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Española, New Mexico: of Pueblos and Old Spain

Española is a town of 10,000 inhabitants located in a fertile valley 30 miles north of Santa Fe. The population is 85% Hispanic.

The Española area
In 1598, nearby San Juan Pueblo was declared the first Spanish capital in the New Mexico Territory. In that year, Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate ended his 1,800 mile journey along El Camino Real from Mexico City in San Juan Pueblo, five miles north of Española. Three miles to the southwest is Santa Clara Pueblo and further west, the ancestral dwellings of Puye Cliffs. To the east, the village of Chimayo is a destination for pilgrims traveling to the Santuario de Chimayo.

Town center. Santa Cruz de la Canada Plaza, built on Indian land, is considered by some to be the historic heart of Española. But the newly built El Convento, built on a railroad right of way, is also a visible place to gather for events such as meetings and craft markets.

Growth. Española is growing, and there are concerns about a lack of planning for growth—for example, economic development opportunities have been tied to land development without thought of the future. The beautiful photograph, “Moonrise over Hernandez” by Ansel Adams would not be as beautiful taken today because lack of zoning regulations has led to unbridled growth in the area.

Sacred sites. The area around Española features many moradas kept going by penitentes and ancient places of healing such as Ojo Caliente. Petroglyphs on the mesa were recently recorded by San Juan students. One participant likened petroglyphs to libraries: “They tell us who are and where we come from.” Learning to read petroglyphs is like “opening an encyclopedia on geology, archaeology, religion, social science, and history.”

Community Resources
The arts. Musicians have a lot to offer; they sing about local, traditional, and contemporary culture. There is not a lot of funding for Northern New Mexican dance troupes, and children are slowly losing the dance steps.

Native American resources.
Native American elders might be a useful resource. The Center for Southwestern Research at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque has photos and primary text material on pueblo life, the Great Depression, and the history of US public education, especially the BIA boarding school experience. Projects at the Northern New Mexico Community College have documented community resources and the history of Navajo weaving.

Other programs.
A four-year study about the Rio Grande, “The River That Cries For Itself” was documented on six hours of tape.

Defining history. Española’s diverse population requires a multi-cultural approach. We should think in non-Eurocentric ways and ask, “What counts as history?” Other people’s heroes are not our heroes. Thinking historically can help students stay in touch with tradition.

Ideas for curriculum

  • Produce collaborative stories with people who have lived the experiences. Salvage material from Department of Cultural Affairs training videos, “Bridging to the Arts” and “Drawing from the Well.”
  • Let students choose their own curriculum.
  • Interpret history in songs, language, and stories from elders.
  • Value regional dialects. We can’t carry culture from one generation to another without language.
  • Explore the universal language of art. Create a state cultural arts program using local talent, local experiences, and traditional icons such as corn, chile, squash, family, and prayer to connect with students. Refer to the book by Bruce Hucko, Where there is no word for art.
  • Study and travel the Camino Real (from Alcalde to Chihuahua) to stimulate interest in history. Study Oñate and his expedition to see the effects of assimilation on such things as physical characteristics like red hair and technology like acequias.

Attending the Community Profile meeting held at Northern New Mexico Community College were Alfonso Atencio, Camilla Brown de Trujillo, Jose Griego, Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Frances Keevama, Tamara Lopez, Jose Lucero, Glenabah Martinez, Roger Montoya, Tessie Naranjo, Geronima Ortiz, Estevan Rael-Galvez, Hilario Romero, Sandra Rudy, and Faye Viarrial.


© Copyright 2004, Regents of New Mexico State University
This file was last updated Friday September 3, 2004
Contact: RETA@nmsu.edu