Contributions of Hispanics in New Mexico
The culture of Nuevo Mexicanos was a combination of their own
unique rituals, laws, and celebrations and those borrowed from the
Trade is always a significant factor in the development of a culture
and New Mexico was no exception. The people were influenced by
items, customs, and information brought to them by Indians, Mexicans,
French, and other Europeans. The Santa Fe Trail facilitated the trade
of merchandise and ideas that had not been available before in
substantial quantities. Soon a booming commerce developed between
St. Louis and Santa Fe. Traders and travelers brought different kinds of
cloth and clothing, building materials, furniture, tools, silverware,
glassware, dishes, candles, paint, paper and ink, foods, spices,
medicines, tobacco, books, and almanacs. Often they even sold the
wagons that had carried the goods.
The contributions of the Hispano are both the goods and skills
brought by the Spanish to the Americas, and those that were
developed thereafter by the Peninsulares, the Criollos, the Mestizos,
the Mulatos, and other racial and ethnic mixtures propagated by the
mixture with the Spanish. The Spanish found here many products
native to this land which they took to Europe and disseminated there,
thus influencing European culture in turn.
Josiah Gregg brought the first printing press to New Mexico in
1834. It was purchased by Ramón Abreú. In 1844, the first
newspaper in New Mexico, El Crepúsculo de la Libertad, was
published in Santa Fe by Antonio Barreiro on the press owned by
Abreú. His press also printed Padre Antonio José Martínez’ spelling
book (published in 1834) and other pamphlets and school manuals. It
continued to publish El Crepúsculo de la Libertad after it moved to Taos.
Domestic Animals & Food
The Spanish brought to the Americas their horses, sheep, cattle,
hogs, and other domestic animals. Many of these became standard fare
in the diets of the people of New Mexico. The Spanish also brought
fruit trees which were not native to the Americas such as apple, pear,
plum, peach, olive, and the vines which became the vineyards of the
missions, churches, and towns of New Mexico.
While not intended to do so, the horses facilitated the movements
and raiding by the Plains Indians. The Comanches, especially, became
adept as horsemen and horse breeders. Many Indians adopted Spanish
sheepherding and cattle-raising techniques, used Spanish farming
methods to improve their crop yields, and planted orchards in their
pueblos. In many cases, they adopted the raising of other domestic
animals, as the Spanish did, in order to supplement their food supply.
Although the Indians already used adobe bricks for houses, the
Spanish improved upon the native building materials and structures
with methods they had learned from the Arabs during their centuries of
occupation on the Spanish peninsula. Spanish artisans brought
irrigation skills and knowledge of aqueduct and canal building, learned
from the occupying Romans and Arabs of past centuries. They were
able to improve on existing systems of irrigation that the Indians were
using in New Mexico at the time of their arrival. Although they were
not supposed to do so, many Franciscans, priests of other orders, and
settlers taught the Indians blacksmithing, tinsmithing, silver smithing,
woodworking, weaving, pottery making, carpentry, stone masonry,
and other skills that were supposed to be practiced only by Spanish
The Spanish also brought mining techniques—placer and quicksilver
separation they had developed over a long period of time in Spain—to
the silver mines.
In fact, the techniques for agriculture, irrigation, vineyards, cattle
and sheep herding and mining which, today, are mainstays of the
Southwest’s economy were all developed and implemented in the
Southwest by the Spanish then adopted by Europeans. A large
percentage of many of the minerals and ores vital to the United States
are produced in New Mexico from a system which the Spanish set in
place hundreds of years ago.
Laws and Government
Mexico abolished slavery long before the United States and
developed, in New Mexico, egalitarian systems of social interaction in
which Mestizos and Indians could participate in the social, political, and
economic life of the community. Many Indians were recognized as
leaders among the Spanish and Mexican communities, as we see from
the rebellion of 1837 and the resistance of 1847 against the United
States invasion. In those events, the Indians, alongside the Mexicanos,
participated in the leadership.
The Nuevo Mexicanos tried to establish a public school system long
before the concept was attempted in the United States, and managed
to establish private school systems. In some cases, they sent their
youth to Durango or Mexico City to continue their education.
After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (signed February 2, 1848), it
was the Nuevo Mexicano who taught the Europeans about livestock
raising, mining, agriculture and irrigation, and working the vineyards in
the arid lands of New Mexico. It was the Nuevo Mexicanos who
worked as cowboys and shepherds, miners, and did much of the hard
labor on the railroads and as “cuartoneros” or lumberjacks in the
forests of New Mexico.
For many years, New Mexico provided many of the intelligentsia
and political and military representatives for Spain and Mexico’s
borderlands. New Mexico, because of its high numbers and
percentages of Mexicanos, represented the rest of the Mexicanos in
the Southwest in the halls of power in the nation’s capital from the
very outset of United States domination in the Southwest until very
recently when other southwestern states began to have their own
elected Hispano leadership in Congress.
Rep. Roybal, from California, for example, was a native of New
Mexico. In 1935, Dennis Chávez became the first Hispanic elected to
the U. S. Senate. Jorge Isidoro Sánchez, one of the deans of Texas’
Hispano or Latin American education, also was a native of New
U.S. Sen. Octaviano Larrazolo, Dionicio Chávez, and José M.
Montoya worked to support equality and civil rights for Hispanos
throughout the Southwest, as did Antonio Fernández and Manuel
Luján Jr. Nuevo Mexicanos were at the forefront of union organizing
and labor movements throughout the state because of the harsh and
discriminatory situations which existed in the heavy labor fields. Their
efforts improved working conditions for everyone.
The Espinoza family did much of the early research on the language
and culture of New Mexico, and this tradition was carried on by Juan
B. Raél, Rubén Cobos, Sabine Ulibarrí, Estevan Arellano, Enrique La
Madrid Jr., Cipriano Vigil, and many others. Anselmo Arellano, Tobías
Durán, Carlos Vásquez, Maurilio Vigil, F. Chris García, and others
continue to ferret out the historical and political contributions of the
Nuevo Mexicano in the old documents, their oral history projects, and
Arts and Literature
Robert Martínez and his son Lorenzo Martínez continue to keep
traditional New Mexico music alive through a National Heritage
Fellowship. Roberto’s daughter Debbie “La Chicanita” Martínez was a
famous regional entertainer in the 1970s.
Nuevo Mexicano musicians such as Lorenzo Antonio and Sparx,
Stephanie Sullivan and Ivón Ulibarrí are renown throughout Latin
America. Roberto Griego and Al Hurricane Sánchez are well known
for New Mexico music. Edwin Berry, singer and folklorist, is talented
and knowledgeable in regards the history of New Mexico music. His
son Romano Enrique Berry inherited this talent and is among the best
Eva Encinias and Pablo Rodarte, two Albuquerqueans, have become
quite famous in the international flamenco scene.
Abad Lucero, a traditional santero, is a New Mexico treasure as is
Jimmy Trujillo, one of the world’s greatest straw appliqué artists.
Master tin worker Bonifacio Sandoval is a New Mexico Governor’s
Award winner while the works of American-born sculptor Luis Jiménez
Ramón Flores Flores, director of La Compañía, has worked to
provide the community a special insight to Hispanic culture, heritage,
and everyday life through theater. And, Maria Varela and her daughter
Sabina helped found and serve on the board of Teatro Nuevo México,
a Latino theater company based in Albuquerque.
Rudolfo Anaya has long been considered one of the literary
luminaries of Nuevo Mexicano literature. Ernesto Antonio Mares,
Jimmy Santiago Baca, the late Cleofas Vigil, and Spanish author
Estevan Arellano, poets Leroy Quintana and Leo Romero, and many
more join him. Educator and poet Sabine Reyes Uilbarrí touched the
lives of many people in New Mexico and in the Hispanic world. Let us
not forget the authors and critics of Chicano literature Tey Diana
Rebolledo and Enrique R. Lamadrid.
Celebrated Nuevo Mexicanas include writers Erlinda Gonzales-
Berry, Denise Chávez, Demetria Martínez, and newcomer Alisa Valdés-
Rodríguez. All are part of the Latina/Chicana literary boom that is
producing many excellent, thought provoking works in novels, short
stories, poems, and essays tackling the tough issues of the day facing
the Latina/Chicana in the modern world.
Science and Politics
Sydney Gutiérrez commanded the space shuttle. Mari-Luci Jaramillo
served as a United States ambassador in Honduras.
When he was a congressman, Bill Richardson, who became New
Mexico’s governor in 2003, undertook risky and high profile
diplomatic missions in Burma, South Korea, Haiti, Iran, and Cuba. His
diplomatic skills continue to be in demand, as do his efforts on behalf
of equality and equity for Hispanos and others in the nation.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Montoya served on the Senate Select Committee
to investigate the Watergate break-in by the “White House Plumbers.”
Congressional Medal of Honor winner Richard Rocco gave selflessly of
his time and efforts, and used his influence to the utmost on behalf of
Vietnam veterans and homeless veterans, having taken his cause all the
way to Washington, D.C.
Concha Ortiz y Pino, former state representative, was the only
woman in 1966 appointed to the National Commission on
Architectural Barriers. She was a moving force to make public
buildings accessible to the disabled.
New Mexican Hispanics can be, and are, proud of their many
accomplishments at every level of government—local, county, state,
national, and international—and they will continue to contribute far
into the future at all levels of endeavor.