Friday, September 03, 2010

Holiday Weekend History Blogging: The Spanish Influence In New Mexico; Fact Or Fantasy; Readers Lead The Great Debate 

Estevan Rael-Gálvez
There are more than a few armchair historians among our blog readers, and it seemed just about all of them jumped out of their easy chairs when on Tuesday we posted and commented on controversial remarks from Dr. Estevan Rael-Gálvez, Ph.D., the executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center and a former state historian for New Mexico.

Rael-Gálvez dubbed the Spanish legacy in New Mexico "a fantasy" and "somewhat of a fabrication." He added: "Spain may be the least of what has shaped our heritage of converging streams..."

We argued that Rael-Gálvez is the one in a fantasy world and perhaps the cultural center needed to be located next to Disneyland if it was going to engage in make-believe history.

A flood of email supporting the comments of Dr. Rael-Gálvez flooded in, raising suspicions that his friends organized a support group, but we also received comments agreeing with our assessment.

We're going to run some from both camps, but we start off with the most interesting comment of all. It comes from Rael-Gálvez who originally made his remarks in the Alibi, ABQ's alternative news weekly. After apparently getting an earful from the "fantasy" families who claim Spanish ancestry, he issued this letter to the editor apology:

...I wish to apologize for any misunderstandings and...any offense caused by my remarks in the Alibi... This was never my intention. In no way did I intend to deny the origins of our ancestry and certainly not that of Spain, from which a rich legacy flows in New Mexico. As excerpts, these answers were drawn from a much longer conversation.

I have dedicated my professional life to creating open dialogue, even about issues that are the most difficult to talk about, and I will continue to assume the responsibility of raising consciousness through discourse.

The published interview, however, was only a glimpse at a much longer conversation where I was able to more fully elaborate on years of in-depth research and my professional interpretations on identity and consciousness. I stand by that work. Beyond my inability to better contextualize the answers in the interview, the primary intention of my entire response to the question of identity was to recognize the beauty and complexity of who we have become, long after the first points of contact.

I recognize that identity is such a sensitive topic, but as a community we cannot shy away from engaging in open dialogue about race and ethnicity. Neither can we ignore the notion that identity is not static. My hope is that we can continue this especially important conversation...

Well, thanks for that, Doc. We were starting to wonder if a bunch of Tejanos had kidnapped you ad subjected you to mind control.

That apology doesn't make the email any less fascinating so off we go.

From Taos, Sam Herrera writes:

Approximately 16,000 Spaniards (no women) colonized the Southwest in the entire history of colonization. That is Texas, NM, AZ, and California. Thus, any Spanish blood that may have coursed through anyone's veins is gone now. It is just biologically impossible that any "Spanish blood" is left in anyone from around Northern NM. Prior to 1900, the Hispanics around Northern NM called themselves "Mexican." After 1900, when more Anglos were moving to the area, in an effort to combat discrimination against themselves, the Hispanics started emphasizing their white "Spanish" background and de-emphasizing their brown Indian blood. The myth was created that people around here were therefore Spanish, and not Mexican or Mestizo, etc.

Various rationales were bandied about, like we were isolated, our Spanish is different, etc. But ultimately, it was a myth concocted as a hedge against racism. Today, the local "Spanish" people now believe they have no kinship with their brothers south of the border--Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc. and discriminate against these peoples. It appears that Dr. Estevan Rael-Galvez is attempting to bring some reality to the situation so that we (Hispanic people) can appreciate and accept our brotherhood with other Latins around the world. As a Hispanic born in Northern NM and whose parents call themselves "Spanish," I believe this farce needs to end. It may have had a good purpose when this myth was created but now it is hurting us and keeping us from progressing. If anything, Dr. Estevan Rael-Galvez, a native of Northern NM, should be commended for his standing up against the tide of historical revisionists.

From a reader who requested anonymity:

Joe, You've been dealing with politicos too long and thus were too dismissive of real academic research. Dr. Rael-Galvez talked about Spanish "heritage" fantasy and you referred to it as Spanish influence. There is a difference. Dr. Rael-Galvez is quite correct is his discussion of the myth of Spanish ancestry. A recent book by Laura Gomez, a native New Mexican, describes that issue in academic depth in her book "Manifest Destiny: The Making of the Mexican-American Race," which focused on New Mexico.

"Mexican" was the term most consistently used in the historical records of the nineteenth century. Second, it more accurately describes the population's mestizo--or mixed Indian/Spanish/African--racial heritage" and "by the early nineteenth century, very few of these people were born in Spain or had parents or even grandparents who were Spanish, although they spoke the Spanish language, were practicing Roman Catholics, and otherwise conformed to cultural practices consistent with having been colonized by Spain.

In terms of ancestry, the vast majority of these people were more indigenous than Spanish, and some of their religious, cultural, and political practices had indigenous origins." There was a lot of opposition to New Mexico statehood at the end of the nineteenth century, much of it because of the number of "Mexicans" in the state that only spoke Spanish. Thus, the effort at statehood included comparing New Mexico settlers with the settlers of the eastern United States -- Europeans and, hence, Spanish became the operative word.

Call it a melting pot or a tapestry, but the insistence by so many New Mexicans that they are "Spanish" (God forbid you call them Mexicans), is not only incorrect, it's also insulting to those of us who acknowledge and are proud of the mestizo or Mexican heritage. Spain is a part of that heritage neither the sole or major part of that heritage...

Ed Romero, former US Ambassador to Spain and Edward Lujan, a founding father of the Hispanic Cultural Center an former chairman of the NM Republican Party (via the Alibi):

...The front page carries the title that states Rael-Gálvez is “the mind” behind the NHCC. This statement denigrates all the present and past staff at the NHCC. It also belittles the inspiration, determination and work of the many people and institutions that made the NHCC what it is today. Simply put, there is no single mind behind the NHCC but many minds.

Second, the interviewee was allowed to edit his answers via the Internet. The reader must assume that he chose his words with care, which gives rise to our third and most troubling concern.

Rael-Gálvez described Spanish identity in New Mexico as “somewhat of a fabrication” after “a mere two centuries of Spanish occupation.” “The Spanish heritage fantasy,” he continues, “is really about denial and not based on history.”

Really? Are not his very names Spanish? Is not Spanish still widely spoken here? Does he not direct the National Hispanic Cultural Center? Does he not live in Santa Fe and work in Albuquerque? Were not both cities founded under Spanish administrations? Didn’t Spain administer New Mexico longer than the United States has administered here? Is not our state constitution written in Spanish and English? Is all this (and more) fantasy, myth, denial and not based in history? Really?

Then, after claiming the myth, he talks about what it means to be “ ‘Hispanic’ in New Mexico” and that New Mexico Hispanics are part of a multicultural tapestry. How can they be a part of anything if they do not exist? This illogic is very troubling, embarrassing and sad when it comes from the executive director of the NHCC, as a self-described “accidental historian.”

Reader Juan Fernandez writes:

Hi Joe, I happen to agree very much with Dr. Estevan Rael-Galvez. Spaniards went all over Latin America, not just to New Mexico. The argument that New Mexicans are "Spanish" and wish to distance themselves from Mexicans is truly misguided, at best. New Mexicans are as much Spanish as Mexicans are. Let's remember that Mexicans have Spanish blood in them and many of them are very white (watch Univision anytime and you'll see). New Mexican customs are much more linked to Mexican customs: the food, the music, the attire and decorations.

All that said, it's unfortunate that as Hispanics we always seek to make up in our minds that one nationality or birthplace makes you "better" than those Hispanics of another area. Instead, Hispanics should come together and seek ways to improve our common problems and challenges.

From the ABQ South Valley and reader Andrew Leo Lopez:

The professor who debunks Spanish influence in New Mexico will next deny the Holocaust or our own civil war! Dementia runs amok among history professors!

Now in random order is the enshrinement of Spanish in the New Mexico Constitution. How about the Catholic religion brought by the colonists and the interesting sidebar of the Penitentes?

The acequia system of irrigation survives to the present as does their system of governance.

The Spanish brought their domesticated animals which I see everyday.

The Spanish were the only Europeans invited back by the indigenous peoples to keep the peace and insure prosperity.

The city of the Holy Faith celebrates its quadcentennial this year. Can the professor count to 400?

The entire Native population and pueblo and reservation sovereignty owe their present existence to the Spanish and the Spanish King.

Finally, a word about the greatest legacy of my Spanish ancestors on both sides of the bed.

My ancestors arrived during one of the most intolerant periods of history known as the Inquisition.Having none of it at a time when defiance was a death sentence, the Spanish brought a degree of racial and religious tolerance to New Mexico unknown in its day that exists to a large degree until the present.The foundation laid down by the Spanish centuries ago exists to the present. The professor is a madman.

Reader Vince Ramos opines:

One of the things which might be worth noting about our inheritances from the Spanish occupation that Dr. Estevan Rael-Gálvez refers to is the essentially feudal patrón/peón relationship that'ss so firmly entrenched in the culture and goverance of Northern New Mexico.

Generally this relationship is characterized as a proscriptive social norm that serves to not only enforce blind loyalty to ethnic leaders but ensures a continuing need to enter into and rely upon secure political or economic positions of dependency, which derives from a preference for a stable hierarchical social system with well-defined strata, roles and utilizations--all of which sustains a continuing resistance on the behalf of Norteños to social, cultural and political changes.

Reader Emilio Sanchez comes with this:

I have been working on my genealogy for over 15 years and have documented numerous ancestors who were born in Spain or the Canary Islands.

If Rael-Galvez has done his genealogy, then he may well have few Hispanic ancestors and is primarily native American. He has not publicized his genealogy therefore I can only guess that he has extensive Native American ancestors.

However, most Sanchez, Chavez, Martinez, Garcia, Marquez, Ulibarri, Padilla, et al, can trace their ancestors through Mexico to Spain. Some of these ancestors married Native Americans, but many married only "Espanoles" or as they were called "gente de sangre pura".

Rael-Galvez has fallen into the mindset of some at the Hispanic Cultural Center who deny their Hispanic heritage and call themselves "Chicanos" rather than "Hispanic American."

Hispanic and proud of it.

Here's blog reader Jacob "Jackie" Block:

Back to the History books. Actually the settlers of New Mexico came from Northern New Spain (Mexico). The Onate expedition actually started in Zacatecas. I am pretty sure that none of the expeditions into what is now New Mexico started in Spain.

Reader Joseph Gurule supports Rael-Galvez:

Dear Joe, I am a proud graduate of NMSU (08). I wanted to take issue with your categorization of Dr. Rael-Galvez' work as "historic revisionism". Having been a history major at State this section of the blog was of particular interest to me. There is indeed an element of fantasy accompanying the "Spanish Heritage" of New Mexicans, particularly in the north. Yes, you are correct in pointing out that New Mexico was settled by Spain 400 years ago, 1598 to be exact. But so was much of the Western Hemisphere at the time. Folks in modern Latin America certainly don't share this "obsession" with "Spanish Heritage" that is just as as much a part of their history and culture, but why is that?

It's ironic that this debate surfaces at a time when New Mexico is beginning it's Centennial of Statehood commemoration. The quest for statehood one hundred years ago is exactly when the notion of "Spanish Heritage" began to take hold in New Mexico. Prior to this, "New Mexicans" more closely identified with Mexico, and Mexican heritage. Remember, much of present day New Mexico was a part of Mexico much longer than colonial Spain. It is in fact New MEXICO, and not New SPAIN as originally named by Spain.

Opponents of Statehood slammed New Mexicans as "inferior" and aligned them with Mexico. It was steeped in prejudice, racism and fear of Mexican culture, sound familiar to any present day debates? Proponents began to stress the "Spanish Heritage" of New Mexico. It was an attempt to align New Mexicans with a more European identification, something Americans could certainly share. It's also ironic this debate is occurring at a time of an increasing populist anti-Mexican mood due to our country's disastrous immigration policy. Sure is a lot easier to call yourself "Spanish" in Northern New Mexico, now more than ever. Perhaps instead of the National Hispanic Cultural Center moving to Anaheim, a new fantasy theme park should be constructed in Santa Fe. It could be called...New Spain.

From blog reader Bill Hume, former editor of the editorial pages of the ABQ Journal:

In reference to your comment on the Spanish influence in New Mexico. I don't completely disagree with your conclusions, but...

"...They (the Spaniards) mated with Mexicans and Native Americans..." Just who were these "Mexicans" -- as distinct from "Native Americans" -- that these Spaniards mated with?

The ethnic and cultural history of New Mexico was essentially identical of that of what is now Mexico up until the Mexican war for independence. Following victory in that, however, what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, California, and parts of Colorado (did I miss any?) was part of the Republic of Mexico only for 25 years, until the U.S. took the territory away in the war ending with the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. So, "New Mexico" was only a part of "Mexico" for about a quarter-century, out of the 400-plus years of European interaction.

So in my view, the ethnic and cultural ingredients that formed today's Hispanic New Mexicans of the old families are largely identical to those of the families of today's Mexico--but they experienced essentially none of the cultural history of the modern country of Mexico before becoming part of the United States by conquest.

Still more reader comment and Eddie Martinez:

If I understand Mr. Galvez correctly, I think his point is we should continue to seek facts about our history, and bring light to these stories and ideas that can be exploited to limit some people in their present context. As you are fond of pointing out from a political perspective, some people claim to be "authentic" New Mexicans and others are not...at least not in claiming some connection to some historical land grant in the past.

In my opinion, this mistaken idea of who belongs and who doesn't only perpetuates this valueless caste system that will doom New Mexico to slow progress if any, because it can sometimes serve as a barrier between natural allies. You know how the locals here in Santa Fe feel about everyone else...we've got to move past this.

By your thinking of "who's got Spanish blood in their veins", is Florida no less "Spanish"? Or Texas, or Arizona? Look how far that got Arizona. By this measure you endorse, we'd probably rank low on the Spanish meter by any standard.

There's clearly a logical fallacy here, and some selective reasoning at work.

I hope not to come across too negative, but hope to share my perspective on this with you, and hope you'll clarify your statements if you think you came across too condemning of Galvez.

I'll look forward to continue reading every morning over coffee...

New Mexico patent attorney Kermit Lopez shares his perspective:

..The fact is that Dr. Rael-Galvez is correct and your criticism is unwarranted, particularly when facts, history, and culture and other prominent scholars can concur with and support the statements by Dr. Rael-Galvez.

Without going into too much detail here, while it is true that certain socio-cultural elements are residual or reflect Spanish culture, so too does Mexico (especially northern) and many areas of Latin America. This does not mean these people are "Spanish", just like some Americans who may have British ancestry are not "English."

My family (both sides) have lived in New Mexico for over 400 hundred years. The majority of the original settlers were from Mexico, i.e., New Spain and were Mestizo (very few were from Spain, and some of these married Mexican or Indigenous women). My grandparents used to say "somosMexicanos" when referring to New Mexico Hispanics amongst themselves. The "Spanish" referral was an attempt after the American conquest of New Mexico to "whiten/purify" themselves in the eyes of the Anglo Americans. This is where the Spanish fantasy derives from.

Anyway, next time I suggest stopping and taking a good look at us. We're not pure Spanish and neither is the culture. I have been to Spain and enjoyed their "gastronomía," but they sure do not serve posole, red or green chile, or sopapillas (smile). We can thank our pueblo/mestizo brethren for these New Mexican delicacies!

By the way, I have enjoyed your blog over the years and have found it to be very informative and timely.

Hope you enjoyed the discussion. There are few other states like ours that provoke such spirited discussion over their histories. It's another reason we find it so satisyign to be a New Mecian.

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