Michael L. Trujillo. Land of Disenchantment: Latina/o Identities and Transformations in Northern New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009. xix + 265 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8263-4736-7.
Reviewed by Jack Clark Robinson (San Antonio De Padua Friary)
Published on H-NewMexico (August, 2010)
Commissioned by Tomas Jaehn
The Forgotten Valley: Stories from Española
Land of Disenchantment: Latina/o Identities and Transformation in Northern New Mexico examines what sets the Nuevomexicanos of the Española Valley apart from the stereotypical understanding of the people of New Mexico as part of the “Land of Enchantment.” The author Michael Trujillo has told seven stories, some of them haunting in themselves, to illustrate the reality of life as it is now lived in the Española Valley. Stories which he tells range from the “dismemberment” of the statue of don Juan de Oñate at the Oñate Monument and Visitors Center to the murders of two young Good Friday pilgrims on their way to the Santuario de Chimayó and the apparent senseless use of drugs which lay behind the murders. His essays also discuss the highly idiosyncratic embroidery of one area artist in the 1920s and the love story between a native of the Española Valley and a non-Hispanic immigrant to the area. One essay examines a local literary character as the embodiment of the “trickster” form and another one reviews the interpersonal relationships which lay behind some earlier ethnological studies of the area. These stories are for the most part told “to invoke some aspects of these issues [social and cultural anthropological commentary with some literary criticism] rather than attempt to create an exhaustive or complete rendering” (p. xiv).
Trujillo has tied his essays together by a distinct use of place. The Española Valley was the first place where immigrants of European descent settled in New Mexico in the sixteenth century. By the twentieth century, however, this part of northern New Mexico had been economically left behind the rest of the state, while leading in several social problems, such as the use and distribution of illicit drugs. Literally lying between Santa Fe and Taos, the Valley figuratively drops off the map, and appears to be dismissed from the attention of outsiders traveling between these Land of Enchantment tourist locations. Even Nuevomexicanos, as Trujillo repeatedly refers to Hispanic natives of the state, themselves seem to ignore the Valley. Thus, the Española Valley, with a claim to pride of place as giving birth to New Mexico’s unique blending of Spanish and Native American peoples and cultures, instead is left with certain resentment or, as the title puts it, “disenchantment.”
The author raises the possibility that there is something of that disenchantment in all places in New Mexico where long-standing traditions and populations are out of joint with modern developments and pointedly asks if the Española Valley is really so very different from other New Mexico cities and towns which are not part of the image economic and cultural leaders of the state wish to present to the world.
Trujillo also centers his essays on the marginalized. He begins the book with the “Friends of Acoma,” who might have been Native Americans, or environmental activists, or recently arrived “Anglos” sympathetic to Native American causes. He continues by looking at how drugs disconnected some elements of Española Valley youth from both the past and the present, leaving them “out of it.” He chose to examine an artist, Policarpio Valencia, who worked in embroidery, rather than more common media. He discusses writer Jim Sagel, a non-Hispanic resident of the Valley whom some critics mistook as a Nuevomexicano because of his fluency in Norteño Spanish and stories of the area. In both his exploration of these little-known marginal figures and his discussions of better-known incidents, Trujillo pays strict attention to details and has an unerring instinct for historical fairness.
As Trujillo discusses the incident from the late 1990s when the statue of don Juan de Oñate lost its right foot to an incident of political theatre--or as others would have it, vandalism--by the Friends of Acoma, he brings up the Spanish colonial incident involving Governor Oñate and the Acoma Indians. That event, which involved reprisals for the deaths of thirteen Spaniards, including Oñate's nephew, has itself been the subject of a great deal of historical discussion over the centuries. Trujillo sets forth in a clear and even-handed manner not only the incident and the reprisals, but why they have continued to hold such symbolic importance through the centuries. He takes pains to situate the Nuevomexicanos of the Española Valley as heirs to both sides of that conflict.
When Trujillo discusses the murders of Ricky Martinez and Karen Castañón early in the morning of Good Friday 2000 as they walked in pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayó, he offers the detailed background context needed to understand the significance of El Santuario, though he could have provided additional information about the Santo Niño de Atocha, one of the two focal points of devotion at El Santuario de Chimayó. The Santo Niño is an image of the Christ Child as a deliverer of aid to those who are oppressed by foreign “conquerors.” Understanding the devotion of New Mexicans to the Santo Niño might provide further insights into how they see themselves.
Trujillo raises important questions about the place of stories and the myth about group identity as well as queries about the way we choose to remember and to forget history. His work is an attempt to move beyond the “case study” of a dissertation and his writing engages a general reader with an interest in modern New Mexican history. I was somewhat surprised that he had nothing to say about Reies López Tijerina, the defender of northern New Mexico lands. An examination of “King Tiger” would have been natural for the discussion of “disenchantment” in northern New Mexico. All in all, Trujillo’s engaging work raises questions and issues which must be faced, not only for an understanding of how this part of New Mexico has gotten to where it is today, but also to determine how it might move forward.
went into a discussion of
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-newmexico.
Jack Clark Robinson. Review of Trujillo, Michael L., Land of Disenchantment: Latina/o Identities and Transformations in Northern New Mexico.
H-NewMexico, H-Net Reviews.
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