PASARON POR AQUÍ.
New Mexico reminds me a lot of Spain, especially northeast Spain going towards Asturias. Maybe that’s why the early Spanish explorers and settlers sought to make New Mexico into New Spain. In many ways they succeeded. In many ways they were heavy-handed and brutal with the Native Americans.
Nevertheless, as Edward Rutherford points out in Sarum, his novel of England, out of necessity the hunters and settlers of Neolithic England determined that their future lay in cooperation while respecting each other’s ways and mores. We are not yet there in New Mexico, but Rutherford’s novel of England covers thousands of years, time enough to establish cooperation and respect. In my language and linguistic classes over the years I ask students to comment on language as the glue of unity among disparate peoples in a nation. Invariably the conclusion is “no,” language is not the glue of unity, settling instead on “respect” (Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T) as the glue of unity.
What remains of the Spanish entradas into New Mexico and what is readily visible is the historical blending of people and the place names they left behind, reminding us que pasaron por aqui—they passed this way. The indigenous peoples of New Mexico did not disappear upon arrival of the Spaniards. Descendants of those people are everywhere in New Mexico. My maternal grandfather Atilano Geronimo Campos was an Apache, and he is with us today in the homologous presence of his grandchildren and their children. His wife Eufracia Gasca, my maternal grandmother, was of Basque origins and she is with us today in the blended presence of her grandchildren and their children in their mitochondrial DNA. Philosophically we can say “this was their future”—their immortality, so to speak.
Their progeny was perhaps their greatest legacy. In New Mexico that progeny has scaled the heights of success in all the professions and disciplines. Les debemos mucho a los quien pasaron por aqui—we owe a lot to those who came before us. This is quite clear in the documentary film North From Mexico which I narrated. Based on Carey McWilliams’ monumental work of 1948 on Mexicans in the United States, the film was produced by Sumner Glimscher for Greenwood Press in 1971. I was privileged to work on the script adaptation of the book with Harold Flender who wrote the script for Paris Blues with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. More importantly, perhaps, is that Carey McWilliams recommended me specifically as a consultant to the documentary. My principal role in that effort was to establish and maintain fidelity to the facts of that historical encounter between Spaniards and Indians in New Mexico.
Notwithstanding the politics of her success, Susanna Martinez, the present governor of New Mexico, achieved a stunning victory in her election to the governorship of the state. She is indeed the first Hispanic woman to be governor of a state in the United States. That is an accomplishment of major proportions, no matter the ideology of her politics. How long her tenure will be depends on the color of the state—that is, red or blue. At the moment, New Mexico is a Blue State. Nevertheless, like the rest of us in New Mexico, Governor Martinez is the legatee of those quien pasaron por aqui.
A group spurred by Dorinda Moreno has been busy organizing the 60th anniversary of the film Salt of the Earth shot in Hanover, New Mexico (near Silver City), released in 1954 starring Will Geer and Rosaura Revueltas. While the film is ostensibly about the miners and their strike against the Empire Zinc Company, the film has emerged as a testament to the power of women in the American labor movement. The film was branded “subversive” and was “blacklisted” because it was backed by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers and backed by blacklisted Hollywood professionals who helped produce it. Writers like Dalton Trumbo worked on the script and was blackballed for his efforts by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and denounced as a Communist propaganda film by Senator Joseph McCarthy during the dark days of that American Inquisition in ferreting out communists.
What is surprising is that after more than 60 years the strike against the Empire Zinc Company in Hanover, New Mexico, still wields such interest and fascination. This is simply proof of the power of the enduring spirit in the face of adversity. Los mineros (the miners) of the Empire Zinc Company are an important part of our New Mexico heritage—pasaron por aqui—they left their mark here. Since I use the film in my course on The Chicano Experience in the United States I’ve been asked to be a keynote speaker at the 60th anniversary event.
What is spurring my interest these days is the rising use of social media by Latinos not just in the United States but hemispherically. Everywhere around the state ubiquitous cell phones and iPads are communicating with each other. This is not a white/black or ethnic driven phenomenon; it’s part of the human evolution of communication, made all the more significant because it augurs possibilities for a unity of Latinos. The use of social media, according to the pundits, was the winning element in the re-election of President Obama. The trick now is how to make it work for the aspirations of Latino Americans.
One way, evident at the moment, is the instantaneity of the media. Whoever we want to talk to no matter the distance—hay ‘tan, there they are. Electronic mail hastens that process as well. As does facebook and twitter. That part of the media over which we can exercise some measure of control is advantageous to the amelioration of Latino Americans. Mainstream media, however, is a horse of a different color. On Cesar Chavez Day not one mainstream network featured anything about him. Que hacemos? Manos a la obra! What shall we do? Let’s get to work!
Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ph.D. (English, University of New Mexico, ‘71) is
Scholar In Residence and Past Chair of the Department of Chicana/o and Hemispheric Studies,
College of Arts and Sciences, Western New Mexico University and was founding Director of the
Chicano Studies Deaprtment at the University of Texas at El Paso. He is Editor-in-Chief of the
Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Issues Today (2 Vols.) forthcoming.