Adelina "Nina" Otero-Warren: A Spanish-American Cultural Broker

By Massmann, Ann M. | Journal of the Southwest, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Adelina "Nina" Otero-Warren: A Spanish-American Cultural Broker


Massmann, Ann M., Journal of the Southwest


"What is in a name?" This is the oft-quoted question from Shakespeare's tragic clash of two family cultures, Romeo and Juliet. For Adelina "Nina" Otero-Warren the answer to that query might possibly be a transforming identity at the intersection of cultures in early twentieth-century New Mexico. It is telling that throughout her energetic and ambitious life, she utilized her various names as needed. In 1881, Maria Adelina Isabel Emilia Luna Otero was born into two of New Mexico's older Spanish colonial families. As a child, she was Adelina Otero, keeping her father's name while growing up in the mixed Luna-Bergere household in Los Lunas. As an adult, she became known as "Nina" to family and friends in their new home in Santa Fe. At the age of twenty-six, she married and became "Mrs. Otero-Warren," a name she kept for life, even though she quickly divorced. In the late 1910s to 1920s, she was "Adelina Otero-Warren" as Chair of the Board of Public Health and "Nina Otero-Warren" as Superintendent of Santa Fe county schools. In 1931, she was Adelina Otero as the author of an article in Survey Graphic, and Nina Otero when she published Old Spain in Our Southwest in 1936.

These shifts in her named identity are crucial for understanding the life and career of this woman who came to be seen as the epitome of the early twentieth-century cultural broker in New Mexico. Throughout her long life, she moved between and negotiated compromises with the Hispano, Anglo, and American Indian worlds. She was one for whom multiple levels of identity were not only possible, but practical, for they allowed her to identify herself to both the Spanish-American and Anglo American worlds in which she moved. As the multiple use of names suggests, to be a cultural broker or intermediary is to live sometimes in one world and sometimes in another, but often never fully in either.

This article examines Otero-Warren as a case study of a New Mexico cultural intermediary, a perspective that previous work on Otero-Warren has not spent time addressing.(1) A closer look at Nina Otero-Warren's life is important because so little has been done to place the Hispanic intermediary in Southwest history, particularly a politically and professionally active native New Mexican woman, such as Otero-Warren.

The cultural broker in Southwestern history has only begun to be studied in recent decades, likely coinciding with the rise of cultural pluralism. In most cases,the broker has been discussed primarily as moving "between Indian and White worlds." As historian Margaret Connell Szasz remarks, "During the five centuries of contact between native and non-native people of the Americas, thousands of these intermediaries have moved across the cultural frontiers of the continent."(2) These thousands of people came from diverse backgrounds, yet the brokerage in New Mexico between Hispano and Anglo worlds has been largely ignored, even though Hispanos have made up a larger percentage of the population than both Indians and Anglos for much of the first hundred years after the American colonization of New Mexico. Perhaps this neglect may be traced to the fact that anthropologists, until recently, have chosen to focus strictly on American Indian culture in the Southwest, as opposed to Hispano or Mexicano culture. Likewise, historians have often overlooked these cultural issues in favor of studies of individuals or events.

Case studies of individual Hispano cultural brokers are lacking, even though there were many examples of such persons in places like New Mexico. Pueblos, Navajos, Apaches, Utes, Plains Indians, Hispanos, Mexicanos, Anglo Americans, European immigrants, Blacks, Asians and others have all been a part of New Mexican history, and all have had to learn to communicate with one another and to manage their cultural differences. How these interactions played out is still a murky, relatively unexplored part of Southwestern history, although a number of Chicano historians and anthropologists have begun to turn their attention in this direction. …

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