Community Cuentistas – Mapping the Storytellers in Juan B. Rael’s ‘Cuentos Españoles de Colorado y Nuevo Mexico’

Community Cuentistas – Mapping the Storytellers in Juan B. Rael’s ‘Cuentos Españoles de Colorado y Nuevo Mexico’

One of the core lessons I learned from my grandmother was that the best storytellers are those that have mastered the ability to lean in and to listen. In this, I think of the work of now renowned linguist and folklorist, Juan Bautista Rael. As a native son of the region, he had no doubt been raised on stories, however, in the summer of 1930, he returned home, freshly minted with a Master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

That summer, while teaching at the University of Oregon, this young scholar visited villages throughout northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. During those visits, I imagine this 29 year-old with his pressed suit and tie, sitting at kitchen tables, walking alongside gardens and orchards and sitting in chairs set along the sunny side of the walls—every setting a resolana. I imagine him with pen in hand and leaning toward those who had taken the time to share stories. That year he gathered 410 stories. Ten years later, with a Ph.D. from Stanford University, he added another 108 tales to the collection.

Eventually published as, Cuentos Españoles de Colorado y Nuevo Mexico: Spanish Folk Tales of Colorado and New Mexico, this collection of stories comprises an important archive, reflective of a particular moment in time, both local and global. It places above all, the people that served as it’s cuentistas, the bearers of the stories contained therein. 

As part of the Manitos Community Memory Project this Fall, New Mexico Highland’s University Department of Media Arts and Technology will teach a course where its students will begin to develop an exhibition that may result in a story map of this part of Rael’s legacy to the region. 

Toward this end, we are hoping to engage communities and individuals connected to these storytellers. Rael visited ten villages in New Mexico and ten in Colorado, all interconnected as a region. 

In New Mexico, the villages included: Cuyamungué, Española, Abiquiú, Taos, Arroyo Seco, Arroyo Hondo, Questa, Cerro, Costilla, Los Pinos

In Colorado: Antonito, San Pablo, San Luis, Los Sauces, Fort Garland, Alamosa, Capulin, Del Norte, Manassa, Mogote and Conejos

According to the introduction to the published volumes, the “storytellers were mostly farmers, stock raisers, farm laborers, sheepherders, housewives and the inhabitants of small communities engaged in miscellaneous occupations.” Our goal is to try to understand even more context for who these individuals were. While the image of storytellers is often that of elders, it is interesting to note that nearly half of the individuals are under the age of 50, with a fair number in the 20s and 30s and with two listed as ages 16 and 17 respectively. Most of those over 50 are in their late 50s or 60s and the eldest interviewed was 80. There are also twice as many men storytellers as there are women. 

As we approach this project, we have many questions and recognize that there is as much a poetics as there is a politics to these type of projects, that define who gets interviewed and who doesn’t. Some of this involves the subjectivity of Rael himself. He was fairly young when these interviews took place and although he was a native son with existing family and deep roots, he had also been gone for many years. As far as we can tell, Rael made concerted decisions about who was interviewed, but also what villages to focus on. There are, for instance a large number of stories that come from the southwestern part of Colorado’s San Luis Valley, particularly the villages of Antonito, Conejos, Manassa and Mogote, which may be as a result of the fact that Rael was married to Quirina Espinoza of Antonito, who would have connected him to many individuals. 

One of the goals of this particular part of the Manitos project will be to develop biographies of these individuals, to understand their lives more fully and to find photographs or other documents that reveal more about who they were. We also would like to connect with their descendants and as part of the class, we may record these individuals reading the stories that were once shared by their ancestors. Those 98 storytellers that met with Dr. Rael between the 1930s and 1940s follow:  

Aguilar, Epifanio – age 59, Taos, New Mexico 

Aragón, Manuelita – age 24, Alamosa, Colorado

Barela, Jesusita – age 61, Alamosa, Colorado

Barela, Tomás – age 76, Taos, New Mexico

Cantú, Aguinaldo – age 22, Manassa, Colorado

Cantú, Alfonso – age 25, Manassa, Colorado

Cantú, Cándido – age 63, Manassa, Colorado

Cantú, Carlos – age 23, Manassa, Colorado

Cantú, Felipe – age 26, Manassa, Colorado

Cantú, José Ignacio – age 65, Manassa, Colorado

Cantú, Josefa M. – age 24, Manassa, Colorado

Cantú, Pulita – age 58, Capulin, Colorado

Casados, Marcelino – age 62, Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

Salomé V. Cook– age 50, Questa, New Mexico

Josefa Chalifú, – age 63, Costilla, New Mexico

Dominguez, J.A. – age 28, Capulin, Colorado

Esquivel, Félix – age 56, San Pablo, Colorado

Ferguson, Eduardo – age 20, Taos, New Mexico

Gallegos, Máxima– age 65, Alamosa, Colorado

Gallegos, Simón – age 32, Antonito, Colorado

García, Epimenio – age 58, Mogote, Colorado

González, Juanita – age 64, Costilla, New Mexico

Gonzáles, Ricardo – age 45, Conejos, Colorado

Gonzáles, Severo – age 47, Alamosa, Colorado

Gurulé, Isaías – age 46, Mogote, Colorado

Herrera, Albino – age 54, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Herrera, Félix– age 29, Española, New Mexico

Herrera, Frutoso – age 40, Antonito, Colorado

Herrera, Francisco – age 20, Antonito, Colorado

Jaramillo, Cleofas M. – age 50, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Jaramillo, Franciscquita – age 34, Mogote, Colorado

Jaramillo, Josefa– age 62, Mogote, Colorado

Jaramillo, Juan – age 32, Alamosa, Colorado

Jaramillo, Luis – age 66, Mogote, Colorado

Jaramillo, Refugio – age 50, Antonito, Colorado

Le Febre, Flora – age 64, Manassa, Colorado

Lobato, Anastasio – age 59, Antonito, Colorado

Lobato, Cecilia – age 47, Antonito, Colorado

Lobato, Cención – age 63, Conejos, Colorado

Lobato, Julián – age 68, San Luis, Colorado

Lobato, Pedro – age 25, San Luis, Colorado

Lobato, Ruben – age 31, Antonito, Colorado

Lobato, Teodoro – age 35, Antonito, Colorado

López, Carlos – age 55, Antonito, Colorado

López, Juan M. – age 57, Los Pinos, New Mexico

López, Justo – age 58, Española, New Mexico

López, Presciliano – age 59, Del Norte, Colorado

López, Vicente – age 70, Antonito, Colorado

Manzanares, Delmiria – age 45, Conejos, Colorado

Márquez, Cruz – age 63, Conejos, Colorado

Martínez, Alcaria  – age 59, Capulin, Colorado

Martínez, Antonio – age 68, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Martínez, Eva – age 60, Conejos, Colorado

Martínez, Remigio – age 62, Conejos, Colorado

Medina, Frutoso – age 30, San Luis, Colorado

Medina, Genoveva – age 47, Fort Garland, Colorado

Montaño, Natividad – age 46, Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

Luis Montoya– age 70, Cerro, New Mexico

Ortiz, Teófilo – age 71, Conejos, Colorado

Pacheco, Benigna – age 71, Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

Pino, Félix – age 35, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Ursulita Quintana– age 36, Costilla, New Mexico

Rael, Soledad Montaño de – age 38, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Rodríguez, Concepción – age 70, Taos, New Mexico

Romero, Antonio – age 80, Cuyamungué, New Mexico

Romero, Fidela – age 58, Antonito, Colorado

Romero, Juan – age 17, Antonito, Colorado

Romero, Sotero – age 70, Antonito, Colorado

Salazar, Juan – age 33, Manassa, Colorado

Sánchez, Isidoro – age 70, San Luis, Colorado

Sánchez, Filomena – age 36, Alamosa, Colorado

Sánchez, Victor – age 66, San Luis, Colorado

Sandoval, Celestino – age 16, Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

Santistevan, Eliseo – age 60, Taos, New Mexico

Santistevan, Jesús – age 59, Taos, New Mexico

Serna, Félix – age 45, San Luis, Colorado

Silva, Severdeo – age 45, Los Sauces, Colorado

Suazo, Sóstenes – age 61, Abiquiú, New Mexico

Suazo, Valentín – age 35, Abiquiú, New Mexico

Trujillo, Fermina – age 42, Manassa, Colorado

Valdés, Antonio – age 50, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Valdés, Candelaria – age 65, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Valdés, Enrique – age 59, Antonito, Colorado

Valdés, José – age 29, Del Norte, Colorado

Valdés, Refugio – age 63, Costilla, New Mexico

Valdés, Santiago – age 70, Del Norte, Colorado

Valdés, Victoria – age 66, Conejos, Colorado

Vargas, Maria Victoria – age 30, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Varos, Florentina – age 60, Taos, New Mexico

Varos, Juanita F. – age 62, Taos, New Mexico

Vigil, Carlota – age 59, Conejos, Colorado

Vigil, Cención – age 56, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Vigil, Fredolin – age 50, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Vigil, Julián – age 47, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Vigil, Leonor – age 69, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Vigil, Rafael – age 71, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

Zamora, Porfirio – age 48, Antonito, Colorado

Image of Luis Montoya and spouse, Maria de la Luz Gallegos Montoya, courtesy of Sandie Segura Wesolowski

Even as biographical information, photos and documents are shared, they can be posted beside the names above.

If you have any information, photos or a connection to these storytellers and would like to contribute or participate in this project, please contact the Manitos Community Memory Project through the contact page of this blog or directly by email at

4 thoughts on “Community Cuentistas – Mapping the Storytellers in Juan B. Rael’s ‘Cuentos Españoles de Colorado y Nuevo Mexico’

  1. My house in La Florida, Colorado, which belonged to the children of my great-grandfather’s sister, was built by Remigio Mares. Recording to Juan B. Rael’s log notes from August 4, 1940: Mr. Mares, age 42, is a resident of Lobatos, Colorado. He does not know how to read or write, but has the gift of improvising his songs as he sings. He always gets the correct number of syllables to the line as well as the right rhyme. You can listen to his music here:

    He is accompanied by Adelaido Chavez, 68, violinist, resident of Antonito, Colorado, and his brother Adolfo Chavez, 65, guitarist and resident of Romeo, Colorado.

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