Uncovering Missing Local Latino Histories in Northern New Mexico

A few days after arriving in New Mexico, I sat down to talk with a local historian and later an archivist at the state’s oldest museum. Both the historian and archivist were pessimistic about the possibility of finding any support for my topic. Determined, I spent days in the archive pouring over historical documents of the museum’s history until I realized for myself that I was looking for a missing history even though I knew it wasn’t there. The overwhelming realization set in: my topic was too broad, too unclear, and I was very lost.

Land Grant Panel at Highlands University, Las Vegas, New Mexico (Huerta in red, Tijerina seated at the left end of table)I decided to take a few days off to reorganize my thoughts in Las Vegas, NM with the comfort of family and familiarity.  In a local restaurant I learned about an upcoming event, an “Academic Panel,” featuring New Mexican and Chicano legends, Reies Lopez Tijerina and Dolores Huerta. I attended the event in hopes of finding inspiration. The event was less academic and more so fanatic.

As I listened to speech after speech about Land Grants, the commodification of water, and the overwhelming loss of land, I noticed a reoccurring concern: the lack of knowledge of these histories among the youth in the state. This thought troubled me as I realized how little even I knew about the history of Land Grants and how the common Hispanic population of the state was affected. How could someone like me, who frequents museums in the state, took courses in New Mexico history in school, and is a member of a proud Hispanic family know so little about such a common and important history?

 Las Gorras Blancas in Las Vegas, NMThe truth is that it is because both museums and schools in the state, the places where youth interact with history, are failing to present a complete and honest history. As the prospect of a national museum of the American Latino is on the horizon, the opportunity for New Mexican Latinos to make their cultural history known is here. While existing museums in the state have continually failed to represent this history, one community organization has taken it upon themselves to preserve and present the missing narratives. La Casa Cultura is a community based organization with a long term goal of creating enough awareness to create a new museum in New Mexico that will perhaps serve as a model for what types of histories a national museum might include. I am currently researching the objectives the organization finds most important in order to gain a deeper understanding of their cause. I will interview both members of the group who believe in the cause of La Casa Cultura as well as community members outside of the organization who feel that the group is too fanatic to accomplish their goals.

This process has been much more difficult to navigate than I anticipated, yet it is a rewarding experience to work with people who are so deeply committed to preserving their cultural history. I can only hope that I might play a role in both preserving and promoting the history I’m proud to call my own.

Posted by Esther E. Mares – MA Candidate at CLACS/Museum Studies NYU

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