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Trio of authors and essayists explores the geographic, social connections behind ‘querencia’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Querencia: Reflections on the New Mexico Homeland” is an anthology of exhaustive essays by scholars.

Levi Romero, Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez and Spencer Herrera will take part in a virtual panel discussion at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 28, on Zoom about the “Querencia” anthology. Those interested in signing up for the free event, email rsvp@bkwrks.com. In response, Bookworks will send a link to register for it.

The book’s foreword and introduction make the general reader, regardless of ethnicity, feel welcome in reading the 15 essays that follow.

Rudolfo Anaya, the dean of Chicano literature and an Albuquerque resident, wrote the foreword. In it he gives a clear-eyed, many-sided understanding of what querencia means.

“Querencia is love of home, love of place. That is the love I felt for our humble home,” Anaya wrote. “Querencia are those prayers I still hear echoing in our sala where, nightly, my mother led us in rosaries and prayers for her family.”

That home was built on a little hill near Santa Rosa in the early 1940s.

Earlier in the foreword, he wrote, “On that lomita, my father, my three older brothers, friends and neighbors slowly raised our casita de adobes, built a two-seater escusa’o, dug a cisterna, used dynamite to dig a well, constructed a windmill, and built a corral for the cow and a hutch where I raised rabbits and chickens.”

Those elements, and others, form Anaya’s querencia, his patria chica.

He also pointed out a multicultural aspect to the concept: Each Pueblo has enjoyed its own “deep, abiding sense of querencia.”

Following that explanation, poet Levi Romero wrote in his introduction that everyone’s meaning of querencia is unique to them. Romero said he learned that from classroom discussions and student papers in the course “Querencia: Place and Identity” that he’s been teaching at UNM where he’s assistant professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

Levi Romero

He said he heard that Spanish term growing up in the village of Dixon in northern New Mexico, though it differs in meaning from the varying senses of querencia his students have expressed.

Romero, one of the three editors of the anthology, finds it wonderful to see how the essayists (himself included) expand on the concept in considering home, place and identity. Romero wrote the book’s final essay, “Following the Manito Trail: A Tale of Two Querencias.” Manitos refers to Hispanics of Northern New Mexico.

A second anthology editor, Spencer Herrera, associate professor of Spanish at NMSU, wrote the essay, “New Mexico Triptych – Querencia Etched in Wood, in Media and in Our Memory.” In the three-part essay, Herrera examines the 1953 U.S. government propaganda film “And Now, Miguel,” the recent New Mexico Tourism Department’s marketing campaign “New Mexico True,” and Romero’s poem “Molino Abandonado,” an abandoned village mill that’s a metaphor for a lost sense of community revived by remembrance.

Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez

Perhaps the most topical essay is anthology editor Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez’s “Contested Querencia” in “The Last Conquistador,” the title of a 2008 documentary about Don Juan de Oñate. Oñate is the subject of two present-day controversial statues in Albuquerque and north of Española that have been removed following recent protests.

“Sometimes you don’t know that your work will have the effect it was intended, but it was very good timing,” said Fonseca-Chávez, an assistant professor of English at Arizona State University.

Spencer Herrera

Even with differing individual points of view about Oñate, there’s a lot of gray area that people today don’t want to explore, the New Mexico native said in a phone interview. Maybe the protests and the statues will lead to what she called “a more careful engagement of our history.”

She said that she and Esteban Rael-Gálvez, a former New Mexico state historian, are developing an extended Oñate bibliography that could be ready in a few weeks as an online forum. In addition, Fonseca-Chávez and New Mexico cultural anthropologist David Garcia are organizing online teach-ins in response to the statues coming down.

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