If you enjoyed Rudolfo Anaya’s time-tested novel “Bless Me, Ultima” and Nasario García’s remembrance “Hoe, Heaven and Hell” set in the Rio Puerto valley, you’re bound to love Mari-Luci Jaramillo’s true-story collection “Sacred Seeds.”
The title refers to the values the author’s “grandparents” instilled in her – e.g. compassion, the love of learning, a sense of community, faith, cultural roots and the Spanish language.
Many chapters address those values or present loving snapshots of life at the grandparents’ ranchito told in Jaramillo’s simple descriptive writing style. One snapshot is the special treats Grandma Nanita gave the author and her siblings —— freshly picked lettuce leaves from her garden and sprinkled with vinegar and sugar. Or esquite, damp kernels of corn toasted and sprinkled with sugar. Or Nanita’s galletitas, cookies made only with butter, flour and sweetened condensed milk.
“The members of the Penitentes who I knew were wonderful, caring men. They helped anyone down on their luck, even though they were all very poor themselves,” the author writes.
The one chapter focusing on the author’s sister, Vera, was about her terrifying hour-long freezing walk in a raging snowstorm to get help. Her parents – Mamita was sick, Papito had an infected toe – waited for Vera’s return in their unheated car stuck in a muddy arroyo. Vera indeed got help.
The story of La Noche de la Gran Nevada was retold in the community for years.
“The most repeated part of the story, and what enthralled people most, was Vera’s bravery and how she saved her parents’ lives,” the author states.
The book’s subtitle is “A Girl, Her Abuelos, and the Heart of Northern New Mexico.”
The “girl” in the enchanting stories is the young Mari-Luci reminiscing about life at her grandparents’ ranchito during the Great Depression years of the 1930s. Mari-Luci, older sister Vera and younger brother Junior often visited their abuelos Nanita and Rampo. The “heart” in the subtitle is the rural community of Las Manuelitas, up the road from Sapello in San Miguel County where the ranchero was located. Mari-Luci and her family lived in Las Vegas, N.M.
This is Jaramillo’s second book. Her first was “Madame Ambassador: The Shoemaker’s Daughter.”
Jaramillo, who is 91, was the first U.S. Latina ambassador, serving as Chief of Mission to Honduras in the 1970s. Later she was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs in the Department of State and held that same titled position at the Department of Defense.
At the University of New Mexico in the 1980s, Jaramillo served as special assistant to the University President, vice president for Student Affairs and associate dean of the College of Education.
The book’s coauthor is Cecilia Navarrete,, who helped in the research, organization and editing. Navarrete is a retired educator who had studied with Jaramillo at UNM.
Both authors live in Albuquerque. The book is billed as Young Adult Nonfiction, but it is equally suitable for adult readers.
All proceeds from the sale of “Sacred Seeds” benefit the U.S.Ambassador Mari-Luci Jaramillo Endowed Scholarship at UNM.