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Native-Hispanic history has plenty to celebrate

On top of the grueling pandemic with its negative impacts on the way we live life, we are now dealing with the explosive issue of race relations and what beliefs we hold dear to our hearts.

Respecting each other is a path forward to living peacefully together and trading with each other. Although protests have been occurring in my home state of New Mexico by indigenous groups against statues of Spanish conquistadors and Spanish history in the U.S., I prefer to focus on the overwhelming positive relations that people of Hispanic descent and the various Native American peoples have shared. This relationship should be an ancient example of how communities that trade together thrive together, and the lessons apply in modern times.

We have co-existed for more than 400 years. We have intermarried, broken bread and worked together during crises. Many Native Americans and Hispanics have each other’s blood flowing through their veins. If the statues are offensive or hurtful, they should be put in a museum or on a private residence where people can judge the historical figures for themselves.

We have lived together for so long that we should be able to communicate and understand each other’s viewpoint.

I can trace my Hispanic history in New Mexico to the 1540 Spanish expedition into New Mexico led by Francisco Coronado, in which my ancestor, Tristan Luna y Arellano, served as his captain. I believe that during the first stage of Spanish rule in New Mexico (1598 to 1680), Native Americans were treated harshly and unfairly by Spanish rulers. However, I believe that after the Spanish were kicked out of New Mexico by the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and their return in 1692, the two peoples came to accept each other and develop commerce, trade and friendship that still exists today.

On my home mantel sits a San Idelfonso pot by Helen Gutierrez, a potter and niece of the most famous of the Pueblo Indian potters, Maria Martinez. I didn’t buy it – rather it was a gift. Years ago on a break from college back in my home town of Española, one of my best friends, who was Helen’s son from Santa Clara Pueblo, asked me if I could do him a favor and help him get firewood for his mother. I agreed and we proceeded to go up into the mountains west of Santa Clara Pueblo. Being a logger at the time, I cut the piñon and juniper trees with my chainsaw, and my friend gathered and stacked the wood in the bed of his truck. We then took the load to his mother’s house, after which she fed us and we relaxed in the living room, tired, but satisfied after a hard day’s work.

As I was leaving, I called “goodbye” to his mother, who was still cooking in the kitchen. She shouted at me to wait and she went into her studio and came out with a perfect black pot, with meticulous highlights. She twirled it in front of me and said, “Here.” I said, “What’s this for?” She said, “I want you to have it.” I said, ” I didn’t bring you wood to receive anything.”

And she said, “I know. I just want you to have this.” I looked at her eyes and my heart melted. I took the pot and I told her that I would always cherish it.

Later, my friend told me that sometimes his mother would give away pottery that was cracked or had blemishes, but she had given me a pot that was a showroom piece. I never forgot that day or that beautiful lady’s face as she handed the pot to me. That pot is now one of my most sentimental items, not only because of its history, but because every time I see it, I am reminded that where I come from, Native Americans and Hispanics co-exist peacefully, not only from a utilitarian point of view, but because we are so similar and we like each other.

While I don’t advocate forgetting history, we should focus on the future and the good history we have between us. Look at what each side has brought to the table to create such a unique culture. Navajo silversmiths learned their craft from the Spanish, to become the best in the world. Native Americans taught the Spanish how to grow crops like corn and squash, for which the Spanish supplied the acequias – irrigation canals – that are still used today to grow these crops. Spanish cattle, sheep, goats, and horses are mainstays of Native American culture in the Southwest, as are the hornos – outdoor ovens – that the Pueblo Indians use to make delectable dishes that are famous throughout the world. We wouldn’t have enchiladas, tacos, and the chile for which New Mexico is world famous if not for Native American crops.

The beautiful churches at Taos and Acoma that were once held as buildings of oppression during the initial Spanish occupation of New Mexico, and during which many colonial churches were destroyed by the Pueblo Revolt, are today revered as cultural treasures. Today, various Native Americans practice their traditional religion while incorporating elements of Catholicism. This is a living example that we share the best of both worlds to make our own culture stronger through trade and exchange

This weekend, I am going to make my favorite New Mexican food, chicos, a corn and pork stew, with red chile – the best fusion of Native American and Spanish food I know, and which is enjoyed by both Hispanics and Native Americans.

Let’s celebrate the intertwining of our cultures while understanding that our history is far from perfect. We have the here and now, and this is the biggest gift of opportunity we have to deepen our support and understanding of each other and to live side-by-side as good neighbors.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at jerry@nmiba.com.

 

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