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.”

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