Greater New Mexico's Hispano Island

By Nostrand, Richard L. | Focus, Winter 1992 | Go to article overview

Greater New Mexico's Hispano Island


Nostrand, Richard L., Focus


In Spanish colonial times three Spanish-speaking subpopulations, Hispanos, Tejanos, and Californios, lived in what is the present day Southwest. Two, Tejanos and Californios, all but disappeared from Texas and California when they were engulfed by Mexican immigrants in the twentieth century. What remains, besides the Anglos who began to arrive in the nineteenth century, are the New Mexico-centered Hispanos, an old, indigenous people descended from the original Spanish settlers; and the more widespread and numerous Mexican Ameicans, a recent, immigrant people. In subtle cultural ways that include spoken Spanish, folklore, given names, and surnames, Hispanos are different from their Mexican-origin brethren, much as New Englanders or Southerners or Mormons are different from mainstream Anglo-American society. With their villages and long-lot agricultural plots, Hispanos moreover created a tangibly different landscape. So it is that greater New Mexico stands apart, and what follows is a geographical interpretation of the interplay between five peoples that saw the Hispano region rise up, as it were, like an island on the land.

To 1680

At first the Pueblo Indians had their own island. Some 40,000 Pueblos lived in sixty or seventy villages in the upper Rio Grande basin, with an additional 6,000 Zuni and Hopi living in western outliners that contained half-a-dozen villages each. Spanish encroachment began in 1598 when missions and conventos, the living quarters of the Franciscan friars, were built right at the Pueblos' villages. The villa of Santa Fe (1610), the only authorized Spanish community in the first eighty years, contained the largest Spanish population. The peak in Spanish activity in the seventeenth century was reached in 1629 when forty-six friars were stationed in twenty-five conventos. As illustrated in the "1680" map, by that date mission-conventos located east of the Manzano Mountains were already abandoned, owing to Apache raids and drought.

By 1680 some 2,500 Spaniards had created a missionary frontier that stretched from Taos to Socorro and Senecu and from Pecos to Jemez, with outliers at Acoma, Zuni, Hopi, and Paso del Norte. Their mission-convento enclaves dotted the Pueblo Indian realm and marked the outer edges of two Spanish-designated subregions, the Rio Arriba and Rio Abajo. In creating their missionary enterprise, Spaniards had exploited and grossly mistreated the Pueblos. In a rare display of unity, the linguistically-fragmented Pueblos, whose ranks were ever declining yet who in 1680 still outnumbered the Spaniards by perhaps ten to one, revolted, forcing all but the several hundred Spaniards who they killed or held captive to flee south to Paso del Norte. Temporarily, the Pueblos had driven the hated Spanish from their island.

To 1790

But the Spaniards returned. They forced their way into Santa Fe in 1693 and then compelled the Pueblos to reconstruct their destroyed mission-conventos. This time, moreover, they secured New Mexico with their own colonist "plazas." From Santa Fe and the new villa of Santa Cruz (1695), they spread north in the Rio Arriba, establishing Chimayo, Ojo Caliente, Abiquiu, Cordova, Las Trampas, and Taos. From Santa Fe and the new villa of Albuquerque (1706), they pushed south to Los Lunas, Tome, Belen, and Sabinal in the Rio Abajo. In the 1770s they founded a dozen small plazas in the Puerco Valley to the west, yet Navajos soon drove them back to the safety of the Albuquerque area, as shown in the "1790" map. The friars, who apparently reached a new peak of forty in 1740, meanwhile managed the ever declining Pueblo population by consolidating them in fewer villages. Since the Pueblo Revolt they had been more relaxed about converting Pueblos, in part because they were spending more time ministering to the growing Hispano population. This new group was a distinctive mix of original Spanish settlers, intermarried with the Pueblo and nomad Indian groups. …

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