Hispano Heroes of New Mexico

This is a series on Hispanos who have made important contributions in New Mexico–leaders of the Hispano community in a variety of fields.

 

 

 

 

 

PADRE ANTONIO JOSÉ MARTINEZ,

LA CURA DE TAOS Y LA HONRA DE SU PAIS

Padre Antonio José Martinez of Taos is without a doubt the most important, loved and revered Hispano leader in the history of New Mexico. Padre Martinez was born on January 17, 1793 in Abiquí, in the Spanish Province of New Mexico. His parents were Don Severino Martinez and Doña María del Carmel Santistevan.

Padre Martinez’s father was a successful businessman, farmer and rancher and each year he took the largest trade expedition from northern New Mexico to Old Mexico, where he and his workers took dozens of carétas (carts) filled with various hand-made products from New Mexico, along with agricultural goods, sheepskins, fur from elk and bear and many local food items grown in New Mexico to include New Mexico green and red chile and religious arts made by Hispano artisans, along with many other implements and tools. They also brought back to New Mexico the same carétas filled with just as many products and items made in Old Mexico that they would sell or trade to the Hispanos in New Mexico.

Young Antonio José Martinez grew up working for his parents, including accompanying his father’s annual trade expeditions and helping take care of the family’s farm and ranch which included sheep and cattle herding for the Martinez family’s large sheep and cattle herds. In addition, as with all Hispano families of New Mexico in the 1700s and 1800s, Antonío José was raised by his family to have great faith in Almighty God and he was raised in the Catholic faith that was prevalant among the Hispanos of New Mexico.

At the age of 19, in 1812, young Antonio José married María de la Luz Martín in Abiqiuí. Sadly, María de La Luz died while giving birth to the couple’s only child, a daughter who was named after her mother. The daughter, María de la Luz Martinez, died at the age of 12. Antonío José was devastated by the death of his wife during childbirth. Being deeply spiritual and religious, Antonio prayed and asked God for direction. Our Lord Jesus Christ called young Antonio José to serve His people as a Catholic priest in northern New Mexico.

Antonio José entered the Tridentine Seminary in Durango, Mexico in 1817 and he was ordained a priest by the Bishop of Durango after completing his studies. He then returned home to New Mexico and was assigned to serve as the parish priest of Taos, where he remained as spiritual leader of the Hispano families and communities of northern New Mexico for the next 42 years, from 1826 until his death in July of 1867 in Taos.

Padre Antonio José Martinez began serving as La Cura de Taos (parish priest) in 1826 and all the love he would have given to his own family had his wife and daughter lived, he gave to all the Hispano families and people of Taos and northern New Mexico. Padre Martinez also shared with the Hispano people of Taos and northern New Mexico his earthly wealth that he inherited from his parents, who had already moved from Abiquí to Taos by the time he began serving as Taos’ Catholic priest. His parents and his many siblings had built their family home, known as La Hacienda de los Martinez, just outside Taos and that is where they resided. The Martinez family also had substantial acres of land surrounding the Hacienda, which they farmed and ranched.

Padre Martinez himself lived in Taos, next to the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church about a block from the Taos Plaza. In addition to being deeply spiritual, Padre Martinez was a highly intelligent man with a keen sense of political and social observation. He was also a man of action and he was more than willing to use the money that God had blessed him with to help the many poor Hispano families of Taos and northern New Mexico. Realizing that the Hispano people of New Mexico had no schools to educate themselves, Padre Martinez built the first school in New Mexico for Hispano children with his own money. This school he built in Taos and he was the teacher for the children and young adults who attended for free. And at a time when only boys and young men were generally educated, Padre Martinez’s school was open to boys and girls and young men and young women.

In order to have books for the school and for the church–including religious oratory books for Mass–Padre Martinez purchased the first printing press ever to be brought into New Mexico and he learned the art of printing and wrote and printed his own books. This printing press he purchased from early American traders who began entering New Mexico following the opening of trade with the United States by the Mexican government in the 1820s. Padre Martinez’s printing press came from St. Louis, Missouri.

One very interesting aspect of Padre Martinez’s life is the fact that he was among a generation or two of Hispano New Mexicans who lived under three different flags and who were essentially citizens of three countries during their lifetimes: he was born in 1793 as a Spanish citizen (until 1821), lived through the entire period of Mexican rule of New Mexico (1821-1846) and lived the remainder of his earthly life as an American citizen (1846-present). Padre Martinez died in 1867. In the long history of the Hispanos of New Mexico, which began in 1598, the time period of Padre Martinez’s life was among the most turbulent in New Mexico’s history.

Padre Martinez answered this historically turbulent time for New Mexico’s Hispano people with courage and with great faith in God. Padre Martinez saw that his people were very poor and uneducated for the most part, so he took steps to try to make the lives of the Hispano people less difficult. As a Catholic priest, he refused to charge tithes for any Sacraments of the Catholic faith, including for Baptisms, marriages and funerals. Because of his natural leadership abilities, Padre Martinez also became the leader and adviser of the rest of the Catholic priests serving in other parts of New Mexico and in this position, he banned the use of forced tithing in every Catholic Church in New Mexico. This act alone made the lives of New Mexico’s poor Hispano people much easier, not to mention that it was the proper thing to do.

Padre martinez also used his money to help poor families build or fix their homes, buy necessary household goods and he provided food for thousands of poor Hispano families out of his own pantry, which was well stocked from his own private farm and gardens. It was common for poor Hispano families and individuals to come to Padre Martinez’s home to seek food and assistance from him. He also gave work to the Hispano men and women on his private farm and ranch. Padre Martinez also established and published the first newspaper in New Mexico, called El Crepusculo de la Libertad (The Dawn of Liberty), starting in the 1830s.

In 1833, Padre Martinez founded the first seminary in New Mexico and he went on to educate many young Hispano men from New Mexico to serve the people and the Catholic Church as priests. Padre Martinez, as one of the most learned and educated people in New Mexico, also took an interest in the political well-being of the Hispano community of New Mexico.

In 1830, under Mexican rule, he was elected to serve in the Departmental Assembly (Legislature) of New Mexico in Santa Fe. He served three times: 1830-31; 1836-37 and from 1845-46. He always looked out for the Hispano families and communities of New Mexico in politics and he was the foremost voice and defender for poor Hispanos and for the Merceds (Spanish and Mexican Land Grants) communities. Realizing by the early 1840s that an invasion of New Mexico by the United States was imminent, Padre Martinez also began teaching civil law in his schools.

In late 1846, the United States invaded New Mexico with more than 3,000 soldiers and entered our capital city of Santa Fe, where Gen. Stephen Kearney announced to the Hispano people of New Mexico that our beloved homeland had become part of the U.S. Most Hispanos were shocked that New Mexico–for the first time in the history of our Hispano homeland which began in 1598–was no longer part of Spain or of Mexico. We were now under American rule. Many people came to Padre Martinez for guidance because with the exception of very few individuals, the vast majority of the Hispano people could not speak nor understand English.

Padre Martinez himself was consulted by the new American officials because they knew he was the main spiritual and political leader of the Hispanos of New Mexico. Padre Martinez helped in the transition process by consulting with the new American officials and by representing the Hispano people of New Mexico and our interests to the American officials. This included defending the Merceds (Spanish and Mexican Land Grants) that belonged to the Hispano families and communities of New Mexico.

In December of 1847, Padre Martinez’s name headed a formal petition seeking annexation of New Mexico to the United States and in 1848, he presided over the convention to organize New Mexico as a U.S. Territory. In 1850, he presided over the New Mexico Territorial Constitutional Convention and served as President of the Upper House of the Legislative Assembly in 1851 and later as a member of both the lower and upper houses of the Legislature.

Padre Martinez’s efforts on behalf of the Hispano people of New Mexico helped in defending the Merceds (Spanish and Mexican Land Grants) of the Hispano people and communities against any intrusions or thefts of our lands until his death in 1867. Padre Martinez also defended the rights of the Hispano people under the U.S. Constitution, including our educational and other social rights. All of the Hispano people of New Mexico, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, were given automatic U.S. citizenship in 1848.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo also protected the ownership of the Merceds (Spanish and Mexican Land Grants) of the Hispano families and communities of New Mexico. However, by the 1870s and 1880s, corrupt U.S. government officials, including New Mexico Territorial governors and attorneys began to ignore the Treaty and the U.S. Constitution and began to steal millions of acres of land from the Merceds (Spanish and Mexican Land Grants) from the Hispano families and communities to whom these lands still legally belong to this day. The struggle of the Hispano people of New Mexico to regain our Merceds (Spanish and Mexican Land Grants) continues to this day also.

In the 1850s, the Catholic Church assigned the first Bishop of Santa Fe, Bishop Jean Lamy, who was from France. Bishop Lamy tried to force the Hispano priests to charge tithes from the poor Hispano people for church Sacraments–something Padre Martinez had forbidden while he was in charge of the Catholic Church in New Mexico. This disagreement, along with Bishop Lamy’s own disapproval of the Penitente Catholic Lay Fraternity to which most Hispano families belonged in the 1800s–caused Bishop Lamy and Padre Martinez to part ways.

Nevertheless, Padre Martinez always defended the Hispano families and communities of New Mexico to both civil and church officials. Padre Martinez remained the spiritual leader of the Hispano people of Taos and northern New Mexico until his death on July 27, 1867. His funeral service in Taos was presided over by Padre Mariano de Jesus Lucero, one of the native Hispano priests who was educated at Padre Martinez’s seminary in Taos. Padre Martinez’s funeral was attended by thousands of Hispanos who came from near and far across New Mexico and the love of the Hispano people for Padre Martinez was evident during his lifetime, at his funeral and still to this day.

Upon his death, the New Mexico Territorial Assembly declared Padre Antonio José Martinez, La Honra de Su País–The Honor of His Land. In 2007, the Town and County of Taos unveiled a bronze statue of Padre Martinez in the Taos Plaza. The larger than life statue of Padre Martinez stands watch over the community which Padre Martinez loved and cared for as La Cura de Taos for 42 years as the spiritual leader of the Hispano people of Taos and New Mexico.

 

 

U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez

“EL SENADOR” DENNIS CHAVEZ: BELOVED LEADER WAS A TIRELESS CHAMPION FOR NEW MEXICO’S HISPANOS AND HIS PEOPLE’S HOMELAND 

When Dionisio “Dennis” Chavez was born in the small farming village of Los Chavez in Valencia County on April 8, 1888, his parents and the Hispano people of New Mexico had no idea this infant would one day grow up to be the greatest Hispano leader in New Mexico’s modern history. Indeed, United States Senator Dennis Chavez is unquestionably the most important leader of New Mexico of any ethnicity since statehood.

“El Senador” as he was known to his fellow Hispanos during his 27 years as a senator from New Mexico, was born to the family of David and Paz Chavez, the third eldest of seven children. The Chavez family had lived in Los Chavez for generations and were descendants of one of New Mexico’s original Hispano families, dating to the entrada of the first Spanish settlers in New Mexico in 1598. Young Dionisio Chavez and his family moved to the Albuquerque neighborhood of Barelas when the future senator was seven years old. It was after the family moved to Albuquerque and he enrolled in school that his name was changed to Dennis, the English version of Dionisio.

While in the eighth grade, Dennis quit school to help support his family. He found a job as a grocery wagon driver for the Highland Grocery Store. He worked for the store for several years until he was fired for refusing to deliver groceries to a group of strike breakers. It was the first sign that Dennis Chavez was a man of principle who believed in helping the working people. By 1906 Chavez was working for the city of Albuquerque’s engineering department, a position he kept for nine years. Chavez had learned about engineering and surveying by studying at the Albuquerque Public Library in the evenings. It was while studying and reading about famous leaders, including his favorite, Thomas Jefferson, that Chavez took an interest in politics.

When New Mexico was admitted as a state in 1912, Chavez served as Spanish interpreter to Gov. William McDonald (first governor under statehood). In 1916, Chavez again served as Spanish interpreter, this time to U.S. Sen. Andrieus Jones, who later secured for Chavez a position working in the U.S. Senate as a clerk. While clerking at the senate, Chavez was admitted to Georgetown Law School in Washington D.C. after passing a special entrance exam. In 1920 Chavez graduated with a law degree, returned to Albuquerque and opened a successful law practice.

In 1922, Chavez won his first elected office, as a New Mexico state representative. While in the legislature, Chavez sponsored bills to make textbooks available to New Mexico’s schoolchildren for free. As Chavez became more popular among the Hispanos, who at the time were still a majority of the state’s population, he decided in 1930 to run for the U.S. House of Representatives against the Republican incumbent, Albert Simms. Chavez, with solid backing from the state’s Hispanos, defeated Simms and was reelected in 1932. In the House, Chavez served on the Irrigation and Reclamation, Indian Affairs, War Claims, Public Buildings and Lands and Veterans Affairs Committees.

In 1934, Chavez decided to take on powerful U.S. Sen. Bronson Cutting (R-NM). After a hard-fought campaign described by historians as an epic political battle in New Mexico, Cutting was narrowly declared the winner. But Chavez believed voter fraud had occured and challenged the results. After returning to New Mexico to review the voter fraud investigation, Cutting, while en route to Washington, was killed when his airplane crashed. The unexpected death of Sen. Cutting meant that New Mexico Gov. Clyde Tingley, a Democrat, would appoint his successor. Tingley appointed Chavez, who took office as a senator in May of 1935. Chavez won a special election in 1936 and was subsequently reelected to four full terms as a senator in 1940, 1946, 1952 and 1958.

As a senator, Chavez was known as a tireless champion of the Hispano people of New Mexico. He was among the first U.S. senators to sponsor bills against discrimination in the workplace, legislation that was a precursor to the Civil Rights laws passed in the 1960s. He also was a staunch supporter of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation and was a trusted advisor to Roosevelt. After World War II, with Hispano veterans returning home from the war and encountering discrimination, Chavez became an advocate for the Hispano veterans and supported the GI Forum.

As chairman of the subcommittee on defense appropriations, Chavez secured lucrative government contracts for New Mexico, bringing military and technological jobs to the state, which would become the main economic stimuli in New Mexico for the next 30 years. In the 1950s, as chairman of the public works committee, Sen. Chavez was a key proponent of building the interstate highway system, improvements to harbors and waterways and construction of new public buildings and post offices across the nation. Chavez also was a mentor to young New Mexicans, many of them Hispanos, who wanted to work in the U.S. capitol or attend law school in Washington, just as he had done. (At the time there was no law school in NM).

Throughout his senate career, Chavez never forgot his New Mexico roots, often visiting the state and traveling with his wife Imelda across New Mexico to visit with la gente. (My grandfather, Meliton DeHerrera of Costilla, was a personal friend of el senador and the two corresponded about the issues of the day). When John F. Kennedy sought the presidency in 1960, Chavez, like Kennedy a Roman Catholic, became one Kennedy’s most important supporters among American Hispanics and helped the young Massachussetts senator carry New Mexico.

On Nov. 18, 1962, Sen. Dennis Chavez, the champion of his people and his state, died in the nation’s capital at the age of 74. For the Hispanos, and others, it was one of the saddest days in New Mexico’s history. He was buried at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque and among those eulogizing Chavez was Vice Pres. Lyndon Johnson. In 1966, a bronze statue of Chavez was unveiled in statuary hall, in the U.S. Capitol building. (Each state gets two statues). Another statue of Chavez was erected in dowtown Albuquerque in the late 1990s and the U.S. Postal Service honored him with a postage stamp in 1991.

Perhaps the most important legacy of Chavez was that he made sure the Hispano people of New Mexico had a voice in Washington and he certainly made his people proud. There may be other senators for New Mexico but to the Hispanos there will always be only one “El Senador.”

 

 

 

       

Fray Angelico Chavez: (l-r) as a young Franciscan priest; with La Conquistadora; at an older age.

FRAY ANGELICO CHAVEZ PRESERVED THE HISPANO HISTORY OF NEW MEXICO; WAS ACCOMPLISHED WRITER, ARTIST AND PRIEST 

Few Hispanos in New Mexico’s modern era have done more to preserve the history of the Hispano people of New Mexico than Fray Angelico Chavez, the Franciscan priest, and accomplished writer and artist. Like many Hispanos of the time, Chavez came from humble beginnings. He was born on April 10, 1910 in Wagon Mound, a small community in northeast New Mexico between Las Vegas and Raton. He was the eldest of 10 children born to the home of Fabian Chavez and Maria Nicolasa Roybal de Chavez. His baptismal name was Manuel Ezequiel Chavez, which would later change to Fray Angelico when he was at the Franciscan seminary studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood.

When Chavez was just a child, his family moved to California for a few years to San Diego, where his dad worked for the Panama-California Exposition. While in California, Chavez was exposed to the old Spanish Missions of the area, which inspired him to follow in the footsteps of Padre Junipero Serra, an early Spanish Franciscan priest who established many of the Missions in southern California during the early Spanish era. Chavez’s family eventually returned to New Mexico and he attended the public schools in Mora, which were staffed by the teaching order Sisters of Loretto.

In 1924, at the age of 14, Chavez entered the St. Francis Seminary in Mount Healthy, Ohio, where he studied English, since he spoke mostly Spanish, his first language. While at the seminary Chavez’s talents as a writer and painter blossomed and he was soon writing fiction, essays, and poetry, which were published by Brown and White, the student magazine of which he eventually became editor. Chavez’s abilities as an artist so impressed the priests who ran the seminary that he was allowed to paint the murals of St. Francis and St. Anthony on the interior walls of the newly-built student dormitory.

On August 15, 1929, Chavez became a novice of the Franciscan Order and received the order’s habit. It was during this time that Chavez’s name was changed, due to his artistic talent, from his baptismal name to his religious name, Frater Angelico, after the Florentine painter Fray Angelico. He then continued his studies at the Duns Scotus College in Detroit, graduating in 1933. He studied for four more years and was ordained in 1933, becoming the first Hispano New Mexican Franciscan priest.

Chavez’s first assignment as a priest was at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Pena Blanca, where he soon began a renovation of the old church. This included Chavez painting the frescoes inside the church himself. He also ministered to the Native Americans at the mission churches at San Felipe, Santo Domingo and Cochiti Pueblos. With the outbreak of World War II, Chavez entered the chaplaincy school at Harvard University and was assigned to the 77th Infantry Division as military chaplain to American troops. He was present during the beach landings at Guam and Leyte. During the Korean Conflict, he continued his military service as chaplain at Fort Bliss, Texas an in Germany.

Following his military service, Chavez returned home to New Mexico and was appointed archivist for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. It was during this time that Chavez carried out his most important work: preserving the Hispano culture and history of New Mexico. As archivist for the Archdiocese, he catalogued and translated the old Spanish archives, which provided new primary sources that allowed for a reevaluation of New Mexico’s Spanish history.

Chavez’s writing also flourished during this time and he wrote several books, including his most important “Origins of New Mexico Families“, a geneology of New Mexico’s Spanish (Hispano) families dating to the colonial times and the first Spanish settlement of the state in 1598. This book is regarded as both a New Mexico state treasure and a treasure to the Hispano people since it traces each of our family trees to when we first arrived here under Don Juan de Onate.

Other famous books by Fray Angelico include: “My Penitente Land: A Reflection of Spanish New Mexico“; “But Time and Chance” regarded as a scholarly and balanced treatment of Padre Martinez of Taos, who was New Mexico’s most important Hispano leader of the 1800s and was spiritual leader of the Hispano people of New Mexico during his lifetime;  and “La Conquistadora, the Autobiography of An Ancient Statue“, a beautiful story written in the first person of the wooden statue of Our Lady, which was made in Spain in the early 1600s and brought to New Mexico by early Spanish settlers to protect them on their long journey from Spain to New Mexico. La Conquistadora is considered the patron saint of New Mexico’s Hispano Catholics and She remains to this day with our people, at the Cathedral of St. Francis in Santa Fe.

Fray Angelico wrote many other books, short stories and poetry in addition to those mentioned and some consider him a kind of renassaince writer and historian for New Mexico. One novel he wrote, “The Virgin of Port Lligat“  based on Salvador Dali’s The Madonna of Port Lligat, was selected as one of the best books of 1959 by the Catholic Library Association and was praised by T.S. Eliot as “a very commendable achievement.”

In 1971, Chavez left the priesthood during a ”crisis of faith” but returned to the priesthood and the Fransciscan Order prior to his death on March 18, 1996 at the age of 85 in Santa Fe. He is buried at the Rosario Catholic Cemetery near downtown Santa Fe after refusing to be buried at the Cathedral. In recent years, Chavez was honored by the Museum of New Mexico at the Palace of the Governors which named their new history and photographic library after him. It is called the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library and includes a bronze statue of him outside the entrance.

Fray Angelico Chavez most definitely deserves to be considered an Hispano Hero of New Mexico, for this humble man, a son of our people, dedicated his life first and foremost to the service of Almighty God and to the Roman Catholic Church as a priest and also for his great achievement and contribution in preserving the history and culture of the Hispano people of New Mexico. His books, such as ”Origins of New Mexico Families,” along with others, will ensure that the history of our families and our culture will never be forgotten. The Hispanos of New Mexico owe Fray Angelico a debt of gratitude that can only be repayed by each of us continuing his noble work of preserving our history and culture in our own way. Gracias, Fray Angelico, por todo su trabajo para nosotros los Hispanos de Nuevo Mejico, y que descanses en paz con Dios, Nuestra Senora, todos los angeles y los santos y nuestras familias.

 

        

Ambassador Ed Romero; the U.S. Embassy seal.

FROM HUMBLE HISPANO ROOTS, ED ROMERO ROSE TO SUCCESS IN BUSINESS; WAS APPOINTED U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SPAIN

Though his childhood was humble, like most Hispanos in New Mexico, Ed Romero is living proof that through hard work, determination and education, the American Dream is alive and well for the Hispano people of our state if we’re willing to work for it and not afraid to believe in our dreams.

Ed Romero’s family comes from the original Spanish settlers of New Mexico who arrived with Don Juan de Onate in 1598. Through the course of history, his Spanish ancestors lived mostly in northern New Mexico, although by the time he was born, his family was living in Alamosa, Colorado in the San Luis Valley, an area of southern Colorado that was also settled by the same Hispano families who settled New Mexico.

Romero was born in Alamosa and grew up there, although his family history is mainly in northern New Mexico. His family had moved into the San Luis Valley prior to his birth for work, as his grandfather was a sheepherder and shoemaker. After graduating high school, young Ed Romero joined the U.S. Army and served in the Korean War. Afterwards he went to college, enrolling at the Los Angeles State College and Citrus College, eventually earning a degree in business.

Romero also attended the University of New Mexico, where he met his wife, Cayetana Garcia Romero. They were married in 1958 and have four children and many grandchildren. The Romeros have lived in Albuquerque since the time they were married and it is in New Mexico that Romero entered the business world, eventually to become one of the most successful Hispano businessmen in modern New Mexico history.

But his climb in business started humbly as well. His first business jobs were as a salesman, earning much of his income from commissions. Romero said he did very well in sales and making a living from commissions taught him to go after more and bigger opportunities. By the early 1970s, Romero’s business savvy and success had made him an executive with a private company.

But the job required him to travel alot and he was away from home quite a bit. Romero, at the urging of his wife, decided he did not want to be away from his family so much and he and his wife began their own company in Albuquerque. The company, Advanced Sciences Inc., was formed in 1977 in Albuquerque and was at first a solar energy business, which at the time was an industry still in its infancy.

Romero said ASI did well in its first years but in the early 1980s diversified into more areas after then-Pres. Ronald Reagan abolished the solar credits which had made the industry more attractive and lucrative from a business standpoint as well as more affordable for consumers.

Romero, as founder, chairman and chief executive officer of ASI, diversified the business into other fields, transforming the company into an international business specializing in environmental engineering, alternative energies, waste management and radioactive high-level cleanup.

The company enjoyed considerable success and growth under Romero’s leadership. An article in the New Mexico Business Weekly from 1991 reported that ASI had its corporate office in Albuquerque, with another in Arlington, Virginia, 15 field offices around the United States, plus one each in Mexico and Argentina, a total of about 450 employees, including 110 in New Mexico and had $40 million in work the year before, with another $100 million on the books.

Needless to say, ASI was a big business success and a home-grown Hispano owned one at that. And Ed Romero, the sheepherder’s grandson, had made it happen. Romero also used the opportunities available within New Mexico’s high-tech industry to advance ASI. In 1998, Romero effectively retired from ASI and sold the company.

That same year would bring Romero an appointment that most Hispano New Mexicans to this day consider an honor to our people and our culture: he was appointed by then-Pres. Bill Clinton to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Spain, the country from which our ancestors came to New Mexico in 1598.

Romero said he was surpised by the appointment and had not sought it. He had met Pres. Clinton before that and was a friend of then-Vice Pres. Al Gore but the appointment still came as a surprise, albeit a welcome one.

After being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Romero and his wife traveled to Madrid, Spain and on June 30, 1998, Romero presented his credentials to King Juan Carlos at the Royal Palace. Mrs. Romero, wanting to take a bit of New Mexico to Spain, took furnishings and artwork of New Mexico from the couple’s personal collection to help furnish the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, which became the Romero’s residence while in Spain.

Romero described he and his wife’s time in Spain as a ”wonderful experience,” saying that when they first arrived in the country they both experienced goosebumps because of the realization they were in the very country from where our Spanish ancestors had come from. “We felt a certain sensitivity and a heartfelt feeling because of our Spanish ancestry,” the ambassador said.

Romero said King Juan Carlos and his wife, Queen Sofia are also very warm people who treated the Romeros very well and warmly. And Romero said that contrary to some perceptions, the Spanish monarchs and the Spanish people themselves are very much aware of the special bond the Hispanos of New Mexico feel towards Spain and they appreciate and respect them.

“They (Spaniards) really appreciate our history, the fact that we honor our connections to Spain. They respect this and acknowledge this,” Romero said. The Romeros spent three years representing the Unites States in Spain and did much to also represent New Mexico in the process.

Romero said he and his wife felt very much at home in Spain and were treated by the Spanish people as if they were home. Among the many honors Romero received while serving as ambassador was an award given to him by King Juan Carlos for his service to the Spanish people and nation. The award, called La Gran Cruz de Isabel La Catolica is an award that was begun in 1815 by King Fernando II to recognize Spaniards and foreign nationals for their services to Spain. Romero was the first U.S. ambassador to receive the award.

In addition to business and public service, Romero has also been involved with the local Hispano community and is a founding board member of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Romero said he believes the Hispanos of New Mexico have much to be proud of. “We have a very wonderful history, culture, parents and grandparents. We have alot to be proud of and we need to raise that level of awareness and consiousness of our history for our youth so they (younger Hispanos) will know who they are and where they come from.”

Romero said he hopes that eventually programs like those originally meant for the National Hispanic Cultural Center and within the curriculum of the local public schools, will also help educate and focus more on New Mexico’s unique Spanish history for our Hispano youth and all Hispanos in New Mexico.

HispanoNewMexico.com is proud to include Ambassador Ed Romero among our Hispano Heroes of New Mexico and we congratulate him and his wife for their accomplishments and we thank them for their service to the community and for being great role models for every Hispano, especially our youth! Gracias!

 

Jan. 12, 2010

Dr. Sabine Ulibarri

SABINE ULIBARRI: DISTINGUISHED SON OF TIERRA AMARILLA WROTE ABOUT HISPANO CULTURE OF NORTHERN NEW MEXICO; WAS GIFTED POET AND PROFESSOR

Few Hispanos in modern New Mexico history have captured the spirit of our unique Hispano culture, traditions and people as perfectly as Dr. Sabine Ulibarri did in his many poems, books and teachings. Ulibarri, with his rich baritone voice, gave perhaps the most beautiful poetry readings ever heard about our beloved Hispano culture during his long life and career as a rancher’s son who became a professor of Spanish at the University of New Mexico.

Sabine Ulibarri was born on his parents’ ranch in Las Nutrias, a small settlement of Hispano cattle and sheep ranches near Tierra Amarilla in northern New Mexico on Sept. 21, 1919. Sabine’s parents were Sabiniano (1898-1937) and Simonita Ulibarri (1900-1938) who were both teachers and descendants of old Spanish families from northern New Mexico. The Ulibarris had settled the area around Las Nutrias along with other Hispano families to farm and ranch in the high country of Rio Arriba County long before Sabine was born.

Sabine grew up on his parents’ ranch and spent much of his childhood riding horses in the Tierra Amarilla area, exploring the beautiful mountains and valleys that he would later write about. As a child and adolescent growing up in Tierra Amarilla, Sabine’s world was one in which Spanish was spoken nearly exclusively by the many Hispano families who lived in the area near his parents’ ranch and in nearby villages.

In addition to doing the usual ranching chores required of a rancher’s son, Sabine was introduced to classic literary figures by his father such as Don Quixote. As a boy, Sabine’s father, who was also a gifted story teller, would read classical literary stories to him, something which Sabine would later say helped him to dream and daydream and inspired his own interest in Spanish literature and to write about the Hispano culture of New Mexico from which his family came.

Although his parents had wanted Sabine to attend Georgetown University, he ended up going instead to the University of New Mexico following his father’s premature death in 1937 so he could be close to his mother, who herself died a year later. From 1940-42, Sabine taught school in El Rito, N.M. With the outbreak of World War II, Sabine joined the Army Air Corps, flying 35 combat missions as a gunner in a B-17 over Europe. For his valiant military service he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Just before leaving for the war, Sabine married his sweetheart, Connie Limon in 1942. They had a son, Charles, who was born in 1958.

Following the war, Ulibarri returned to UNM and completed his Master’s Degree with the G.I. Bill. He later attended the University of California at Los Angeles where earned his PhD in Romance Languages in 1958. While at UCLA, Ulibarri also taught classes. In 1958, Ulibarri returned to UNM where he was a professor of Spanish and English from 1958 until his retirement in 1988. From 1971 until 1980, Ulibarri was chairman of the Modern and Classical Languages Department at UNM. After retirement he remained professor emeritus with UNM and throughout his career he taught four generations of students.

In addition to being a professor, Ulibarri distinguished himself through his writings, including the beautiful poetry for which he was especially well-known. His writings were mostly about his memories of growing up in Tierra Amarilla and of the Hispano culture, traditions and people of New Mexico, particularly of rural northern New Mexico and its old and beautiful Hispano communities. Among his poetry books were: Tierra Amarilla: Cuentos de Nuevo Mexico, (1964 UNM Press) and Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros (1977 UNM Press). These stories were set in the Tierra Amarilla area and recounted his memories of his youth, depicting the people, traditions and language of the area with insight and compassion.

He also wrote two collections of essays, one memoir and seven collections of narrative pieces. Sabine Ulibarri was also known for his public poetry reading, in which he was said to transfix his audience with his baritone voice and gifted oratory. His poetry, along with his other writings, are considered among the best ever written about New Mexico’s distinct Hispano culture and Dr. Ulibarri is credited with giving voice to the Hispano culture, traditions and people of New Mexico in the world of Literature.

Dr. Sabine Ulibarri is widely considered to be a leading figure in gaining recognition and respect for Hispano Literature and was instrumental in creating a place and a voice for New Mexico Hispano culture in academia. In his later years, a television documentary was produced by KNME, the PBS affiliate in Albuquerque, about Dr. Ulibarri, his life and his work. In the documentary, titled “A Mi Raza”, Ulibarri talks about growing up in Tierra Amarilla, including about his parents and reads some of his poetry.

Towards the end of the documentary, Ulibarri urges young Hispanos from New Mexico to get an education like he did and carry on his work. He said becoming a professor at UNM was his greatest accomplishment and said that if he could do it, so could “any young Hispano from Chimayo, Penasco, Polvadera” or any other small Hispano community in northern New Mexico. ”Do the best you can but make sure it is your best,” Ulibarri implored young Hispanos, adding they should go the university and graduate. Dr. Ulibarri died in 2003 at his home in Albuquerque.

On the La Cultura page, we have published his poem “Nuevo Mexico Nuestro.” Go to the page and enjoy one of Dr. Ulibarri’s most beautiful poems about our state. Dr. Sabine Ulibarri: the boy from Tierra Amarilla became a man who helped preserve the Hispano culture of New Mexico and for that he is truly an Hispano Hero of New Mexico!

 

March 28, 2011

Soledad Chavez Chacon

NEW MEXICO HISPANA SOLEDAD CHAVEZ CHACON WAS AMERICA’S FIRST WOMAN SECRETARY OF STATE AND GOVERNOR

When the history of women in American politics is written or discussed, it normally tells the stories of Anglo women from states other than New Mexico. But in all of America, it was actually an Hispana from an old Spanish-American family from New Mexico that was the true trailblazer for women in public office. That Hispana was Soledad Chavez Chacon, who was born in Albuquerque in 1890 and whose family was among the founding Spanish families of our state, arriving with Don Juan de Onate in 1598.

Soledad Chavez Chacon was born to Meliton Chavez and his wife, Francisca Baca. Meliton Chavez was a bank clerk and a member of a prominent Hispano family in Albuquerque. Soledad Chavez Chacon grew up in a middle-class family and was able to get a decent education for those days since Albuquerque’s public education system had been organized by the turn of the century when Soledad was a young girl. Soledad learned to play piano and the mandolin as an adolescent and in 1908 she graduated from Albuquerque High School with honors. She then attended the Albuquerque Business College, earning a degree in accounting.

In 1910, Soledad married Ireneo Eduardo Chacon, a furniture store manager and within two years she gave birth to the couple’s two children, Adelina and Santiago. Soledad and Eduardo Chacon held high expectations for their children and placed a strong emphasis on their educations. Adelina would eventually become among the first Hispanas to graduate from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in education and Santiago would earn a law degree and become a local businessman.

As for Soledad Chavez Chacon, she would earn her own place in New Mexico and U.S. history when, in 1922, she was elected New Mexico Secretary of State–the first woman in the United States to be elected to this office and the first Hispana to be elected to a statewide office in New Mexico. Her political career began as she was baking a cake one day and was visited by five Democrats, including her cousin and future U.S. Senator, Dennis Chavez, who asked her if she would consider running for the Secretary of State office. After getting the permission of both her father and her husband, Soledad agreed to run.

Only one year before, New Mexico voters had approved a state constitutional amendment giving women the right to hold elected office. This followed the 19th Amendment being approved nationwide, which gave women the right to vote in every state, also known as Women’s Suffrage. Here in New Mexico, both political parties wanted to be the first to elect a woman to office and gain the all-important women’s vote. As it would turn out, the Democrats won out and in 1922, the Democrats won every statewide and federal elected office in New Mexico. Among those elected was none other than Soledad Chavez Chacon.

From all indications, Chacon was a personable woman: intelligent, educated and charismatic. She was involved in social and civic affairs in Albuquerque, belonging to El Club Literario, El Club Latino and the Women’s Club. After taking office as Secretary of State, Chacon also made history and became, at age 32, a role model for other young women interested in public service.

In June of 1924, Chacon made national and state history again when she became the acting governor of New Mexico for two weeks, when Gov. James Hinkle left the state to attend the Democratic National Committee. The Lt. Gov. of New Mexico, Jose Baca, who ordinarily would have been the acting governor, had recently died, leaving Chacon, as secretary of state, the next in line to take over as acting governor. Thus, in June 1924, Soledad Chavez Chacon, the daughter of an old New Mexico Hispano family, became the first woman in the United States of America to serve as governor of a state.

On her first day as acting Governor, Soledad Chavez Chacon greeted throngs of well-wishers who had come to witness the historic event of New Mexico having its first female chief executive. Although today it is not so surprising for a woman to serve as a state governor–even on an acting basis–in 1924 it was very big news. And in between greeting the many well-wishers, Chacon issued a statement honoring Lt. Gov. Jose Baca, who had just died and thanking Gov. Hinkle for placing his trust in her to take over as governor for two weeks.

“It is my earnest desire to carry out the plans and wishes of our governor in his absence in as fearless and concientious a manner as has been his policy,” Chacon wrote to the people of New Mexico. Soledad Chavez Chacon was reelected Secretary of State in 1924 and in all served two two-year terms in that office. In 1933, Chacon was invited to attend the inaugaration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as an Electoral College Representative, which she did.

In 1934, Chacon ran for office again, this time winning election to the New Mexico State Legislature as a state representative. During her term in the Legislature, she was appointed chairwoman of the Rules and Order Business Committee. A year later, in 1935, Soledad Chavez Chacon died at the age of 45 of peritonitis, following an operation. Though she died young, Chacon paved the way for other New Mexico women–including many Hispanas–to run for and be elected to political office.

Since she was first elected Secretary of State in 1924, New Mexico voters have only elected women to that office. And among the many women to serve as Secretary of State since Chacon, at least seven have been Hispanas and last year New Mexico elected its first woman governor–86 years after the daughter of one of our state’s founding Spanish families had already held the office. Today, Soledad Chavez Chacon is not a household name in New Mexico, but this heroic woman will never be forgotten for making history and making our people proud.

 

February 15, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

New Mexico House Speaker Ben Lujan

NEW MEXICO SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE BEN LUJAN HAS FOUGHT FOR NEW MEXICO’S WORKING PEOPLE AND FAMILIES; HAS SUPPORTED ACEQUIAS, HISPANO LAND GRANTS AND CULTURAL TRADITIONS

The current Speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, Ben Lujan, recently announced that he would be retiring from the State Legislature at the end of his current term because he is fighting cancer. Lujan’s announcement came on the opening day of the 2012 Legislative Session and for those who have served with Lujan or who have had the honor to have met him during his many years as a legislator and Speaker of the House, it was a sad and somber day. For the people of New Mexico it has also been difficult because Lujan has been a strong advocate and fighter for working class families and for supporting the cultural traditions of our state, including for the Hispano people and our acequias and Land Grants.

Speaker Ben Lujan was first elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives in 1974 from House District 46 in Santa Fe County and he has served the same district ever since. He was elected as Speaker of the House by his fellow state representatives in 2001 and he has served as Speaker since then.

Ben Lujan was born in 1936 into humble Hispano roots. He grew up in the village of Nambe, in northern Santa Fe County, where his family had already lived for many generations before his birth. His family were small farmers and ranchers in the Nambe area and Speaker Lujan learned from a young age the hard work and sacrifice that often came from such humble and traditional family roots. His upbringing also seemed to build an understanding and care in him for the working classes and the working poor of New Mexico, the very people he has fought for as a state political leader.

Speaker Lujan attended Nambe Elementary School and later both St. Michael’s High School in Santa Fe and then Pojoaque High School, from which he graduated. He was a basketball standout in high school at Pojoaque High School and he helped lead the Pojoaque Elks to victory over rival Santa Fe High in 1953 in a still-historic upset, when the Elks defeated Santa Fe High by a score of 55-49. Lujan was also voted “best dressed” in high school and many friends and observers at the State Capitol say he’s still the best dressed gentleman at the Roundhouse (as the New Mexico capitol is called).

While still at Pojoaque High School, Lujan also met his high school sweetheart, Carmen, whom he married after they both graduated. Ben and Carmen Lujan are still married and the couple have four children, including U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM). Before entering politics, Lujan worked as an ironworker and contractor at Los Alamos National Labs for many years before retiring. A union member, Lujan also worked to help his fellow union members.

After being elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives in 1974, Lujan continued advocating for workers’ rights in New Mexico and he has become known as a strong fighter for New Mexico’s working families, including for the working poor. He has supported collective bargaining for state employees and he helped raise New Mexico’s minimum wage in 2006 from $5.15 an hour to the current minimum wage of $7.50 an hour. He also sponsored legislation to help give New Mexico’s working poor an additional tax credit, in legislation known as the Working Families Tax Credit, which helps about 200,000 low-income working New Mexicans each year.

Lujan became Speaker of the House in 2001 and in this new position he has become known as a wise and humble leader, one who has never forgotten his own working-class roots. Many of his colleagues say Lujan is still a “regular guy” who is both approachable and friendly. His personal kindness was noted in a State Senate Memorial passed just days ago, in which State Senators remarked that his departure from the Legislature will “leave a remarkable gap in leadership and mark the end of a particularly workmanlike era (in the N.M House of Representatives).”

Speaker Ben Lujan’s accomplishments as a state legislator and political leader are many and they are accomplishments that have helped improve the lives of tens of thousands of ordinary New Mexicans. In the field of education, Speaker Lujan was the chief sponsor of the bill that created the Santa Fe Community College in 1983. Since then, more than 60,000 New Mexicans have furthered their educations at SFCC. In 2005, Lujan, along with State Rep. Nick Salazar (D-Espanola), sponsored the bill that created Northern New Mexico College in Espanola as an accredited four-year university capable of awarding Bachelor’s degrees in certain fields. Before that, Northern New Mexico College had been the Northern New Mexico Community College, where students could only get a two-year certificate in certain programs. Lujan has also sponsored legislation to create after-school programs for students at the Espanola and Pojoaque Valley School Districts.

Speaker Ben Lujan has also been a strong supporter of Hispano cultural traditions, including the acequias and the Hispano Land Grants in New Mexico. He sponsored and co-sponsored legislation to create the Acequia and Community Ditch Fund, which helps many traditional Hispano acequia associations around the state with annual appropriations to ensure they have adequate legal representation in water rights adjudications. Lujan has also helped with other acequia legislation, including with appropriations that help with maintenance and small construction work on acequias and community ditches.

Speaker Ben Lujan has supported New Mexico’s Hispano Land Grants by sponsoring and supporting legislation that has recognized the Land Grants as unique and independent political entities in our state. Lujan has also helped with legislation that helps Hispano Land Grants (also known as the Spanish and Mexican Land Grants) with appropriations that help the Land Grants with economic development and infrastructure needs.

Speaker Ben Lujan has also supported affordable housing efforts in New Mexico, he’s fought for affordable health care for low-income New Mexico families and he sponsored legislation that abolished taxes on food (groceries) and medical taxes.

On veterans issues, Speaker Lujan has been a strong supporter of New Mexico’s military veterans. He sponsored or co-sponsored legislation to grant military veterans in New Mexico additional property tax rebates and exemptions to include all honorably discharged veterans who served in the military in both peacetime and in combat (previously only veterans who were in combat were covered in property tax rebates and exemptions). In addition, Lujan helped New Mexico National Guardsmen through the Service Members Life Insurance Reimbursement Fund, which helps National Guardsmen pay for their life insurance premiums.

And Lujan has also helped New Mexico’s Native American community by sponsoring and supporting several bills, including legislation that helps Native American college students in New Mexico and which help local tribes and Pueblos with infrastructure, social and economic development needs.

Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, who is 76 years old, has been without question one of New Mexico’s greatest political leaders in modern times. His commitment to and concern for New Mexico’s working families–including our state’s many working poor–have earned him the respect and admiration of his state. His support for our Hispano institutions and traditional ways of life, including for our acequias and Hispano Land Grants, have earned him the respect, love and admiration of the Hispano people of New Mexico.

And his work on behalf of education, worker’s rights and benefits, economic development, health care and affordable housing for low-income New Mexicans and so many other issues where Speaker Lujan has fought for ordinary, working-class people, have helped improve the lives of tens of thousands of his fellow citizens and constituents. His friendly and capable leadership at the New Mexico Legislature and his wise counsel and wealth of experience will be missed by both his fellow legislators and by us, the people of New Mexico whom he has served with honor and genuine concern for our well-being.

We thank Speaker Ben Lujan for helping us through the years and for helping make our lives better in so many different ways. We will miss his smile and his calm and friendly demeanor and we will keep him, his wife Carmen and their family in our prayers. We pray that Speaker Lujan’s health will improve and that Our Savior Jesus Christ will be with him each and every day.

We at HispanoNewMexico.com are thankful to Speaker Ben Lujan for his support of the Hispano community of New Mexico and we are humbled to honor him by naming New Mexico House Speaker Ben Lujan one of our Hispano Heroes of New Mexico! Gracias Senor Lujan por todo su ayuda y apollo a la gente Hispano de Nuevo Mejico. Siempre seras nuestro amigo y Dios te bendiga.

 

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