequia (ditch) will teach you
more about water rights and their historical importance than volumes
at the library ever will.
"The places of New
Mexico, from rugged peaks and green pine forests to the southern
Las Cruces desert, are truly magical. We understand why there
is 'beauty all around us.' We dream and contemplate the sacred
landscape. But for a real sharing of our cultural ways, go to
the people. In villages, pueblos, ranches, or in the big barrios
of the cities, if you find someone willing to take you by the
hand and share: Go!
"One day I was up
at my home in Jemez Springs, picking a harvest of golden delicious
apples. A German couple came by and asked to buy some of my apples.
I not only gave them a bag of apples, I gave them copies of my
books. During that brief visit we became good friends. Later I
received a letter from them thanking me for the glimpse into my
"So if you find a
guide, go! It's the people-la gente-who make this a great
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