Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Words whose ancestries we do not even know


Choosing the proper word can be complicated out here in the City Different also. And we do not mean political correctness. Take “villa” for example.  

Back in Connecticut we used the term to refer to a large and luxurious country residence.  In Spanish, however, “villa” means a town. But not just any township. In Nuevo México’s Colonial days (1598 – 1812) it signified a municipality that was legally sanctioned with rights, privileges and a title granted by the king of Spain. During that time only four such villas were established – Santa Fe, El Paso, Santa Cruz and Albuquerque.

“La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi” (“The Royal Villa of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi”), or sometimes simply the “La Villa de Santa Fe” was chartered in 1610. The city gloried in its pre-eminence as both the territorial capital, and THE ONLY villa in New Mexico – with the locals referring to themselves not as Santa Feans but rather “Villeros,” or “The Townsmen.” Perhaps a more appropriate nickname than Demons and Jaguars for one of the city’s two high schools.

El Paso – “La Villa Real del Paso del Norte” (“The Royal Village of the North Pass”) – became the southernmost villa of the Provincia de Nuevo Mexico in the early 1680s. Driven out of northern New Mexico by the 1680 Pueblo Revolt more than 2,000 Spanish refugees and 317 Natives retreated to El Paso – at the time a small village. After an unsuccessful attempt by Governor Antonio de Otermín to take back New Mexico in 1681-1682 the Spanish realized that a reconquest was not going to happen quickly – and established El Paso as the temporary capital. It grew to be the territory’s largest city when it was ceded to the United States in 1850 as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe. (Fun factoid: the El Paso Museum of History is located on Santa Fe Street in El Paso.)

New Mexico’s third villa was established on April 21, 1695, when Gov. Diego de Vargas – after successfully re-conquering New Mexico – marched twenty miles north from Santa Fe to the east side of the Española Valley and placed settlers in the “Villa Nueva de Santa Cruz de los Españoles Mejicanos del Rey Nuestro Señor Carlos Segundo” (“The New Town of the Holy Cross of Mexican Spaniards under the King Our Lord Charles II”) – later shortened simply to Santa Cruz de la Cañada. La Cañada translates as "a small river or creek valley."  The villa remained the smallest and least known of the four – and the only one that did not grow into a major city before the 20th century..

“La Villa de San Francisco Javier de Alburquerque,” (“The Town of San Francis Xavier of Alburquerque”) was the creation of Governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, a Spanish nobleman, who escorted thirty-five families down the Rio Grande from La Villa de Santa Fe in 1706 – settling them on the east bank of the river where they became prosperous farmers and ranchers. Cuervo named the city after his boss, the Duke of Alburquerque, Viceroy of New Spain. Apparently he got the name half right. According to, “when...Cuervo y Valdez notified the viceroy of what he had done, he received in reply a reprimand for having established a new town without authority, and the viceroy himself changed the name of the locality to that of San Felipe de Alburquerque in honor of the kind, Don Felipe” – his headman, King Philip of Spain. It was further revised in 1776, by Father Francisco Atanasio Dominguez – to “La Villa de San Felipe Neri de Alburquerque” (“The Town of Saint Philip Neri of Alburquerque.”) And there was yet one more alteration when the first “r,” was dropped by early English-speaking visitors. Today Albuquerque (minus the first “r”) is informally known as “The Duke City.”

While La Villa de Santa Fe may have been our home state’s first official villa – it was by no means the earliest community at that site. Between 1050 and 1150 CE the locale was occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages – one as early as 900 CE in what is now the downtown area. 'Ogap'oge, as it was known, consisted of a cluster of homes centered around the site of today’s Plaza, and spread for half a mile to the south and west. The Santa Fe River – a year-round stream until the 1700s – provided water.

When colonial Governor Don Pedro de Peralta established the colony’s capital in 1610 the Spanish built a walled fort and village which included a central plaza and the Palace of the Governors. The Spanish used it as a defensible position in case of attacks by the Pueblo Indians, with the town’s elites living around the plaza.

Originally, the royal houses and grounds ran from the Plaza north to the site of the present day federal buildings – and contained the governor's private apartments, official reception rooms and offices, military barracks, stables, arsenal, and servants' quarters. Vegetable gardens were planted in a central patio consisting of some ten acres. The Palace extended farther to the west in Spanish times and had two torreones, or defense towers, on the east and west corners of the facade. The western tower served as a prison and for storage of gunpowder.

Between 1610 and 1680, the Palace of the Governors may have been a two-story adobe building – larger than today’s structure but lacking its now-trademark portal. We say “may” because many official documents were destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt.

But not all of the Spanish Colonials lived in the Plaza area – which brings us back to another semantic dissimilarity between our old and new lexicons. Back in CT we considered a barrio to not be a good place in which to live. Here it is a National Historic Landmark.

Barrio de Analco is the second oldest settlement of European origin in Santa Fe after the Plaza – and therefore one of the oldest neighborhoods in the United States. According to legend, it was originally occupied by Tlaxcalan Indian servants from Central Mexico who came with the Franciscan missionaries and Spanish officials in the early 17th century. These Nahuatl speaking Natives called their new home “analco” (“the other side of the water”) to distinguish it from the Plaza area, which was on the north side of the Santa Fe River.

The Tlaxcalans had a long, largely friendly, and productive relationship with the conquering Spanish – beginning when they provided Fernando Cortez with thousands of warriors to augment his small army of soldiers, and helped to conquer the Aztec empire in the early 1500s. The Spaniards always remembered this assistance, and the king granted the Tlaxcalans a number of political, social and economic privileges denied to other Indians – e.g. they were allowed to carry European arms. In the latter 1500s, many of them were recruited as colonists on Mexico’s dangerous northern frontier.

Soon after Analco was settled San Miguel Chapel was built by the Franciscans to serve as the mission church and for the use of the Indians. It is generally considered to be the oldest church in the United States – although it is likely that little of the original structure is still present.

The Barrio was the first section of Santa Fe to be sacked and razed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 – perhaps because the Puebloans also never forgot the legacy of assistance given to the Spanish by the Tlaxcalans. (In spite of the lack of technology, news did travel in those days.) Those able to escape took refuge in the Palace of the Governors with the besieged Spaniards and later retreated with Governor Otermín to El Paso. Ultimately most of the Tlaxcalans remained in the south where they assimilated into the local population. A few however returned to Santa Fe with Gen. Diego de Vargas on his 1692 Reconquista of New Mexico and reclaimed their former homes in the Barrio – assisting in the reconstruction of the burned-out shell of San Miguel. Most of the district however was rebuilt by new residents.

By 1776 the Barrio de Analco was occupied by married Spanish soldiers, laborers, genízario servants (Native Americans who, through war or trade, were taken into Hispano villages as servants, shepherds etc.) and skilled artisans such as shoemakers, tailors, musicians, silversmiths, blacksmiths, masons, adobe makers, bricklayers, and carpenters.
In the 1960’s, the neighborhood was a focus of Urban Renewal. Large areas were bulldozed and replaced by the Hilton Hotel, First Northern Bank and other buildings. That, plus the ever expanding state buildings around the Capital including the Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) have left little of the original Barrio.

Today seven standing adobe buildings are designated as The National Historic Landmark Barrio de Analco Historic District: San Miguel Chapel; the “Oldest House” (said to be one of the earliest buildings in America;) Roque Tudesqui House (c. 1840;) Gregorio Crespin House (parts of which may date to the 18th century;) Boyle House (c. 1766) and Valdes House (altered to become part of El Castillo Continuing Care Retirement Community.)

The area was also the site of St. Michael’s College – of which only the Dormitory and Lew Wallace Building remain. El Colegio de San Miguel was founded in 1859 by four brothers of the De La Salle Christian order from France in an adobe hut next to the San Miguel Mission. In 1874, St. Michael’s expanded to include a program of higher education under a charter granted to the “College of the Christian Brothers of New Mexico.” But due of financial issues, the university program was dropped after WWI. St. Michael’s High School continues to operate in a different location in town.

There was a large cemetery as well, which now is underneath the PERA parking lot. Four human skeletal elements were initially exposed during construction, and three more by the State’s Office of Archaeological Studies, which monitored the work. Archival research and local informants indicated that these remains are associated with the San Miguel Cemetery – most likely from individuals interred between the eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries.

We did find two other instances of the designation “barrio" in our town’s history: “Dogpatch" and "La Cañada."

The former refers to a triangular stretch in the city's historic east side. We rented an Airbnb in the area for a few weeks while house-hunting here in 2017. At the time we were unaware of the neighborhood’s colorful, rural sobriquet – which seems to have been now largely laid to rest by its current house prices.

(The name Dogpatch derives from the fictional setting of Al Capp's 1934–1977 classic comic strip, “Li'l Abner “– “an average stone-age community nestled in a bleak valley, between two cheap and uninteresting hills,” per its creator. The inhabitants, he said, were lazy hillbillies who wanted nothing to do with progress.)

The labelling of the area as a “barrio” seems to have first appeared in 1970 in “La Juventud del Barrio del Cristo Rey” (“The Youth of the Barrio del Cristo Rey”) – a group of young community activists. Members came from different parts of the city, but the Catholic parish of Cristo Rey where they were founded is located on Upper Canyon Road in the heart of the Dogpatch. The church is one of the most important buildings designed by noted Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem, and is claimed by some to be the largest adobe building in the United States. Taos Pueblo disagrees.

The young people’s organization included local chicanos and chicanas (male and female Mexican-Americans) who often donned sunglasses and brown berets and worked to raise money for non-profits such as El Vicio, then a local drug rehabilitation center. The group also had plans to build a Chicanx library.

Also claiming the “b" label is “Barrio La Cañada” (“The Valley Neighborhood”) – a half Spanish/half Anglo community of about 100 houses with the oldest built in 1939 and ninety-percent put up between 1960 and 2010. There is no evidence to indicate that the area was settled by explorers from north of the border. Eh. And at least one thing that tells us it wasn’t – “ñ.” Interestingly the name Canada (“n”) most likely comes from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata,” meaning “village” or “settlement” – or “villa.”

The founders of Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi who built and lived in the Plaza area did not feel any need to give their locale a unique Barrio moniker. Perhaps being the only “Villeros” in Nuevo Mexico at the time gave them enough street cred.

And we can only speculate as to why the Tlaxcalan Indian servants who established the Barrio de Analco felt the need to brand their community with its own identifier. Even if Google Maps were around at the time, it would have only two neighborhoods to look for – Plaza and Not-Plaza. Perhaps it was intended as an ironical jibe at DeVargas and the city planners who, for whatever reasons, overlooked their fellow Villeros when it came to constructing living quarters in their own backyard. Maybe they were thinking ahead and reserving a name for future use in the National Registry. Or perhaps, after being uprooted from their home in Central Mexico and “asked” by the Spanish to assist them on their colonization of New Mexico, they just wanted to settle down somewhere at least partially of their own creation with a name of their own making.

By the 1970s the meaning of barrio had become a more derogatory term, associated with lower income Spanish sections of a town. The Youth of the Barrio del Cristo Rey’s utilization of the term to describe a citywide organization as if it were a named neighborhood seems to come from the same desire for a positive sense of community that gave rise to the Barrio de Analco. As does Barrio La Cañada.

There are however now several “villas” in modern day New Mexico – among them “Villas de Santa Fe – A Family-Friendly Resort...featuring one- or two-bedroom suites.” This seems to follow the British definition of a “detached or semidetached house in a residential district.” The Spanish would call them casitas, and save the “v” word for bigger things. Might have been Anglo developers trying to give their creations what they viewed as some local flavor.

As Penelope Lively says in her 1987 novel Moon Tiger, “we open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know.”

Saint Kate's

 (Written in July, 2020.  Since that time U.S. Representative Debra Haaland has been nominated to be Secretary of the Interior by President Joe Biden.)

Connecticut has “the Kate,” officially known as the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center – named in honor of our old home state’s most renowned actress.  

Santa Fe has “Saint Kate’s,” aka St. Catherine’s Indian School – a former residential educational facility founded by Katherine Drexel, but named for St. Catherine of Siena.

We first heard about this Catholic educational institution in the short story “Hunger” – part of the anthology Santa Fe Noir published by Akashic Books, which also has collections set in New Haven, Cape Cod, and other places.   

We did not know of any Indian Schools in Connecticut’s history.*  So with no local lore to draw upon, our initial awareness of these learning centers, like that of many people, came from hearing about the exploits of Jim Thorpe – member of the Sac and Fox Nation, American athlete, Olympic gold medalist and student at the Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Indian Industrial School.  For a sports-minded blue-collar boy such as Jim whose understanding of higher education was basically limited to college football – Carlisle seemed a habitat of heroes, which anyone would aspire to attend.  

And that was pretty much our knowledge of such things until December 2013.  Two years previous Marsha had reconnected with J, her former high school BFF, who it turned out now lived in Albuquerque, and was a docent in that city’s Indian Pueblo Cultural Center – “dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Pueblo Indian Culture, History and Art.”  We linked up with J on our Christmas visit to NM, and she gave us a private tour of the museum’s then-current show “Albuquerque Indian School Retrospective With a Vision Forward.”  The multi-room exhibit featured artifacts and evidence of the attempts by Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)  to “kill the Indian to save the man” through a system of forced boarding schools for Native American children,

The motto came from the school's founder, Colonel Richard Pratt, who declared in 1892, “A great general [Philip Sheridan] has said that the only good Indian is a dead one...I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Native American residential schools were established initially by Christian missionaries of various denominations.  The BIA began its own system of boarding schools in 1860 on the Yakima Indian Reservation in Washington state.  After Carlisle’s establishment in 1879 BIA schools followed the “model” used at that Pennsylvania school. “Enrollments” increased under the 1891 “Compulsory Attendance” law, which empowered federal officers to forcibly take Native American children from their homes and reservations.  

These institutions were all part of a plan devised by eastern reformers Herbert Welsh and Henry Pancoast to use education as a tool to “assimilate” Indian tribes into the mainstream of the “American Way of Life,” a Protestant ideology of the mid-1800s.  

“By the mid-nineteenth century it has become commonplace for American Protestant historians and educators to insist upon the supposed historical and ideological link between Protestantism and American Exceptionalism...making Protestantism central to the evolution of American identity.  [They] saw Anglo-Saxon Protestants as the favored children of God because of their inherent ethnic superiority, greater ‘manliness’ and, most importantly, their Protestant faith [and] native people as both racially inferior and as unable conceptually to [adapt to] changing circumstances.  ‘The Indian is hewn out of a rock.  You can rarely change the form without destruction...he and his forest must perish together.’” (The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs By Emma Anderson)

Natives were to be taught the importance of private property, material wealth and monogamous nuclear families. The guiding principle was that it was necessary to “civilize” Indian people – make them accept white men’s beliefs and value systems.  Conversion to Christianity was deemed essential to the cause.  Educational institutions where children were separated from their families and way of life were an ideal instrument for this acculturation.  Begun in 1881 Albuquerque Indian School (AIS) was one of hundreds of such places – at least six in New Mexico.   Students were stripped of all traces of their culture such as long hair, clothing, and native language.   One student ran away from AIS so many times that they sent him to Carlisle, and he never came home.  

Saint Catherine’s Industrial Indian School in Santa Fe was one of the non-BIA, NGO-established schools.  It was begun in 1894 by Mother Katharine Drexel – wealthy heiress, nun and founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Negroes and Indians.  “Situated on a hill northwest of the Santa Fe Plaza [in] perhaps the largest adobe building in the Southwest,” SFIS was the first in a nationwide system of schools for the education of Native Americans and African Americans set up by that religious order.

Katherine Drexel (1858-1955) was born into one of the wealthiest families in America.  Her great-grandfather founded the firm Drexel Burnham Lambert. Her grandfather partnered with J. P. Morgan to establish the banking giant Drexel, Morgan & Co., renamed J. P. Morgan. Her uncle founded Drexel University. 

The French-Catholic family was also deeply religious and intensely philanthropic, giving about $11 million to charitable causes annually.   ($350 m today.)   Katherine’s mother died a month after her birth and doctors expected to lose the baby as well. But she grew stronger and eventually was sent, with her older sister, to live with relatives.  After her father’s remarriage to Emma Bouvier (great-great aunt of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis) the two girls returned home to be soon joined by a third sister.

Katherine enjoyed a pampered childhood – although at fourteen, she considered entering the religious life.  She was talked out of it by her spiritual adviser, Bishop James O’Connor. “I do not know how I could bear the privations of poverty of the religious life,” she herself confided in her journal. “I have never been deprived of luxuries.”  Later however, while on a family trip to the American West, Drexel was deeply moved by the poverty of Native Americans, who at that time were being forced from the rapidly shrinking frontier onto reservations.  She carried that memory into adulthood.

At the death of their parents, the Drexel sisters inherited the bulk of their estate. And Katharine began to devote a significant amount of her new personal fortune to missionary and charity work among American Indians – beginning in 1887 with SCIS – named for her patron saint, Catherine of Siena. 

Katherine visited Pope Leo XIII in the Vatican to ask him to send missionaries to staff the various missions she had financed.  The pontiff instead suggested that the missionary she needed was herself.  To the disbelief of Philadelphia society she decided to become a Catholic nun – initially joining the Sisters of Mercy and then founding the “Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Negroes and Indians,” to which she devoted her inheritance and talents.

Most of the order’s efforts went into developing a network of 145 missions – plus twelve schools for Native Americans, and fifty for African Americans throughout the West and South offering vocational training and religious instruction.

In contrast to that of the BIA, the order’s schools’ mission explicitly renounced assimilation as a goal –  and students did not have to be, or become, Catholic to enroll.

Saint Catherine’s Industrial Indian School initially was meant to serve as a boarding school for Indian girls.  But two weeks after its April 1887 dedication the building received its first students – sixty boys from an Indian school in Bernalillo, NM.  From the beginning there was a chronic shortage of teachers. The Sisters of Loretto managed the school for two years, then members of the Benedictine Fathers of Kansas, followed by a series of lay instructors. 

Even with this outside help, the school continued to struggle, and in 1893 was forced to close due to a lack of water for its agriculture.  The BIA-run Santa Fe Indian School had also opened in 1890 and was drawing away students.  In 1894 Mother Katharine and the Sisters of Blessed Sacrament took direct control – bringing in teaching nuns from Philadelphia, and offering both academic instruction and “industrial” training in trades such as tailoring, carpentry, farming, blacksmithing and laundry.  Girls were admitted, and by 1898, a two-story adobe dormitory behind the main building had been erected to accommodate them. Other buildings, including a two-story structure holding the carpentry and shoe shops, and a red-brick chapel and convent were added to the campus.

Although New Mexico’s initial state constitution gave Spanish children the right to “enjoy perfect all public schools,” education of Native American children remained under the direction of the federal government or religious charities.  At the time of statehood (1912) enrollment at SCIS was about 150.  In the 1960s some non-Indian children from Santa Fe and small villages in Northern New Mexico were also admitted.  

Former pupils recalled their time at “Saint Kate’s” for a Santa Fe New Mexican article.

“Students slept in barracks-style dormitories and got up at about 6:30 a.m. After eating breakfast together, they had to complete individual ‘charges,’ chores that helped the sisters maintain the facility with little extra cost.  There was not real janitorial service such as nowadays.  It was the students.”

New Mexico District Judge Barbara Vigil remembered polishing a floor in the nun's quarters on her knees using Johnson Paste Wax. At the time she rebelled against the “absurd rule” barring students from wearing jeans.  But now says “hindsight paints a better picture of the institution.

And, while many government-run Indian schools aimed to mainstream Native American children into the Anglo-Christian culture, according to alumnae and former staff this Catholic boarding school was different – living up to Mother Katherine’s express renunciation of assimilation as a goal.

One graduate said he wished his seven-year-old daughter, who is half Navajo, could attend a school like St. Kate's.  "It would've given her the opportunity to explore her culture and the local tribal cultures, [Catholicism] wasn't shoved in your face. It was there if you wanted it, but you didn't have to do it.  Former teacher Sister Patrick Marie Dempsey concurred. "We taught the Catholic religion, but had a respect for the other life that the (Native American students) led. It is two lives in some ways. And some of them, when they leave...still practice their Native ways.”

However, Democrat U.S. Representative from New Mexico's 1st Congressional District Debra Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, sees it quite differently – conflating together the BIA and NGO centers of learning.   “As a Native American woman, my family has experienced the violence of government-enforced family separation.  My grandmother, grandfather, and my mother were all sent to boarding school under this policy.  Grandfather, [to] Carlisle Indian School in PA, Mom and Grandma sent to St. Catherine's in Santa Fe.”  (New Mexico Political Journal)

Haaland is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and spoke at the Opening Ceremony for Jim Thorpe Sports Days at The U.S. Army War College – since 1951 located in the former home of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

“Like many Native American children [Jim Thorpe] was sent to Indian boarding school in the hopes of obtaining an education that would serve to assimilate him into mainstream white society.  At the time the school’s motto was ‘Kill the Indian, Save the Man.’

“In spite of this traumatic history...Thorpe couldn’t ignore the gifts he was born with and succeeded far beyond what anyone could imagine...overcoming obstacles and adversity that should inspire us all to work harder and be proud of where we come from because that is what true greatness is.”

Katherine Drexel likewise could not ignore the gifts she was born with – and later inherited.  She was proposed for sainthood in 1964 because of her “courage and initiative in addressing social inequality among minorities.”  Thirty-six years later, Pope John Paul II decreed that a girl from Pennsylvania, had been cured of lifelong deafness by the nun’s intercession and she became the second American in history to be canonized.   Katherine died in 1955 – and, per the terms of her father's will, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament no longer had the Drexel fortune available to them.  Still, the order continues to pursue its religious mission, working with African-Americans and Native Americans in twenty-one states and Haiti.  
A 1920s investigation into Indian Boarding Schools by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work concluded that children at federal boarding schools were malnourished, overworked, harshly punished and poorly educated.  A significant shift in Federal Native American policy began under President Franklin D. Roosevelt who established the Indian New Deal, with its centerpiece Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
But it was not until 1978, with the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act, that Native American parents gained the legal right to deny their children’s placement in off-reservation schools.  Today the Federal Bureau of Indian Education operates boarding schools in Anadarko, OK, Riverside, CA, Salem, OR and Flandreau, SD.  
Albuquerque Indian School closed in 1981.  The forty-six acres of land where the school once stood is being developed by a corporation owned by New Mexico's nineteen Indian Pueblos.  The first occupant is the only freestanding Starbucks licensed to a Native-owned company in the United States – and the largest of that chain’s coffeehouses in New Mexico.
With the passing of the SFIS Act in 2001, the Santa Fe Indian School took complete control of its educational curriculum, and ownership of the land under a trust held by the nineteen Pueblo Governors of New Mexico. Today the institution serves 700 Native American students in grades 7 – 12.  
In 1998 Saint Catherine’s Indian School became financially impossible to maintain, and closed its doors.  In 2016 the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority took title to the property for $2 million with thoughts of a mixed-use Section 8, and market-rate housing units.  “It is a wonderful old property and it has some really important historic buildings.”  The hope is to “at least get our money back and save this property.”  In 2019 the site was used for some scenes in the film “Cliffs of Freedom,” starring Christopher Plummer and Billy Zane. 

History can be pretty complicated in this melting pot of Native Americans, Spanish, Anglos and combinations thereof – many of whom have family histories in New Mexico that go back to its very beginnings.  A cultural continent formed from the tectonic plates of three traditions, whose fissures are not totally totally healed.  Based on legends, stories, traditions, folklore, and oral traditions unique to each group, current-day descendants of those who lived through the events may have radically different versions of what actually happened – witness Saint Kate’s.   
For decades there have been disputes, disagreements, demonstrations and discussions about the celebrations, memorials and writings that compete to tell the story of the interactions between the three groups.  Plus the occasional rectification of some of the issues. 
E.g. in 2018 the annual Santa Fe Fiesta removed its century-old Entrada pageant, which celebrated the 1692 re-entry of conquistador Don Diego de Vargas into Santa Fe after the Spanish had been expelled by the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.  The now-excised tableau depicted the “bloodless and peaceful” Reconquista of Nuevo México – never mentioning the overt threats of force, or the years of bloodshed and brutality that followed.   After decades of protests, and finally conversations, the performance has now been replaced by a series of Spanish and Native American events “to commemorate the negotiations of reconciliation.”
Comedian Trevor Noah ­is a child of a mixed race couple who grew up in South Africa during apartheid – and witnessed firsthand that country’s “negotiations of reconciliation.”  

Commenting on current ethnic issues on a recent CBS TV Sunday Morning program Noah ­said, “Americans are always told that there are only two sides to every story – [and] if you only have two choices, people are always gonna make one.  Which means people are automatically always going to be against each other.  Nuance means you can't just take a stand and fight the other person. Nuance means we have to talk a little bit more.”
This may be a particularly apt caution when considering New Mexico’s heritage.  Like the piece of fiction that inspired this essay, at least some of the history out here could also perhaps be considered “noir,”  (or noir-ish) – a narrative in which right and wrong are not clearly defined, with protagonists who are seriously and often tragically flawed.


* It turns out there was at least one Indian School in our old home state.  Since moving to Santa Fe, two different locals have mentioned Moor's Charity School – founded in 1754 in Lebanon, CT by Puritan Calvinist minister Eleazar Wheelock to provide education for Native Americans who wanted to become tribal missionaries.  In 1770 it was moved to Hanover New Hampshire where it was re-established as Dartmouth College.

Oh, the Places We [Would Like to] Go!

 Written July 202

We both enjoy watching live performances.  Plays, concerts, talks events with real, three-dimensional people doing their unrecorded thing in front of other sentient beings. And these shows are even better in venues whose architecture, interior design and history compete for your attention with the presentation itself ­ – or at least give you something to look at and talk about before showtime and during intermission.  On the east coast New York’s Carnegie Hall and Hartford’s Bushnell Memorial are such places.

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built his eponymous Hall at the request of his new wife, Louise Whitfield – a singer with the Oratorio Society of New York. The building was architected by William Burnet Tuthill who had never before designed a concert hall. And is made up of three structures arranged in an "L" shape: an eight story rectangular building, a sixteen-story eastern wing and a thirteen-story southern wing – each with its own auditorium. Total seating is 3,671. Tuthill chose the style from the Italian Renaissance – adding the elegance of the Victorian age. The interior contains a marble foyer with great slanting arches in the ceiling and doors, plus corner columns with intricate carvings. The brick exterior gives the building a reddish hue. At the cornerstone laying in 1891 Carnegie presciently proclaimed, “it is probable that this hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.”

The Bushnell was built in Connecticut’s capital city in 1930 by Dotha Bushnell Hillyer as a "living memorial" to her father, the Reverend Dr. Horace Bushnell (1802–1876) – minister, theologian, philosopher and civic leader, and as "a gift to the people of Connecticut." In a fortuitous piece of market timing Dotha sold her stock in December of 1928 in order to begin construction in 1929. Designed by the same architects who did New York's Radio City Music Hall the 2,800 seat Mortensen Hall has a Georgian Revival exterior and rich Art Deco interior.

An 187-by-40-foot hand-executed oil painting is suspended from the roof by numerous metal supports – the largest ceiling mural in the U.S. The work of Barry Faulkner of New York City, it was painted in panels, and took five months to complete, including three months to trace out the design. When it opened the Bushnell Auditorium was heralded as a "beacon of hope," in the midst of the Depression.

For school children bused in for forced culture (as we both were) the seemingly enormous edifice engendered a sense of awe, and a feeling that whatever was happening on the stage was massively important, even if we did not understand what, how or why.

Of the two of us only Jim has gotten to Carnegie Hall* – but not by practicing. And our cultural tastes as adults did not bring us to the Bushnell that often – the smaller, more intimate Hartford Stage Company and the performances therein were more our style. Nonetheless, we appreciated the beauty and importance of these structures. So in our new hometown of Santa Fe we look for likewise historically and culturally significant examples of auditorium architecture – along with something entertaining to watch within them.

Probably the best known of which is Santa Fe Opera – in a more normal summer a destination for tens of thousands of music aficionados, as well as fans of the physical building itself. TIME magazine called the complex “one of the handsomest operatic settings in the Western Hemisphere.” And Washington Post dubbed it a “shining white cloud in the red hills.”

SFO was founded in 1956 by New York based conductor John O. Crosby on a seventy-six acre piece of real estate located on a mesa seven miles north of the Santa Fe. (“The best view in town,”according to our realtor.) At the time the property contained a guest ranch whose visitors included musical luminaries such as Fritz Reiner and the married duo of soprano Lily Pons and conductor André Kostelanetz. Its previous incarnations included pinto bean plantation, mink ranch, and pig farm. The grounds have since grown to 150 acres.

In addition to the acquisition of the land, and the construction of the first concert hall, Crosby served as General Director until 2000, as well as the first principal conductor. Its initial season began July 3, 1957 with Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

There have been three theaters – each located on the same site with the audience facing west toward a horizon of sunsets and thunderstorms visible throughout many productions when no backdrops are used. It seats 2,128 plus 106 standees. The roof structure consists of front and rear portions supported by cables and joined together with a clerestory window – providing protection from the sky, but with the sides remaining open to the elements. Not complete shelter however as we observed at a concert by Rene Fleming in August, 2019 – one of five performances we have seen there, as well as one visit each for an open-to-the-public backstage tour, and a costume and prop shop sale.

If Santa Fe Opera marks the beginning of the city’s modern artistic identity, Saint Francis Auditorium in the New Mexico Museum of Art is the centerpiece of the state’s emergence as a world class art market.

In 1912 Santa Fe declared itself the “City Different” and embarked on a campaign to become THE premier southwest arts and local culture tourist destination. Five years later NM Museum of Art opened on the northeast corner of Santa Fe Plaza – the first building in the state dedicated to the various forms of creative activity, with galleries, reception areas and a theatre made specifically to promote the state's rich heritage to visitors and locals alike.

Drawing inspiration from the churches that were built in New Mexico when Santa Fe was the capital of the colony of New Spain, and using modern construction materials, architects Isaac Hamilton and William Morris Rapp designed the structure – a blend of Pueblo Revival architecture with Native American and Spanish Colonial design styles – as a larger version of the New Mexico Building (“the Cathedral of the Desert”) they had made for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego .

The auditorium seats 450 in its wooden church-like pews under rough-beam vigas protruding from irregular walls decorated with a series of murals depicting Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Santa Fe. Events we have seen there include the public lectures presented by El Ranch de las Golondrinas (our volunteer gig), concerts by the Santa Fe Community Orchestra, and the annual Gustave Baumann Marionette Christmas Show.

We have however attended only one function at the city’s other noted downtown performance venue, the Lensic Theater – and oddly enough that was an opera, albeit on big screen HDTV.

According to its website, “built in 1931, The Lensic is more than a theater to the people of Santa Fe. For most of the 20th century, The Lensic was a place for a first kiss in the balcony, a grand silver screen in the midst of the Depression, a vaudeville venue where the community could see the singers, actors, dancers, and comedians of the day..a place where magic happened,” all thanks to Syrian immigrant Nathan Salmon. 

Born Na’aman Soleiman in July 1866, Salmon migrated to New York at age twenty-one. For three years he traveled the roads of southern Colorado and the Southwest, selling goods from a wagon until a snowstorm stranded him in Santa Fe with with just twenty-five cents to his name. After pawning his watch to wire a friend for a loan, he resumed business as a “cart peddler” with enough success to purchase a dry goods store in town on San Francisco Street.

With further prosperity he bought property throughout Santa Fe and Albuquerque. In spite of the Great Depression, he announced on March 27, 1930, plans for a “Spanish-style” theater just up the street from his first brick and mortar business – with the latest projection and sound equipment offering live performances and “talkies” to Santa Fe’s 11,000 residents. “I made all my money here and I wanted to give the people something to show my appreciation,” he explained.

Salmon hired one of the best theater designers of the day, Boller Brothers of Los Angeles and Kansas City, to construct what he labeled the “wonder theater of the southwest.”

Ground was broken in September, 1930, and Salmon offered a $25 prize for an appropriate name for the new theater – Spanish preferably, or, if not, one incorporating the initials of his six grandchildren. The winning combination came from Mrs. P. J. Smithwick, whose acronym “Lensic” not only combined the desired initials (for Lila, Elias John, Nathan, Sara, Mary Irene, and Charles,) but also suggested the “lens” of a movie projector and the scenic splendor of the theater’s interior.

The movie house opened June 24, 1931 with a marquee that changed four times a week – three shows daily with ticket prices from twenty-five to seventy-five cents. But as the city and country grew, other entertainment options became available. And the evolving technical requirements of 20th century performances soon outstripped the capabilities of the old Lensic. In the 1990s, while managed by United Artists, the theater stopped hosting live events, and in 1999 it closed its doors altogether.

Four years prior to the Lensic’s birth, down the road in Albuquerque, the KiMo Theatre was opened by Italian immigrant Oreste Bachechi, another highly motivated entrepreneur from humble origins, whose businesses grew from a tent near the railroad tracks, to a liquor dealership, grocery store and Bachechi Amusement Association, which operated the Pastime Movie Theater (demolished and now the site of the State theater.) In 1925, Oreste decided to achieve his true dream – building his own stage and screen theatre with a unique look that fused the spirit of Native American cultures with the sleek stylized geometric forms and man-made materials in vogue at the time. He dubbed the resulting architectural style “Pueblo Deco.” Like Salmon, Bachechi also called upon Boller Brothers to implement the project. The name “KiMo” is a combination of two Indian words literally meaning “mountain lion” but more liberally interpreted as “king of its kind.” Like its Santa Fe cousin the KiMo fell on hard times and had to be saved from the wrecking ball by the city of Albuquerque in the 1970s.

Back in Santa Fe the Lensic was reborn under the leadership of Bill and Nancy Zeckendorf, members of a distinguished New York real estate family, who moved to here in the 1980s. Working with local performing arts groups, the city government, individuals, and business leaders, they raised over $9 million and incorporated the theater as a nonprofit.

The Lensic is now home to more than 200 events annually, including original presentations, education and outreach events, and a host of other concerts and events featuring acts from close to home and around the world. Among them “The Met: Live in HD,” whose November 23, 2019 broadcast of Akhnaten by Philip Glass brought us to the venerable pseudo-Moorish, Spanish Renaissance 821-seat venue for our only visit thus far. But the world will reopen, and we will return.

Just as we will go back to the Santa Fe Playhouse, which we originally sought out in hopes of replacing the Hartford Stage Company void in our lives. “Santa Fe is a music town, not a theater town,” we were told by several people, most memorably at a Santa Fe Opera pre-performance talk for “The Thirteenth Child” – a show we went to see solely because its director, Tony Award winner Darko Tresnjak had been the artistic director of Hartford Stage from 2011 to 2019.

Santa Fe Playhouse, “the oldest continuously producing theater west of the Mississippi,” was founded in 1919 by Mary Austin (1868-1934) – well-known social activist, prolific novelist, poet, critic, playwright, and essayist. In 1918, she was drawn to Santa Fe by the town’s growing reputation as a center for artists, writers, and intellectuals, along with her confidant Mabel Dodge Lujan, who later settled in Taos. Austin’s home in Santa Fe, Casa Querida (“Dear House”) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a “contributing building” in the Camino del Monte Sol Historic District in the southeast corner of Santa Fe, south of the Santa Fe River.  From 1912 to WWII the area was home to a nationally known colony of artists, many of whom (like Mary Austin) built their own Pueblo Revival adobe houses. Helen Hunt starred in a 1989 adaptation of Austin’s essay collection, “The Land of Little Rain,” for the PBS American Playhouse series.

In 1919 Austin started a small acting company called The Santa Fe Players, “to celebrate and preserve the rich texture of the unique culture of Santa Fe through live theater.” In their first year they presented three plays on February 14, and three others on May 13 at the newly constructed St. Francis Auditorium – whose architect, John Gaw Meem was an actor in at least one of them. Three years later the group incorporated and performed in various temporary venues around town, such as tents at the rodeo grounds, and under makeshift shelters on the Plaza.

Then in 1964 they renovated an old livery stable in the historic Barrio de Analco – the second oldest district of European origin in Santa Fe after the Plaza – making it into a permanent theater space which they renamed “The Santa Fe Little Theatre.” The first placard was hung over the door in 1983 to establish what became, and continues to be, the “Santa Fe Playhouse.” “Carrying on the tradition of our progressive founders, the Playhouse produces exciting plays each year including contemporary, classic, and eclectic theater,” among them the annual production of “Benchwarmers” – eight original ten-minute plays written, directed, and acted by local Santa Fe artists. With only one prop – a park bench.

Casts sometimes include Actors Equity members – but also former New York and Hollywood stage and screen professionals, as well as graduates of the now-defunct Santa Fe College of Art & Design. The setting is intimate, e.g. the two lighting and sound people work their way through the entry line of theatergoers in the lobby to climb up a wall-attached metal ladder to their overhead work area. And the audiences are much, much smaller than at Hartford Stage – you literally can count the number of seats while waiting for the show to begin. Which does give you something to talk about – since the design and architecture is basically non-existent compared to that of the other venues discussed herein.

But live plays performed before small audiences, at a former livery stable, in perhaps the second oldest European community in the United States, on a limited budget, in an avowed “music town” is kind of what regional theater is all about – and clearly gives Santa Fe Playhouse the cachet to be included as one of the City Different’s premier performance spaces.

* Jim’s one visit to Carnegie Hall was during a four day business trip to New York City in the 1990s. The concert experience was memorable. But not as notable as what occurred outside at the intersection of 7th Avenue and 57th Street earlier that morning. We were dedicated recreational runners at the time. So even with morning February temperatures in the low thirties Jim went out for a jog around 6:30 a.m. clad in shorts, long sleeve tee shirt, knit cap and gloves. As he passed in front of the music venue to which he planned to go later that evening he looked up to see an unimaginably glammed up woman wearing a short fur jacket, micro-mini skirt and precipitously high stiletto heels standing at the corner staring back at him. When he got next to her she looked at him and said, through bubble gum scented breath, “ain’t youse cold?” Jim wittily responded, “aren’t you?” “Yeah,” she replied, “but I ain’t gonna be here long.” And at that moment a black limo with tinted windows pulled up, and she turned away and slid into the awaiting back seat.

Lesson learned – always dress for the occasion.