Tuesday, October 17, 2000
Homes Testament to Woman, Family, Culture
By Anthony DellaFlora
Journal Staff Writer
First-time visitors to the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico might encounter a bit of Hispanic history they hadn't counted on.
On a small plot of land tucked between the parking lot and the main complex is a pair of small green stucco homes surrounded by a wall.
It is the legacy of Adela Martinez.
Martinez, who died earlier this year at age 80, made history when she stood up to supporters of the center, refusing to sell the land she had lived on since age 4.
Martinez maintained that she wasn't opposed to the preservation of the Hispanic culture; she just didn't want it sitting on top of her.
"I'm Hispanic. I have my culture. It was taught to me by my forefathers, by my parents. I've tried to teach my family the same way, to respect each other. To know where they came from," she told the Journal in an interview last year.
"We never needed a shrine to tell us who we were," she said. "We just knew."
In a time when people move frequently and few have longtime ties to a particular place, some may not have understood Martinez's allegiance to her family's homestead, which for the last several years sat in isolation near the southwest corner of Fourth and Bridge SW. It was the only survivor of an urban renewal project that displaced the owners of 50 other nearby homes in the 1970s.
But Martinez lived through several cycles of birth and death on the land.
Her parents died there. Her husband, Ramon, died in 1985. A son died at 12 from an attack of appendicitis.
Until her death, Martinez shared the land with daughter Josie Martinez Montoya, son Lawrence and three grandchildren, a source of joy for her.
She lived simply. Until just before her death, for example, she had relied on wood to heat her home.
Although the state of New Mexico eventually offered her a package of nearly $200,000 for the property, including moving expenses, and sent in the big guns like then-state Tourism Director John Garcia to negotiate with her, she never budged.
Even as she faced potential condemnation proceedings, Martinez continued to speak out defiantly.
"I don't care for the money," she said. "I'm not hungry for money. When I die, I'm not going to take the money."
Her intransigence left center supporters with a problem. If she didn't move, the homes would sit smack in the middle of the complex of center buildings.
But faced with a public-relations nightmare and serious delays to the construction schedule, officials declined to condemn her property.
In late 1997, the cultural center's board of directors voted to "flip" the architectural design from north to south and redesign the center around her property.
Even as construction began around the property, Martinez remained unmoved.
"For this whole cultural center, I won't shed a tear," she told the Journal.
"I will leave it up to the Lord, and I believe he will keep me here. The Lord didn't believe in people living in fancy new houses. He didn't say that money could buy you your salvation. That's what I believe, and that's why I will not cry over it."
Martinez died earlier this year. Her family has declined to sell the property.