On Tuesday, June 30, Rudolfo Anaya, a very kind man, passed away at the age of 82.
His novel, “Bless Me, Ultima,” was such a beloved tale that it has been adapted into an opera, a play and even a film — which I was fortunate enough to be a part of.
In a sentence, the story is about an adolescent boy growing up in New Mexico during the 1940s, and his time with the eponymous curandera, Ultima. I portrayed the character of Theresa Márez, the sister of the protagonist Antonio.
Mr. Anaya visited the set often, proud of his prose being shared, and I had the pleasure of speaking to him a few times. When I first met him, in my period-appropriate costume, he told me that I genuinely reminded him of one of his real-life sisters, whom my character was based on.
I think that was when I understood the narrative was semi-autobiographical.
I remember filming the movie fondly, as it was my first major job in the industry.
I was 9 years old, celebrating my 10th birthday on set. During my youth, I may not have understood his impact quite yet, but I realized that I was in the presence of greatness and charisma.
It probably was not until high school that I fully understood the influence of this treasured author. His best-seller was required reading in my English course, and lucky for me, I think I had a leg up on my classmates.
Since then, I have worked on other book-to-film adaptations, and it is still extraordinary to be a part of that transformation; to see someone’s hard work come to life, and trusting the actors will bring it justice. It was an honor to meet Mr. Anaya and help interpret his work.
He fully captured what it is like to grow up and live in this beautiful land of enchantment. Thankfully, his books are no longer burned or banned but instead enjoyed by all.
I still keep in touch with much of the cast and crew — many of whom expressed their sadness for the loss of the late novelist. I have been honored to work with my same movie family on other projects, even outside of the acting realm.
The children of the movie are all of college age now, spread across the country, still cherishing this shared experience.
Mr. Anaya’s work even follows me in my life at the University of New Mexico, where his creative writing program lives on.
Now, I think I will re-read his prized book. Each time I do, I get something new out of it. This time, I will be reading it with a seasoned, more adult perspective as my age is closer to that of the older Márez brothers.
I encourage you to sit down sometime soon and do the same.
QEPD, Rudolfo Anaya.
(Julia Flores is a 2018 graduate of Rio Rancho High School and a junior at the University of New Mexico recently accepted into the sign-language interpreting program. She has several movie credits to her name, including the newest, “Stargirl,” airing on Disney Plus.)