Archive for the ‘Oral History’ category

Death by Curare: A Love of Blowguns

April 24, 2014


~“Blowing Poison in the Amazon” a digital rendering by Felicia Lujan~

For some time I have been fascinated with blowguns. These low tech tools or weapons used mostly by indigenous peoples in the rainforest are also referred to as blowpipes or blow tubes. A blowgun is traditionally made of a long tube of organic material such as bamboo. The tube is used to fire poisoned darts or other projectiles by blowing air by mouth into the tube.

I first became intrigued with the blowgun when one of my all time favorite fantasy films was released in 1985. I was a ten year old girl with a wild imagination. In Legend, a poisoned blowdart was used by the evil goblins to kill a unicorn in a dark fairy tale which I favor. I now own that movie and still watch it often. The blowgun made such an impression on me that I authored a poem titled “Blowdart” in February of 2013.


~The talking book and player on the chair in my office.~

For the last few days, I have been listening to a talking book while I work. This book along with a book my son and I read on poison dart frogs, made me want to research further into the history and use of the blowgun. After listening to my talking book, and doing some research, I am more fascinated by not only blowguns, but by medicine men.

Listening to Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice has been so interesting. The book was read and written by Mark J. Plotkin, Ph.D. Dr. Plotkin is a famous ethnobotanist who searches “for new medicines in the Amazon Rainforest and said “everytime a shaman dies, it is as if a library burned down.” This is a very sad realization. There is so much oral history to be lost with death.

Dr. Plotkin spent an amazing amount of time studying the shamans of the northeast Amazon and his book is indeed mind blowing. There is something about actually listening to him tell the story. I could hear his love and enthusiasm for the Amazon, nature and research in his voice. I was particularly struck by his interest in the indigenous use of blowguns.

The indigenous peoples of the Amazon, South and Central America, and South East Asia utilize blowguns as do the Native Americans of North America. These people have used both round projectiles as well as handmade darts for ammunition. I tend to favor those cultures which lace the tips of their darts with poison. This is done to cause paralysis and death.


~A Poison Dart Frog~

The type of toxins used on tipped darts to cause paralysis and death vary from culture to culture. Indigenous peoples use curare, a plant based extract or the frothy secretions of toxic frogs to tip darts. Native Americans have been known to extract toxins from the Golden Poppy. The amount of poison used, and the level of penetration seem to play key roles in the life or death of the receiver.


~The Golden Poppy~

On September 17, 1864, London’s Illustrated Times published a short piece titled “The Woorali Arrow Poison.” This historic news article says “from the fact that this poison, introduced into the system by the blood vessels, causes paralysis and death in the course of a few minutes, it has been erroneously inferred that death by curare is perfectly free from pain of any kind.” Dr. Claude Bernard’s experiments with curare showed that “one limb after another becomes gradually paralyzed…” He assumed death by curare was not painless as an animal retains intellect during the course of paralysis, which “gradually extended to the respiratory organs” causing suffocation.

On September 16, 1993, the Indiana Gazette ran an article on Dr. Plotkin by Nita Lelyveld, a writer with the Associated Press. He is truly an amazing man. The article was titled “Scientist Learns Healing Secrets from Rain Forest’s Medicine Men.” In this piece, there is a photo of the handsome scientist discussing “blow gun poisons with an En-Yeh-Pah Indian in central Venezuela.” What a great image! It was awesome to read this story. I’m in love with this ethnobotonist. Again, Dr. Plotkin’s professional passion was evident.


~The handsome ethnobotanist discussing “blow gun poisons with an En-Yeh-Pah Indian in central Venezuela.” ***Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press~

At the time of that article and the release of his book (1993), Dr. Plotkin was working with Conservation International. He is still on a conservation mission. That is commendable. Today he is president of the Amazon Conservation Team. His team is working with indigenous peoples in order to protect our magical rainforests. He is a very special man with a love of poisoned darts, blowguns, and medicinal cures.

When I first became intrigued with the blowgun, I was just a girl. I had and still have a wild imagination. As a young girl I could never understand the importance of conservation and preservation. If it were not for experts like Dr. Plotkin and the late Dr. Bernard, people like me would never learn about some things. I can only imagine what it is like to be a scientist studying in the rainforest. It must be an empowering, humbling and fulfilling experience.

I am not a scientist, but I am a writer. Through writing I can mentally experience those things I may never be able to do. Through writing, I can spread Dr. Plotkin’s message. Through writing, I can shoot a blowgun. Through writing, I can extract toxins and make curare. Through writing, I can become a poisoned dart. Through writing, I can administer death by curare.

Why Wait to Learn About Crypto Connections?

July 18, 2012

Journal of Spanish, Portuguese,
and Italian Crypto-Jews
Cover of Volume I, Spring 2009

One thing I hate about the summer is my lack of time. There are always so many things going on- far more than I can successfully grasp! One conference I am sorry that I will miss is the 22nd Annual Conference of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies. The conference will be held next week in Albuquerque, New Mexico from July 22-24, 2012. I would have loved to attend a special session being presented by a group of scholars, historians and genealogists. I know two of them very well. Exploring Hispano Family History, a genealogy workshop, will be presented by historian and genealogist José Antonio Esquibel, Henrietta Martinez Christmas, and a few others. I have been very interested in the scholarly studies being unearthed in this area. The oral history of my maternal line denotes a possible connection to Crypto-Jewish ancestry. When the DNA of my maternal line was analyzed not long ago, the DNA came back Native American. I believe that oral traditions hold firm ground in history, and so there must be a connection somehow linking the great grandmother I was named after to Crypto-Jewish ancestry. Her family came from Portugal through Canada in the 1800s. A great publication to check out is the Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto-Jews. The journal contains the comprehensive research of contemporary scholars if you are interested in studies of this nature. My maternal DNA or mtDNA did return with a Native American result, so I have come to an educated conclusion that the Crypto-Jewish connection is not directly maternal. I think that the missing link may actually be my great grandmother’s father. If I wasn’t already attending the NAGARA/CoSA Conference here is Santa Fe, I would have planned to learn more about Crypto Judaic Studies. The Chair of the agency I work for is a Senior Adviser to the Board of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies. He is also a founding member of the society. Dr. Stanley Hordes is a Former New Mexico State Historian who wrote a book titled To the End of the Earth (a must read). I have had many, many conversations with Dr. Hordes, who always insists I call him Stan.  At one point when my grandmother was alive, he wanted to interview her. Unfortunately, she passed away before he ever had the opportunity. I could kick myself a million times because I have missed so many chances to learn more about my family history just waiting for tomorrow. Don’t wait! Learn more today…

Amulet,Talisman,Trinket: The Lore of Blood Coral

March 2, 2012

Every morning as I drive to work, I am reminded of my maternal grandmother. Right before I had my one and only child, a son, she gave me a special gift. At the time, I never understood just how special the gift was. It must have been around July of 2005 when my grandma’s warm hand opened mine. She placed an odd shaped piece of coral on my palm. I looked at the red natural gem for a moment, and then asked “what should do with it?” She said that I needed it for protection, and after I gave birth that I should “pin it on her grandson.” My grandma told me that there would be people jealous of the baby and the attention he would get, so that I should be sure he used the coral. My grandma Corine did many things that I would never get to fully understand until I became a woman. What she believed we needed protection from was mal ojo or the evil eye.

As a child, I soaked up many of her traditions and beliefs, often unknowingly. I never took the time to learn more than that. I did know that all children were gifted with coral so of course I saved it. I made Daryn a pin, and he would wear it. I can’t remember when he stopped wearing the pin, but my grandmother passed away a little over two years after my son was born. I have only one photograph of her holding him in her arms. Naturally, I saved the precious piece. I made it into a necklace for me, and would wear it and think of my grandma. Later I decided to hang the necklace from the mirror in my vehicle. Maybe for protection? It still hangs there almost 5 years since my grandma died. For a few weeks, I have been wanting to look into the lore of coral. I finally took the time to do so this week. I was shocked to learn that the practice of gifting a child with red coral is not specific to New Mexico, yet alone to one culture.

A piece of red coral given to me by my maternal grandmother was used to make this necklace. The "horn" or "branch" was much longer at one time, but a piece broke off a few years back. Before it was a necklace, my son would wear the gem as a pin for protection. Now this necklace is hanging from the mirror in my vehicle for protection on the road.

According to Bussoletti, Cottingham, Bruckner, and Roberts, in the Mediterranean, a coral amulet has “distinctive characteristics.” These characteristics stem from “the complex mythological content that surrounds it, tying it to the blood of the head of Medusa that Perseus decapitated, blood that would color and petrify the sea.” They published these ideas in Red Coral Science, Management, and Trade: Lessons from the Mediterranean. In Documents of British Superstition in Oxford, by Ettlinger, the author concluded that folklore of coral declared the gem “one of the most popular amulets by reason of its red colour-since a white coral has never been used as an amulet.”

I also located something called Chinese Charms: Hidden Meaning of Symbols and there it is said that “red coral is considered particularly auspicious.” In Italian Folklore of Italy, red coral was “used to protect mothers and their babies, and trees that bear fruit.” In the Important Symbolism of Middle Eastern Jewelry, “a talisman which is used for the elderly, women, children and babies,” often utilized “antique Mediterranean red coral and amber beads.” Roman Sexualities by Hallett and Skinner said that “women are vigilant in protecting the babies once they are born.” Some “baby amulets” included “branches of coral.”

Thomas Forbes with the Yale University Departments of Anatomy and the History of Science and Medicine published a paper titled Chalcedony and Childbirth: Precious and Semi-Precious Stones as Obstetrical Amulets. In a section titled Gems of Biological Origin, Forbes wrote that “one of the most interesting was coral,” he called the gem a “protective charm,” and said that it was “recommended a piece of coral hung about the neck as a birth charm.”

I did locate a vast amount of information about the mythology of coral, and the origins of these beliefs runs way, way back. One of the most interesting pieces I located was a paper titled The Evil Eye in Italian Art by S.A. Callisen. The paper was published in 1937 in The Art Bulletin (Vol. 19, No. 3). In a nutshell, Callisen mentions some of the following: peoples of the earth have feared the power of the evil eye, and an earnest faith in its malign potency can be traced to the dawn of folklore; in paintings and sculptures a branch of coral can be seen hanging from the Christ Child’s neck; a branch of coral, hung about the neck of an infant, is a protection from harm as a prophylactic against the evil eye; writers on magic were insistent that an amulet of red coral was much the most potent; and some believed that the coral branch was similar to a Roman phallic charm. There are references to coral and color changing. It is said that when the wearer is ill, the blood coral will change from red to a “pale” color.

In Women’s Tales from the New Mexico WPA: La Diabla a Pie, there is a story titled Remedios that is from the 1940s. There it is written, that “babies were harmed by mal ojo (evil eye). It was said that some persons could hurt babies with evil eye or mal ojo unconsciously. When baby was made sick by anyone who had mal ojo.” It is believed that “to protect little children from mal ojo, strings of coral beads were tied around their necks.” So yes- there are local stories, however, the lore of coral is cross-cultural and much deeper than I anticipated.

In the future, I would like to study what I see as the symbolism of coral, as water is one of my power symbols. That is a whole other topic for another long night. For now, if you would like to learn more about the lore of this biological gem, you should read The Evil Eye in Italian Art by S.A. Callisen. There was a great amount of scholarly research that went into that piece. The link is below. That paper is mind blowing! It turns out, there was a significant amount of history rooted in my grandmother’s beliefs about coral and children. It just takes a little looking…


Various online sources.

The Art Bulletin, Vol. 19, No. 3 (1937, pages 450-462)- The Evil Eye in Italian Art by S.A. Callisen

Women’s Tales from the New Mexico WPA: La Diabla a Pie (page 29)- Edited by Tey Diana Rebolledo and Maria Teresa Marquez

Māori: Origins of a Warrior

January 26, 2012

Digital composite of a Māori Warrior by Felicia Lujan. Includes: multiple renderings of a Moko drawing of Te Pehi’s face (1975 white paper); a photograph of a wooden Māori dagger (1920 white paper); and one contemporary photograph.

Origins of a Warrior


Māori man, I can feel the power

of your breath. The energy in each

breath searches for listening hearts.


Māori man, your ancestral cry

pierces me. Indigenous warrior, you

must protect your land and people.

Māori man, your roots run deep.

They are so deep, that only the stars

can remember the origin of those

who came before you.


Māori man, identity marked in thick

black will grace the face of your son.

The children of your children will

forever value your whakapapa.


Māori man, I can feel the spirit

of this spiral of life. The force

gives me strength, and penetrates

my listening heart.


by Felicia Lujan_1.25.2012


Old Māori Proverb
Ma te huruhuru te manu ka rere, Ma te ao te rangi ka uhi.”
By feathers alone can the bird fly, By clouds are the heavens covered.”
————A Māori Bone Decorative Comb from Riverton by H.D. Skinner
————Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 39, No. 3 (1930), Page 285

War cry of their ancestors, the War Haka or Peruperu is a traditional dance of the Māori of New Zealand. This dance is filled with powerful movements, which involve the entire body and spirit. With their eyes open wide, strong stances, and the use of their tongue, the Māori exude strength. Heavy sounds from the slaps of their hands, dominant foot stomps, and deep shouts, are used to evoke the God of War. This dance is fierce, and is performed with weapons. According to some accounts, the Haka changed dramatically following World War I, but I would need to do more research to confirm that.

I became enthralled with the Māori when Alan Duff’s independent film Once Were Warriors (1994) was released. Duff, a journalist, novelist, and native to New Zealand gave me my first taste of culture in the South Pacific Ocean. I wanted to know more about the islands of New Zealand, which are at least half a world away from me. The film is centered on the social problems of the Heke family, and is still used today as a tool by educators and historians internationally. What inspires me in this film are the themes of hope and family. I am so inspired by the ability of a family to draw strength from tragedy. When one son in the fictional family immerses himself in the spirit of his ancestors, some of the family members are able to band together with mighty force. After seeing these men perform the War Haka or Peruperu, I was intrigued.

From 2001-2003, with each release in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I couldn’t help but remain mystified by the beautiful scenes filmed in New Zealand. There were breathtaking mountains, waters, and mystical places. The islands seemed magical. Through the cinematography in these movies, I could almost grasp the spirit of place. I was recently reminded of New Zealand by “a woman of strength,” Maryanne Pale ( Maryanne is the woman who nominated me for a Genuine Blogger Award. I was honored to be nominated by such a distinguished and beautiful writer. After discovering she was from New Zealand, I started to look into the origins, history, and mythology of the Māori.

I did track down four anthropological white papers written between 1901 and 1975. I was absolutely amazed to find out that the tattoo (moko) of the Māori often represents ancestral origins (genealogy). I couldn’t believe it?! As an archivist, as a genealogist, as an artist, and as a tattooed woman, I found this astounding. According to one anthropological account of moko designs, “the symbolism that governed an artist’s choices in composition has been lost.” It is understandable that the researchers are referring to hard copy records. Though actual records relative to the symbolism of moko designs may be nonexistent, certainly oral history and collective memory have preserved meaning. One account of an indigenous carver, said that he “was brought up to believe the different patterns in front of each ear represented descent from the male and female sides of a man’s family.”

It was also interesting for me to discover that the primary marks used by the Māori are “curves and spirals.” The spiral is of course one of my signs. I have been signing my art and poetry with the symbol since I was in my youth. I am always lead to the subjects of my writing for a reason, because as we all know, everything happens for a reason. Can you imagine wearing your lineage as a visual badge? It is a fascinating tradition to say the least. In the future, I hope to learn more about the Māori, and maybe one day I can visit New Zealand.

General Information:

Māori Haka

Lord of the Rings Trilogy- Film Locations

Information on New Zealand

Scholarly Sources:

Māori Tatu and Moko by H. Ling Roth
Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 31(1901), Pages 29-64

On Two Wooden Māori Daggers by William Ridgeway and H.D. Skinner
Man, Vol. 20 (1920), Pages 49-52

A Māori Bone Decorative Comb from Riverton by H.D. Skinner
Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 39, No. 3 (1930), Pages 284-285

Moko and C.F. Goldie by Michael King
Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 84, No. 4 (1975), Pages 431-440

Memories Spark Memories…

January 7, 2012


“A happy memory is a hiding place for unforgotten treasures.”
—-Paul L. Powers

Tonight I received a call from my grandma Emily. She and I took some time to catch up. I was happy to hear that my family members have been keeping her in the loop on what I have been writing about. I keep insisting she get a computer so she can read my stuff. She says she probably couldn’t learn, but I think she could. It turns out my aunt Marlene (my dad’s sister) mailed her printed copies of Wood Shavings and Mysteries of a Master Craftsman: A Visit with Richard Lujan (the piece on my uncle and my dad’s brother). That aunt had emailed me in December and said how much she had learned about her brother that she never knew from reading my piece. My grandma apparently felt the same. She said my uncle “is very quiet and doesn’t say that much.” Imagine that? My uncle’s own mother learned about him from what I wrote. I love that!!

My dad took her copies of The Garduño Connection as well (thanks dad 🙂 ). I gotta get with my dad because my grandma mentioned him talking with her about his childhood memories of my grandma Lina’s house in Nambe (before she moved to Albuquerque). My grandma Emily told me he remembered some things that not even she remembered. My grandma talked about how she would go use a sewing machine at her grandpa’s (Florencio Garduño) to make clothes. She said she was about 11 and her grandma had already died. Her memories of frequent visits by Benancio Garduño (Dave Garduño’s father) when he lived in Nambe were also sparked. It turns out I knew Adelia Garduño when I was a child. I do not remember much about her, but tonight, when my grandma mentioned her nick name (grandma LaLa)- a memory came back. Adelia Garduño was the beautiful woman in the unique tin type image I posted in The Garduño Connection. Wow… So that was grandma LaLa? The best Garduño memory my grandma offered was one involving me. She asked me if I remembered going with she and my grandpa Gilbert to Dave Garduño’s wedding. I said “no” and she seemed surprised by that answer. I will need to do some fact checking, but apparently I danced my ash off at that wedding. 2 much… My grandma said I was about five, and that we spent the night at my grandma Lina’s house that night. I even insisted on wearing a little red skirt and shirt my grandma made me. Now I really feel I need to get an oral history interview with Dave. I thought that was funny, and that it would make a good story to add to my collection.

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The Garduño Connection…

December 28, 2011

Slowly, I have been gathering records for genealogical research into a branch of my paternal line. In order to make sense of connections, dates, and other pertinent information, I have created an event timeline. This helps me put things into perspective. Aside from the fact that I want to know more about this branch of my tree, I want to work on this particular area for several reasons. First, I absolutely loved my great grandmother who was born a Garduño and married an Ortiz. Second, when I was little, my great grandmother’s daughter (my grandma) Emily took care of me. I learned so much about creativity from her, and would like to offer her a greater piece of her patrimony. Third, I am related to the Garduños who are serious New Mexico foodies. In the last few years, the family has been criticized for their business management skills and financial problems. It is unfair that the family has been given so much negative publicity. I want to take an opportunity to provide a closer look at the Garduños, and in turn affirm their prominently positive mark on New Mexico history. Lastly, I have always heard that there is a Maloof connection in this line. Oral histories have denoted that these families are very close friends, and also business partners. At this point all I know for sure is that there is a restaurant opened by the Garduño family in the Palms Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Palms is owned by the Maloof family. At one time, the Garduño family owned close to 10 restaurants, made close to $30 million a year in sales, and had restaurants in at least three states.

Tintype given to me by my grandma Emily. The frame is beautiful. This is my great great grandfather Cesario Herrera y Ortiz and his second wife Adelia Garduño. The couple was married on Feb. 2, 1914.

My great grandmother was Maria Fedelina Garduño y Gonzales de Ortiz. She was a humble, beautiful woman. We called her grandma Lina. She lived off of Rio Grande Boulevard and Rice Avenue on Duranes Road. Grandma Lina moved to Albuquerque from Nambe in about 1963, after the death of her husband Juan Eliu Ortiz. I am still looking into the premature death of a great great grandmother who died in childbirth. She was the first wife of my great great grandfather Cesario Herrera y Ortiz, who later married Adelia Garduño in February of 1914. Adelia was also my great grandma Lina’s sister, and I believe she would have been about 8 years old when they married. In 1900, all of the original Garduño family members were living in the Pojoaque/Nambe area. So far, I have established that from at least the late 1960s on, many of these Garduño’s have been in Albuquerque. Grandma Lina spent many years in Los Duranes. Historically, this was a little farm community which was originally founded by the Duran family in about 1750. The community follows the Camino Real, or the Royal Road, which was about a 1,600 mile trade route between Mexico and Santa Fe from the late 1500s until the late 1880s. In 1790, the Spanish census recorded the Plaza de Señor San Jose de Los Duranes. There were 27 families recorded on that census. The community was one of six settlements falling just north of Albuquerque. Some of the other communities captured in that census included Alameda, Los Candelarias, Los Griegos, Los Gallegos, and Los Ranchos.

My great grandmother, Maria Fedelina Garduño y Gonzales de Ortiz. She was a humble, beautiful woman. We called her "Grandma Lina."

I miss the long visits I had with my grandma Lina in her little warm home. She always offered a meal, snacks, and coffee. Her table was always equip with powder creamer and sugar. The visits ended because she passed away at 92 years old in 1999. At the time of her death, she was survived by four daughters (including my grandma Emily). Grandma Lina also had 15 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. She was a member of La Hija de Maria Sacred Heart League, and attended San Jose de Duranes Catholic Church on Los Luceros. I always remember her praying on her knees, while holding a rosary, and chanting softly near her sacred candles. She was buried at the Mount Calvary Cemetery, and my father Gilbert was a pallbearer. Hopefully, with research, and with the help of my grandma I can shed more light on the great contributions made to New Mexico by the Garduño family. Following are some dates I have roughed out in a timeline. Some of these dates may be inaccurate, but in the next few months, I will connect more dots and with any luck conduct a few interviews. I never had the chance to hear grandma Lina sing. My grandma Emily remembers how her mother would sing while she ironed clothes. She has always said that my great grandma had an enchanting voice. I am very sad that I was never able to sit down to talk about family history with my great grandma when she was alive. I am sure that she would have loved to talk about her origins with me.

Garduño Timeline

1892, my great great grandfather Florencio Garduño married Maria Merced Gonzales

1906, my great grandmother Maria Fedelina Garduño y Gonzales de Ortiz was born, and was from Nambe

1910, Thirteenth Census of the United States- Garduño family (great grandma Fedelina and her sister Adelia) recorded in Precinct No. 22- Ortiz, Nambe Pueblo Grant

1914, my great great grandfather Cesario Herrera y Ortiz married his second wife Adelia Garduño

1921, Benancio Garduño was born

1931, my grandma Maria Emilia Oritz y Garduño de Lujan was born (baptized by Cesario Ortiz and Adelia Garduño de Ortiz in Pojoaque)

1957, the Garduño family became active foodies and opened Bennie’s Drive-in on North 4th Street

1960, my great grandfather Juan Eliu Ortiz passes away

1963, my great grandmother Maria Fedelina Garduño y Gonzales de Ortiz moved from Nambe to Albuquerque following the death of her husband Juan Eliu Ortiz

1969, Dave Garduño got a loan and reopened his father’s restaurant Bennie’s Drive-in under the name Taco Flats

1970-1975, Dave Garduño owned Taco Flats

1976-1978, Dave Garduño owned La Tapatia

1978-1981, Dave Garduño owned Papa Felipe’s Restaurant

1981, sold smaller restaurants to focus energy on the restaurant on 4th he named Garduño’s

1982-2010, Dave Garduño owned Garduño’s Restaurant and Cantina (8806 4th Street NW) in addition to other locations

1990, Dave Garduño opened Yesterdave’s (a 50s-style diner)

1991, Benancio Garduño (Dave’s father) died and was buried in the Santa Fe National Cemetery (Private- United States Army)

1996, Dave Garduño opened Garduño’s at the Palms Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada

1997, Dave Garduño opened Garduño’s at the Albuquerque International Sunport

1999, my great grandmother Maria Fedelina Garduño y Gonzales de Ortiz passed away

2010, Tortilla Inc. the parent company of Garduño’s filed for bankruptcy and closed three locations, including the restaurant on 4th Street

2010, the 6,000 square foot Garduño’s building on 4th Street was sold and the original building built by the Garduño family was unfortunately lost

Do We See by Eye or Mouth?

September 25, 2011

Well the Oral History Forum for this year came and went. The forum took place at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, which is a great museum to visit. I took some time at the end of the day to tour the exhibits. One thing that always stands out in my mind about the word history, is that it includes the word story. That seemed to be a common theme among those attending and presenting in regard to oral history. There were 80 people registered to attend, and the forum was packed from end to end with interesting presenters. Following are some of the things I picked up on during the forum:

Cameron Saffell of the the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum informed us about his Oral History Program. I have known Cameron for many years, and apparently never took the time to inquire about his research. The project has a neat little motto which is “so the future may know.” The project currently includes over 600 hours of oral history interviews (with farmers, ranchers, pioneers, and prisoners of war).

Vanessa Macias of the Museum of History with the City of El Paso spoke about her project. The project they are working on is called the Las Villitas Project. I found Vanessa’s comments of interest because she mentioned using artifacts, photographs, and research in addition to oral history to convey what she called a “complete history.” This will be done by exploring the history of neighborhoods, and basically investigating the collective memory of those communities.

A Pueblo of Laguna Tribal Planner named Sharon Hausam spoke to us about her oral history interviews with the Tribal Elders of the Laguna area. The interviews were used as an integrative approach for her planning and community development projects. As part of the planning process, she interviewed elders from Encinal, Mesita, Paguate, Paraje/Casa Blanca, and Seama.

A touching poem was read by Cynthia Jeanette Gomez at the beginning of her presentation. It was about “imprinting” the stories of her family. She mentioned turning stories from “coal” into “diamonds” in this poem. I loved it when she said she learned these stories “breath by breath.” I have asked her to publish her poem for all. She said that she will record the poem and put it on YouTube so that I can deliver a link to viewers of this site. Gomez is the founder of Pipestone Productions an independent film production company. She produces “culturally knowledgeable films.” She did show a clip of one of her recent films and it was very emotional.

Former New Mexico State Historian and friend, Robert Torrez delivered the keynote. He hit home with his choice of words, and he was comfortable with his audience. This presentation brought the most laughs out of this engaged bunch. I found his comments to be right on. Recently I posted a short blurb here when I was up late at night worried about how I can possibly capture all of the history I feel need to capture. Robert discussed the need for oral histories because they will tell us more about how people “feel.” In other words, we can collect documents and artifacts, but what we really learn from is connection. He also compared people to walking “libraries” of knowledge. He teased me in his presentation because he recently sent in a friend of his to research. His friend told me that Robert had said we may not find what he needed because “that was the problem with youngsters- there is no institutional memory.” I sent that man back to tell Robert (since I can because he is my friend), “como que institutional memory,” after I found what the man was looking for. The first thing Robert asked me when he saw me was “how long is it that you have you been with NMSRCA?” When I told him how long he looked amazed that so much time had passed since he first met me. I guess he decided that I may have just a little institutional memory by now! 🙂

It was also extremely interesting to listen to Dr. Carmen Samora, Director of the Julian Samora Legacy Project. Julian Samora was her father, and he was the first Mexican-American in the United States to earn a PhD in Anthropology in the early 50s. She said there were only five Mexican-Americans with PhDs and that they all “stuck together.” She spoke about having some difficultly with being the daughter of a professor because he traveled all the time. It was striking to hear that after many years of feeling pain about their loss of time together, she could finally “forgive him.” She said after she earned her PhD, she realized that he had a “bigger agenda.” Dr. Samora spoke about feeling pressure to earn her PhD because no one took her seriously in scholarly circles (as a MFA). I loved it when she said that now she was “respected” by the elites, but that still was not “who she was interested in talking to.” She says what she really wants are “the stories” from “the people.”

I guess along the lines of the whole “oral history” take on this, I was glad that I got to learn more about everyone first hand. I can learn about all of these people online, in books, through their little biographies, but there is nothing like hearing them speak in person. It is only by listening that we can really “feel,” and then see that which is mouthed.

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum- Oral History Project

Museum of History- City of El Paso- Las Villitas Project

Julian Samora Legacy Project

Oral History Resources…

September 22, 2011

Compiled for:
Dr. Rose T. Diaz, Origins and Legacies Historical Services
3408 Indian School Rd NE – Suite D, Albuquerque, NM 87206

Complied by:
Felicia Lujan, CDIM, Senior Archivist

New Mexico Projects and/or Projects Relative to New Mexico

Oral History Wiki, New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum Oral History Program, University of New Mexico Archives Oral History Collection

Lore of the Land, Jack Loeffler Project

Traders- Voices from the Trading Post, Northern Arizona University

Shining River Precious Land: An Oral History of Albuquerque’s North Valley, The Albuquerque Museum

The Spoken Word Project

Preserving Community- Cuentos del Varrio, An Oral History Instruction Manual, New Mexico State University and Panther Achievement Center

Densho Project- Japanese Americans and World War II

Other Interesting Projects and Resources

Cuban Heritage Collection- University of Miami Libraries, Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project

American Social History Project- Center for Media and Learning, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University History Matters- The United States Survey Course,Visible Knowledge Project

Center for Southwest Studies- Fort Lewis College

Three Types of Research: Trinity of Genealogy

August 23, 2011

Religious altar in Candido Valdez Family
home- Mora, New Mexico (2011)

Today I was talking with Kermit Hill. He was once my history professor. We had good conversation, as we brainstormed and contemplated topics each of us would propose to present at the 2012 Annual History Conference. The conference will be in Santa Fe in May of 2012, and the call for papers ends this September. I am still debating what I would like to speak about, but I have a few interesting ideas. I will likely end up going with something derived from my ongoing interest in “dark tales” from New Mexico History. Also- what I like to call hidden history, because these are the things traditional historians, and social scientists tend to stay away from.

One interesting thing I have contemplated proposing is an exploration of what I am calling the Trinity of Genealogy. This is an idea I have formulated from my thoughts on the difference between, genealogy, genetic genealogy, and family history. For example, recent results regarding my genetic genealogy are relative to, but do not ultimately define my family history and/or identity. The Genetic Genealogist site has a motto which states “adding DNA to the genealogist’s toolbox.” The more I see DNA as a tool, and not as an answer, the more I understand the connectivity of three distinct tools.

So for now, I am still unsure what my final proposal for this call for papers will include- so stay tuned for details.

Historical Society of New Mexico- Annual History Conference

The Genetic Genealogist

3rd Annual New Mexico Oral History Forum- Albuquerque, NM

August 18, 2011

My friend Rose Diaz will be presenting the 3rd Annual New Mexico Oral History Forum on Friday, September 23, 2011. Rose has been doing working in archives, and with oral history projects for many years. This year, the forum will be held at the Albuquerque Museum. Some of her most recent projects have included work on the legacy of Senator Dennis Chavez. Dr. Diaz also worked closely with Maralyn Budke to preserve the political and historical legacy of this woman, before she passed away in January of 2010. When I accessioned the Budke Papers, I was brought to tears as the breadth of her small collection was amazing. Budke was a strong and well accomplished woman. Another notable project was her Dr. Julian Samora Legacy Project.

Dr. Rose T. Diaz

Rose T. Díaz holds a B.S. and Ph.D. from Arizona State University and has held several administrative, archival and research positions in the University of New Mexico (UNM) General Library from 1983 until her retirement in 2008. From 2001-2008, she directed the UNM Political Archives and became a founding member of the National Association of Centers for the Study of Congress. In 2008, Dr. Diaz founded Origins and Legacies Historical Services. Her consulting firm works with public, private, political and individual histories, as well as community, and archival projects. Dr. Diaz served as past President of the National Oral History Association and the Southwest Oral History Association.

Her forum is sure to be a good one!

For more information, contact Rose at: Origins and Legacies Historical Services– 505.550.9706 or


Following are a couple of her more recent projects:

Senator Dennis Chavez-

Dr. Julian Samora Legacy Project-


Before they are gone…

August 3, 2011

Last night- I couldn’t sleep. From about midnight until around 3:00am, all I did was think about all the things I need to write about. My head was feeling heavy. It was strange that these thoughts made me feel somewhat stressed. How will I ever capture it all? It will even be difficult just to capture the bare essence of records (excluding the intense depth of each person, and the detailed memories they command). There is so much more to family history than paper can offer. For example, I can find vast amounts of property records, census records, tax assessments, and sacramental records of my ancestors, but who were they? I mean it is sad that I will never know the true story behind them- like… What made them smile? Where did they go to escape the world and just think? What did they value in life? What made them feel special? What was their first job? What did they do for fun? Maybe the trials and tribulations of love- including partners and their children (things I could learn from, and also all the things that really made up a great life)- It is time for bed again and as usual, I am pushing midnight with 2 many thoughts swimming about. Tonight I feel sad that there are those whom I never had the chance 2 question. Tonight I wish I would have known my maternal grandfather- Phil Garcia, and that I would have taken the time to question the only grandpa I ever knew- Gilbert Lujan Sr. My grandpa Phil died before I graced this planet, and I never took the time to ask my grandpa Gilbert anything that really mattered. I wish that could have all been different.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

A Visit to Las Aguitas- Mora, New Mexico

July 24, 2011

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July 23, 2011-   Sometimes working on your family history can be bitter sweet. Through life, death, smiles and tears we connect the dots which further define us. Some people wish to remember, and some do not, some care to learn, and then some do not. I can say that I am proud to be one who wants to learn from those who remember, and I will take the time to do so. I have learned so much visiting Mora as a child, and will continue to learn as an adult.

On Saturday, my mom, my son, and I packed up and made a trip to the valley to spend some quality time. We went out to Mora, to attend a memorial to honor the life of the late Jose Maria Valdez. It was a nice drive and we contemplated history along the way. We pointed at, and observed majestic mountains, the land, a lake, a mill, and the river. How I treasure my childhood memories of this ride. I am a Valdez through my mother’s side of the family, and my great grandfather was Alfonso Valdez. Together, the Valdez Families own hundreds of acres in Las Aguitas. The area is part of the Mora Land Grant, and the Valdez surname played a key role in securing the original grant.

As we arrived in Las Aguitas, the long dirt road leading to the house was just the same. Two of my uncles (my mom’s brothers) from Santa Fe, were there spending time in the house. Clarence and Ruben (Pepe) were not there when we rolled in, but the scent from a simmering roaster of posole greeted us. We kept watch up the long dirt road, and waited. We were waiting for the dust to signal the arrival of my uncles. A few minutes later they drove up. I was taking pictures of the mountain, when my uncle Pepe approached me. I asked him if there was a name for the mountains, and he jokingly said “LA.” He laughed as he pointed to the white rocks on the mountain. The rocks indeed declare to visitors that one has arrived in LA. It was a spectacular rainy day in Las Aguitas– and this included lightening flashes across the greyish sky. The air smelled so fresh, and a gentle wind invited us to the mountain. I snapped some photos of the fog which had settled in the distance. I didn’t realize how much I missed the rolling fields until I went back.

With the clarity of yesterday, I could recall the sounds of feet running through the house. The creaky wooden floor was traveled from one end to the other at one time. When we were kids, this was our home away from home. All of us got together for the Mora Fiestas. Everyone would come out to Mora. There would be hikes up the mountain and trips to see salamanders, campfires and scary stories, fights and hugs, dancing and singing, then bacon for breakfast. It is now time for new generations. As I took my son through the house, I realized that this was my chance to tell him about me, and where I came from. Together we went from room to room and explored. There sat the old-fashioned Coke machine, and the aged radio. A petite table with remnants of my grandma Corina brought tears to my eyes. A saint near a bottle of holy water- if she were alive today, I’ll bet she would confirm that this was all she needed to survive (and maybe some Osha). In another room, there were old cards from the services of several family members. I had never seen the cards for my grandfather Phil Garcia. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet him because he passed away just two years before I was born.

Once we made our way to the Jose Maria Valdez Memorial, it was nice to see cousins that I had not seen since I was a young. The memorial was very nice. Ramona has a precious house, and her father could not have been laid to rest in a more beautiful place. There was a song dedication, food, prayers, tears, and his grandson Freddie read a short tribute. Jose Maria Valdez was the son of my great grandfather’s brother Candido Valdez. In 1900, a census enumerator named Emelia Ortiz counted the 152nd dwelling of Roman Valdez (my great great grandfather). He was 42 years old, was married to Porfiria Maes, and there were seven children living under his roof. These children included Candido and Alfonso Valdez. Candido was 13 years old, and Alfonso was 8 years old. In 1915, my great grandfather, Alfonso Valdez married Felicitas Brizal (surname spelled this way in the sacramental record). One year later, Felicitas (who I am named after) gave birth to my grandmother Corina (my mother’s mother).

It was also great to meet some people I had never met before like Mr. and Mrs. Garcia. They were the oldest couple there (mid 90s), and I immediately pegged them for questioning! I told my mom that I had to ask them several questions. They were an adorable little couple, with nothing but pleasant things to say about my grandma (which made my mom cry). I asked them many things (with the help of my mom, and my uncles- because they mostly spoke Spanish). They told us that my grandmother was “distinguished, and that she never changed.” They also said that she was a “good dancer.” I laughed when they said that because I could totally picture my grandma kicking up her heels!  Mr. Garcia also said that my Uncle Clarence “is a very good man, just like his father.” (my grandfather Phil Garcia)  My uncle was caring for them the whole time by bringing them food and helping them get down the mountain.  Mrs. Garcia repeatedly touched my mother’s hand and told her that talking with her was just like talking to Corina (my mom’s mother).

Later, one of my uncles took me into what they called a “cuartito.” It was a small house, near the larger homes.  Apparently all of the oldest Valdez men had one on their land. I got to see two of at least four. I went into one which belonged to Candido Valdez, and the other belonging to my great grandfather Alfonso Valdez. The cuartito was used to entertain in their time. My mom says she remembers sleeping in her grandpa’s when she was small. My uncle said he remembered getting a nickel from his grandpa when they would play cards in there. After visiting the property once owned by my great grandparents Alfonso and Felicitas (and later my Tia Cres- their daughter), I realized something.  I had seen this property millions of times when I was young.  I quickly realized that I had a photo which was over 50 years old, that captured the same cuartito from a different viewpoint.

It was such a good trip. I am happy that I made the time to go out and visit a place that is so much a part of who I am. It also made me feel good that my mother came along, and that I could share the history with my son.  I will surely make time to go out there more often- even if it just to feel the wind on my back, catch a few smiles, and listen to the voices of yesterday.

More about Jose Maria Valdez… Jose Maria was born in May of 1929, and passed away in June of 2011. He was a veteran of the Korean War and was preceded in death by: his father Candido; his mother Merenciana; his son James; his grandson Joseph Jr.; his great granddaughter Kadence; his brothers Roman, Amado, Fred, and Elias; and his sisters Adelina, Margarita, Josephine, and Francis. Jose Maria is survived by: his wife Della, his son Joseph (Grace); his daughters Christina (Rudolf), Ramona, Cindy, and Bernadette (Steve).

Also- his grandchildren Summer (Phil), Jacob (Julie), Angelic, Tracy (Eric), Carissa (Cassidy), Gaby, Donna (Pete), Christopher, Felecia, Yvette (Chris), James, Tammy (Jason), Jason (Erica), Robert, Freddie (Camille), Andrew (Hope), Apryl, James (Sarah), Matthew (Jennifer), Stevie (Julia), and Krysta (Jeremy). This includes thirty-six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.


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