Manito Reflections — The Archive of Time, Place, People & Story

Manito Reflections — The Archive of Time, Place, People & Story

Encountering an archive can be a profound experience. I think of a time nearly a century and a half ago, in 1879, when Susan Wallace first discovered one of the nation’s richest repositories. Spouse of author and New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace and a writer in her own right, she later narrated the moment she found and turned a key to the archive in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I fitted a key into the rough, old-fashioned lock, and, pushing with all my strength, it slowly swung on rusty hinges, into a room, perhaps seventeen by twenty feet in size, barely high enough for a man to stand upright in. . . I paused at the entrance to let the ghosts fly out; and several minutes passed before my eyes, accustomed to the darkness of this treasure house… I had entered the historic room of New Mexico! Tumbled into barrels and boxes, tossed on the floor in moist piles, lay the written records of events stretching over a period of more than three hundred years, the archives. . . 

This image is the frontispiece of the 1914 edition of vol II of Ralph Emerson Twitchell’s Spanish Archives of New Mexico, an inventory of archival records dating from 1621 to 1821. It is actually an image of the doors of Old Mission at Santo Domingo, New Mexico, estimated to have been placed there in 1710 and and shows Adolf F. Bandelier studying the doors which would later be destroyed by a flood in 1880.

Perhaps unbeknownst to her, the archive that Wallace encountered had suffered a significant loss less than a decade before she walked through those doors, prompted by the order of Governor William A. Pile, a Missouri native, to clear a room located off of the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors in order for it to serve as his office. That room housed the archive dating back centuries. In what must certainly have been a cursory assessment of the records, the appointed Territorial Librarian, Ira M. Bond, determined that many of these records consisted of nothing more than “refuse and worthless papers.” Failing to understand or appreciate the value, he proceeded to destroy them, place some in the street as garbage to be hauled away, while selling the bulk to local businessmen for packing and wrapping material. Once this travesty was discovered, widespread outcry and protest called for the recovery of the material. According to accounts, only a small amount was returned, even as late as 1886, while much of the patrimony had been tragically lost. The event would even be recalled during the civil rights movement as one of tremendous loss. [1]

There is a larger set of circumstances in which these particular encounters and losses are set. The presence of Pile, Bond, and Wallace in Santa Fe had resulted from an imperialist expansion, the U.S. occupation of the region following a nationally contested war with Mexico. The war and subsequent occupation would lead to the loss of land, language, history, and for over six decades, political sovereignty, wherein New Mexicans had no power over political appointments made by the President of the United States. These selections positioned politicians and others to govern and act in ways extraordinarily detrimental and resulting in monumental losses of the region’s patrimony. Understanding this background is important in appreciating the imperative of recovering, reimagining and continuing not only to encounter and claim this patrimony, but to reimagine and rebuild the archive. 

We all bring our own experiences to our encounters with the past, whether of our own histories or that of others. When I served as the state historian of New Mexico, the condition of the archive and its contents first encountered by Wallace had improved and expanded dramatically and was in the custody of the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives. Unlike Wallace, what drew me was a deep personal connection, not simple curiosity, a desire to understand newly found neighbors, or perhaps to write and profit as she did. I remember that moment when I myself opened the doors to the repository for the first time and every time subsequent. A computer programmed my key that opened a vaulted door to an enormous climate controlled room. I was often overwhelmed by what was before me, not just the magnitude, but the depth and breadth of the treasures kept. Every box contained stories and indeed ghosts that seemed to reach out and claim my attention. In it, I found innumerable conflicts and tragedies, but I also perceived lessons revealing my own and my community’s potential, resilience and beauty. 

First page of Lists of Captives in Conejos County, Colorado Territory, July 1865, to Governor Evans, Colorado Territory. U.S. National Archives, RG 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, General Records, 1824-1907, Box 0666 PI-163.

Well before and after working as state historian, as a scholar, I recall early discoveries from the contents of archives located globally and locally that I had begun to explore. With each opening, I would hold my breath and pause before removing the cover of a box, pulling a document out of a folder, or turning a page in a bound book, hoping to find something perhaps forgotten in one era only to be recalled in another. I remember working all week once at the National Archives in Washington D.C., and finally from the depths of a box on a shelf, I pulled out a peculiar census that listed the names of 149 individuals enslaved in the villages that had shaped my own youth, a list that would become foundational in the work I would undertake for decades recovering these stories of indigenous slavery. I would complete a doctoral dissertation on the subject and will soon complete my book on the subject. There is a deep rigor to this process, but it is work that for me has always been driven by my curiosity about what is not known and supported by a patience that is rewarded when I come upon that one event, site, or person that connects to another. It is also a decolonial process to recover what has been lost, event by event, place by place, person by person. 

These illuminating research experiences are not limited to the confines of an official repository, and can, in fact, be complemented by what is outside these institutions. I remember when my mother folded a gift she had long stewarded into my arms, a mid-nineteenth century wool blanket said to have been woven by the hands of an ancestor, an indigenous Diné woman who had once been captured and bound within the institution of slavery. I remember thinking about its texture, its colors, and above all the woman who wove it and what it meant for me her descendant to hold it a century and a half after she created it. As my mother passed it to me, she whispered that it was “for knowledge, but also for protection.” It also signified a recovery of a traumatic experience that had evolved into creativity, a transcendent legacy for me. 

Image of one of two textiles inherited by Estevan Rael-Gálvez. Woven on a Hispanic treadle loom by a Navajo slave and ancestor of Rael-Gálvez, circa 1860s.

These experiences do not always take place in a physical space or with actual objects, but sometimes are encountered as intangible heritage. For decades, I have had the honor of sitting with elders who have whispered stories, some breaking a silence that only happens with old age. Through social media, I have opened my computer to discover photographs being shared by cousins I did not  know of ancestors whose faces I had only once imagined. I wept upon hearing the voice of my great grandmother, Dulcinea Arellano, for the first time in thirty years, emanating from a worn cassette, shared with me by a cousin. The gentle cadence of her voice rising and falling in story transported me back to my ten year old self, listening to her share about the perseverance of a Pawnee ancestor and how that story became one of many to shape my sense of being in this landscape. 

I have been fortunate to have had these experiences, but as a professional working in archives and museums and in the field of memory generally, I also have had the opportunity to witness encounters with the archive for others as well. I have been present as people peer down at a document where they discovered a name they never knew before, found in a record, a fact, that countered or confirmed what they thought. I have been with people as they have come upon an artifact and witnessed their surprise to learn that the creative hands of their ancestor had made it. I have seen people pour through books for hours and days only to find that one thing that changed everything in their research or understanding. I have watched as the eyes of a child widen because something that is shared with them deepens their understanding of who they are and what they are capable of achieving. These encounters can also break your heart, challenging core beliefs, contradicting or solidifying stories passed down. In the process, however, I believe that all of these experiences, even when they break us apart, can also help begin to put us back together again. This is the power of memory inherent in any archive, those in official repositories, those held in shoeboxes in our family homes or embodied in those people that steward stories in their minds and hearts.

Taos County Business Licenses – a glimpse into the businesses of Taos, Questa, Peñasco, Cerro, Rodarte, Vadito, Costilla, Red River, Rio Lucio, Amalia and Arroyo Hondo from 1919-1927 and includes men’s names from throughout Taos County. See Taos County Records, Serial # 15505, New Mexico State Records Center and Archives.

Recognizing these imperatives, politics and promises alike, over the past fifteen months, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has supported an initiative intended to focus on rural communities and to respond to the challenging question of what it means to develop a community-based archive. Since the launch of this initiative, which we called the Manito Community Memory Project, the process has been framed by an objective to engage partners, culminating in a focused intergenerational collaboration grounded in the living heritage of the indigenous Hispano villages and diasporas of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Resulting in the creation of a community-based archives and online museum collections, we wanted this repository to be developed and usable by community members and academic researchers. 

As a first phase, it has been an incredibly productive and meaningful year. Toward conceptualizing, designing and actually developing the repository, we have launched efforts large and small, some that were framed as prototypes to help assess feasibility, some to engage, catalyze and deepen the work in community. All of these efforts have served as examples that have confirmed or challenged our assumptions and ideas of a repository. Some of the work has forced us to rethink and recalibrate, some has inspired new directions, new collaborative opportunities and new relationships. All of it has been foundational in our larger goal. 

In the extensive essay that follows, are four sections to frame my reflections on highlights of some of these projects embedded in our work— time, places, people and story, each one holding an array of projects that have helped us navigate the process of responding to the question of how we reimagine and build a community archive. In what follows, I reflect on what we did, what we learned and what we envision still in the unfolding of this incredibly critical project.


For many Indo-Hispanos, documenting the concept of time and its passing serves as both challenge and opening. Manitos are of the people of the world who have actually been depicted as timeless. Historian Eric Wolf,  refers to these populations as “people without history,” that is, non-participants in the grand epics of European global expansion. The “denial of coevalness” (sharing the same time) as theorist Johannes Fabian has argued, not only misconstrues the complexities of these societies but also ignores the cycles of conquest, dispossession and oppression that shape them. Writers have long participated in these representations of New Mexicans specifically. Notably among these was Charles Lummis, whose work Land of Poco Tiempo, exaggerated the syndrome that continues to be evoked when representing the way of life endemic to these people, that of mañana, change will come tomorrow. Even New Mexicans have participated in these constructions, however, further enabling the view of a timeless, static people. 

The representation of time itself is also narrowed by these representations and is often divided by archaeologists into the troublesome binary of “prehistoric” and “historic” and framed by historians into distinct periods: “Pre-contact, Spanish Colonial, Mexican, Territorial and American,” all of which fail to capture the complexities of cycles and the transitions that lead up to and follow events, both cataclysmic and ordinary. 

There is certainly something to be said of a chronological approach to documenting the past. Indeed, there are many dates that hold meaning still: settlement, 1598, date the Spanish settlers arrived and settled in New Mexico; revolutions, including that of 1680, the most successful indigenous uprising in what is now the U.S., one that would ensure survival of Indigenous Pueblo communities and would rescript Pueblo-Spanish relations; or that of 1847, defined by a coalition of Pueblo and Hispanos who would rise up against U.S. imperial occupation; belonging, 1912, the date when New Mexico shifted from a Territory to a State, following over six decades of denial of full citizenship to its residents because of race and religion. In the century since this transition, a chain of events would transpire — the rise of the military industry, the building of a bomb, development of internment camps and continual struggles over civil rights. All of these events and so many more serve as the context for being and becoming Manitos.

“The family of Juan Lopez at dinner, Trampas, New Mexico,” 1943, Collier, John, Jr, photographer. Library of Congress.

As we have immersed ourselves in this endeavor with our partners over the past year, it has become clear that while the intersection with national and regional historical events do resonate, local events matter even more, including the settlements of each village, migrations away that occurred because of wartime or education. However, the most meaningful reflections of time may not lie in the grand or epic or even those important events of local significance, but instead within common cycles, celebrations and ceremonies: dust rising from dances that have persisted for ages, language and prayer that rise and fall like a song, fingers moving over beads with the gathering that have happened in homes and in churches; the births and anniversaries that have resulted from love; the dignity of work, including the annual rituals of stuccoing homes and churches, cleaning the ditch, harvesting the crops or the daily acts of simply preparing and sharing a meal. We worked with partners to ponder how a community archive could capture a temporal and living history of these communities. Toward the notion of archiving the passage of time, the following efforts have served to reveal the power of this project.


In our proposal to the Mellon Foundation, we stated our goal to gather community in rural villages and in select urban centers which served as destinations for the living migration routes out of villages. We began, first by assembling a network of partnerships that included libraries, cultural centers, museums, archives, universities, genealogical and historical societies, nonprofits and the individuals that steward or gather around these organizations, including retirees and students.

Manitos Project participants tour Chimayo’s Historic Plaza, during a monthly partners meeting.
Community Partner Miguel Tórrez, of the New Mexico Genealogical Society, presents at a Manitos Community Project Workshop, Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Center.

The core group met once a month to define the key parameters of the project. Some of these gatherings evolved into workshops held in the villages of Embudo, Questa, Costilla, Alcalde, Chimayo and at a retreat held at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiú. Shane Flores, the project’s research assistant, worked to train students in Abiquiú about how to use their phones to document upcoming feast day activities, like ceremonial dancing, and how to edit this documentation for presentation. Other team members in the village of Questa held story-gathering sessions and worked with area youth on building an horno, a traditional beehive shaped adobe oven that, when completed, was fired up to bake bread; this group also hosted tea gathering ceremonies to collect women’s stories.

Three larger workshops to engage an expanded circle of participants were held in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as in Pueblo, Colorado. The workshop in Albuquerque was the centerpoint and was made possible by one of the most critical partnerships to emerge, the New Mexico Humanities Council, which provided meals and lodging to all rural participants and coordinated the entire event with the staff of the Digital Initiatives and Scholarly Communications (DISC), the University of New Mexico’s University Libraries Digital Repository.

At the heart of all of these gatherings was the centerpiece of the entire initiative, a methodological approach to engagement where meals were prepared, bread broken as stories were shared across communities and new connections revealed. The goal of these gatherings was to bring and tell stories and above all to learn from each other, especially about how to begin to populate a digital archive, primarily from the documents, maps, photos and oral histories that while inclusive of place and people, also revealed the passage of time. These artifacts reflected pivotal events like weddings or funerals, but also cyclical occurrences such as harvests or meals.

Another goal was to research how documentarians, without technical backgrounds, can create digital content at or close to archival quality standards utilizing technologies that are affordable and easy to use. This is the first heritage conservation initiative that we know of to conduct research into optimizing smartphones for digital imaging and audio/video recording by using the right settings, apps, and accessories. We are also monitored Kickstarter campaigns and other trends for affordable hardware and software—new scanners and lightboxes—that can be used to create archival quality content in the field or at events. This technical research was codified into a 5-Tier structure that addressed various conditions in the field and within community support settings and offered practical solutions. Our equipment distributions and trainings were part of this process.

What we learned from all of these convenings was that reimagining and building an archive can be a challenge, particularly for rural organizations like libraries, museums and nonprofits whose capacities are very limited. We learned that defining ‘community’ is not always easy, since there are competing interests and perspectives, as well as long-standing alliances or divisions. We were and continue to be challenged by questions with no clear consensus: what is the difference between a community archive and a regular archive? Is preservation more or less important than access and interpretation or are they parallel goals? We were challenged by technological strategies, including software and storage capacity; and about where, when and how to train a broad spectrum of content generators to learn skills necessary for building and sustaining a digital platform. This process revealed for us the complexity of deconstructing the established mechanics of the successful institutional archive and reconstructing it; inverting the often hierarchical decision-making processes of the workflow and re-tooling them for community decision-making and community priorities. We also learned that in these gatherings, villagers recognized their own strength and resilience is fortified from the collective. Above all we learned that this effort is a process and that navigating the challenges is helped by developing a network of supporters, core values, ideas and efficiencies that are shared. In the effort, people are inspired by each other.

Social Media – Catalyzing Gatherings   

While some rural villages in the region have annual feast days, these gatherings have over time become less attended. In some few cases, people return to visit the graves of their ancestors or for funerals, but as the distance — temporally and geographically —has widened, the visits have become less and less frequent. There are some smaller villages where these feasts have not occurred in over a hundred years. 

More than a year ago, a Facebook group was initiated in Costilla, a village which sits on the stateline of Colorado and New Mexico. On this platform, as people began to share stories and a variety of personally held elements of the village’s legacy (e.g. photos, documents, maps), a deep sense of connection and momentum began to build, reflecting a longing to reconnect and revisit the area villages. With this momentum, a committee formed and planned a reunion, a first time event in the living history of even the eldest members of these settlements. The event included a parade, cultural and historical speeches, meals, a music festival and mass. Set in the context of a gallery of photos that had been shared and framed, the Manitos Research Assistant, Shane Flores, engaged the entire day with the public, sharing information about the project and demonstrating basic smartphone field collection. Attendance was in the thousands with individuals visiting from as far away as Australia.

Over the past several years Facebook groups have emerged, focused on the following villages: Cerro, Questa, Mora, Española, Taos, Santa Fe, Abiquiú, Santa Cruz and several devoted to entire regions: “Forgotten Colorado,” “Forgotten New Mexico, “ and many more. What we learned was that digital efforts such as those generated from Facebook groups can become a catalyst to create a physical gathering of people. We learned that when there is a sense of belonging to home, even one that has separated people from an ancestral home, the will to engage and participate remains strong. We learned that even when people are separated by distance and generations, the will to connect and to become a part of an effort to clean the graves, to meet long-separated kin, to learn about where they come from, is an impulse that reveals the power of projects like this. We learned that even though these social media platforms are not the total or only solution and are fraught with challenges, there are elements built into the platform that closely resemble what a community based archive can be. These platforms can serve as an important step and catalyst in building a community archive.    

Capturing the Process of Dialogue

There were key concepts important from the beginning of the project, such as a resolana, that helped scaffold what it means to develop an archive that is not static, but instead an active process of engagement. Literally, the south side of a building, shielded from the wind and bathed in the rays of the sun, a resolana refers to the gathering of men and women who carefully articulate observations about their contemporary world, relating the memory and wisdom of those that came before them, and creating an open dialogue for what may come. It is, in other words, about the production of knowledge through dialogue. 

This concept inspired us to begin to identify material that illuminates the idea of dialogue, particularly on difficult subjects. Over 30 years ago, I learned about a form of poetry known as a trovo, and while common in the Caribbean, Mexico and South American, it also exists in the literary tradition of New Mexico and Colorado. The form is a poetic dual featuring two competing troubadours who personify inanimate objects. Trovos are often a form of political protest, addressing contemporary issues creatively. The one that I have long admired was from the nineteenth century, El Trove del Atole y el Café, the Contest of Coffee and Corn Gruel. Juxtaposing coffee as elite, foreign, and urban, with local, rural and ‘of the people’ atole, at the core of the trovo is a critique of capitalism and colonial imposition. 

There are two published versions of El Trove del Atole y el Café, one by José de Jesús López and one by an unknown or anonymous author. [2] The one that we chose to work with is a third version and is unpublished. It was written by Elva Vigil Valdez of Capulin, Colorado. We chose to use the version by Elva because while Atole defeats Coffee in the battle, Atole invokes the sentiment of reconciliation and also leaves open the possibility of continuing the dialogue in the future. Wanting to make this trovo more accessible to new audiences, I turned to Taos native Natasha Vasquez, an animation and graphic design intern from New Mexico Highlands University. Natasha used her skills in digital animation to create an animated digital comic book. It was amazing to witness Natasha design a conversation between a grandmother and her grandson, which morphs into a dialogue between coffee and atole, in this relatively new medium.

To complement her work, we also invited musicians and scholars Dr. David Garcia and Thelma Argüello, to sing the trovo as it was originally meant to be performed.

We learned from this project the importance of reimagining traditional forms to broaden them for new audiences.

Playing the Game

One of the key challenges of building a reimagined community archive is the imperative of ensuring sustainability through intergenerational engagement. Toward this end, we engaged Española, New Mexico native Frank Naranjo, another New Mexico Highlands University student, whose interest is game design. We saw this collaboration as a potential way to build a framework for youth engagement. Naranjo employed the perspective of a diasporic youth engaged in a quest, in this case, simply returning to the village in order to visit grandparents. In order to get to the grandparent’s home, the player would need to navigate through a series of challenges and lessons, each based on key elements of cultural knowledge with the help of cultural keepers. In addition to the potential of the game engaging new audiences, the very development of the design provided opportunities to identify parameters regarding the cultural keepers and the knowledge they impart for the gamer. With the support of other colleagues who created archetype figures and contextual artifacts.

Compuerta de la Acequia, an irrigation gate, “Frank Naranjo, 2019

We learned that the scope of the project was far more ambitious than the time allotted for it to be completed, though it did offer the frame for another project, Manitos Personas, noted below. As a prototype, it also allowed us to explore some of the possibilities in game design and more fundamentally opportunities at the intersection of culture and design. With more time and support, we believe it is possible to realize our goal for enhanced youth engagement. One possibility would be to collaborate with Local Games Lab ABQ as well as an instructor in the Honors College at the University of New Mexico to develop an entire course that would utilize cultural content to create meaningful interfaces with game design. The work of Local Games Lab ABQ has already been utilizing cultural content at the interface of game design and we believe that this partnership may prove fruitful in the future.  

A R C H I V I N G P L A C E 

Place, the “first of all beings” according to Aristotle, also reflects where wisdom continues to sit, and is particularly salient where the continuous human habitation on the land is thousands of years old. Understanding why and how people settled where they did and how they designed, built and sustained structures is critical. Indeed, the human touch upon this land is visible everywhere; plazas, churches, villages, burial grounds and agricultural lands all serve as vivid examples of an archive of the built environment. These sites are intricately connected by trails, roads and acequias — ancient waterways that convey water from the river to fields. In all of these spaces, Native American and Indo-Hispano alike, including their relationships and critical points of convergence, villages have sustained multiple changes, including a mix of mud and modernism, where even mobile homes have been converted to reflect a local vernacular. Given how important this is, the initiative supported the following efforts as we began to think about the meanings embedded in the work it takes to archive place.

Virtual New Mexico Project, by Professor Tim Castillo

For Manitos, the love of home is best expressed in the concept of querencia, which comes from the Spanish word querer, a deep love, but has evolved to reflect a love of place specifically, even a sense of homeland. Querencia is especially important for land based people ancestrally connected to a place they call home. In this way, place is not only something that is represented, but something that is experienced, something that gives the world shape because of how we live in it and shapes our consciousness, our sense of being in the world. We worked with partners to consider how a community archive could capture the concept of querencia, even when it is vulnerable and interrupted when people are separated from place and the following efforts have served to reveal the power of this project.

An Archive of Manito Architecture 

Driving through villages in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, perhaps like any rural setting globally, is for me grounding, as I am reminded of who I am and where my core values were formed. For some, however, it can be disenchanting. These villages were once thriving centers, but have for over a century faced declining populations, losing large percentages of their youth to major urban centers in the region. Today, those who have remained behind are highly susceptible to poverty, despair, homelessness, high rates of suicide, hunger and a devastating dependence on drugs and alcohol, and as such, are often at the bottom of many national indicators. These present day realities are bound to something deep and profound, a trauma that has evolved from historical experiences of displacement and loss, including of knowledge, land and objects. It is reality that is reflected in the built environment.

Many of the houses in these villages are made of adobe which ultimately melt back into the earth. This was true when I was growing up in these places and is still true today. There are some who look at a ruin, and see the creativity in design, engineering and above all, a home full of laughter and tears; they also recognize a deep connection to geographic humanity. As a part of this initiative, I had the occasion over the past year to drive through the villages of Costilla, New Mexico and Garcia, Colorado with Martin Stupich, a deeply gifted photographer. Martin is engaged in a decade long documentary survey of the Camino Real, the “Royal Road” that originates in Mexico City and extends to its “ephemeral terminus in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado” as he notes. From the very beginning he has generously supported our project. For Martin, part of the goal of his photographs is to “pay homage to generations of intrepid woman and men who settled here . . .  building homes and communities by hand from bare earth.”

“Ruin of the home of Jose Eustaquio Trujillo and Rosinda Aguilar Trujillo, Costilla, New Mexico,” Photo © Martin Stupich, 2019

As I drove with Martin, it was as if he was turning the key to the archive, one that I have seen my whole life and yet taken for granted. He inspired me to see these melting adobes with different eyes. The photography was only the catalyst, and even in their current state, those buildings have stories still to tell. One of the Costilla homes he shot was inhabited by Jose Eustaquio Trujillo and Rosinda Aguilar, once neighbors to my own grandparents. When I showed the photo to my father, he smiled and began to share a story about Mr. Trujillo as one of the village’s gifted storytellers, “the fairy tale type,” stories that enchanted.

Another house, in Garcia, Colorado was the home of Federico Cordova and Lucardia Lobato Cordova. In this ruin, Martin discovered the remains of a florid styled wallpaper still hanging on to the mudded walls, which he mused may have come from an order from the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalogue, the aesthetic of which reflected a draw to beauty, mirroring perhaps the fact that their house was often surrounded by hollyhocks as one of their cousins mentioned when I asked. These remnants left in this house hold layers of story, like fragments often found in an archive. As we begin to explore more, pulling back layers, perhaps someday we can begin to tell it more completely. 

Image of Federico and Lucardia Cordova, photo courtesy of Charlene Garcia Simms.

There are so many lessons learned from working with Martin and with so many others who have been thinking of these adobe structures in our community and the people that they are connected to. Although I feel grounded in these visits to the villages, a profound sadness also emerges in looking upon the abandoned houses, humble and exquisite. The challenge is understanding that they reflect so many issues such as migrations and loss, but increasingly, as people begin to reconnect with these places, I believe there exists a desire to return, to reconstruct and restore. We have learned that highlighting the archive, as has happened through the Facebook groups and our blog, can be catalyzed. What we learned is that community archiving means looking differently at what an archive is traditionally, to see it on the ground, to touch its walls and to know that underneath it all lie layers of stories, not only for this house for the archive that continues to exist on the land, beautiful, even if slowly melting away.  

The Invisible Archive  

In another instance, as a part of the Manitos Community Memory Project, we began working with student interns from New Mexico Highlands University who were charged with demonstrating the value of a community-centered cultural heritage archive. One of these students, Rebecca Sharp, holds an interest and expertise in virtual reality and was especially interested in utilizing 3-D models to recreate a sense of place. We began the project by identifying several potential sites which could become the focus of her work, including the Plaza del Cerro in Chimayo, New Mexico; the Romero House in Peñasco, New Mexico; Loretto Academy, Santa Fe, New Mexico; La Plaza de los Manzanares, present day Garcia, Colorado; and the Rael Sala, Questa, New Mexico. Two of these sites exist today primarily as ruins, though the Plaza del Cerro has undergone a remarkable and steady restoration effort over the past few decades. Three of the sites only exist today in photographs, architectural drawings, stories and memories. 

Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, et al. Grade School at Loretto Academy, Don Gaspar Avenue & East Water Street, Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, NM. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, .

Rebecca did not hesitate to choose sites long since vanished. When I asked her why she made those choices, she simply responded that her interest was the “invisible archive,” those places that no longer exist. The Loretto Academy established at the behest of Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy functioned as a preparatory high school from 1881-1968, after which the campus was demolished. Where this school once sat is today the site of a hotel and primarily focused on tourism, but it is an important site for Manitos, and the history of gender locally and nationally. As a boarding school that served young female students from villages in Colorado and New Mexico, the importance of these buildings to the Manito Community Archive cannot be overstated. As we began to gather information to support the digital reconstruction of one of the Loretto buildings, including photos and architectural drawings from the Historic American Buildings Survey, several people began to share stories of their own or their mother’s and grandmother’s experiences in the school. In this process it became clear that this was a much larger scope than could be handled in the time allotted, though it too remains an opportunity. 

While Rebecca did not have the time to work on the Loretto Academy, she did work on ‘La Sala,’ a traditional adobe style two level building that served as a place where commerce and community gathered for over four decades in Questa, New Mexico. This building was core to the social life of the village from the time it was built in the first decade of the twentieth century to the late 1950s when a fire destroyed it. Historically, La Sala actually supported several uses, including as a village saloon, a grocery store, a cafe, a pool hall and a dance hall. It was the first place that the villagers saw a moving picture, where everyone gathered for receptions and a space that held dancers moving to Mexican waltzes, the jitterbug, fox trot, rumba and swing. Unfortunately, this amazing building saw its end come in flames and its ruins only to eventually melt into the ground.

La Sala was so prominent in the village that two national photographic projects highlighted it. First, on assignment for National Geographic, Luis Marden, who would go on to a famed career, was the young photographer assigned to document the Rio Grande from its source in southern Colorado, through New Mexico, into El Paso, Texas. Culminating in an article titled, “Down the Rio Grande” by Frederick Simpich and published in the October 1939 magazine issue, a limited number of illustrative photos captured New Mexico, including one of La Sala. Later, it was one of hundreds featured in National Geographic’s quasquicentennial retrospective publication, Around the World in 125 Years: the Americas, published in 2014. Later, in 1943, photographs of La Sala became part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection, a series undertaken to create an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944 across the United States.

Photo above: Civilian Conservation Corps Engineer & New Mexico State Trooper – Questa, New Mexico, photo by Luis Marden, National Geographic, 1937. Photos below: “Jose Albino and Andrellita Rael Sala, 1943, Photographer, John Collier Jr. Library of Congress.

I so appreciated Rebecca’s approach to her internship. As I reflect about how much of the built environment is no longer visible in Santa Fe for instance, her choices helped us to begin to reimagine an archive differently, to recognize that there are always missing elements to an archive, and even when the tangible no longer exists, there may be fragments like blueprints, photographs or descriptions or even the intangible stories that all help us not only to reimagine, but to rebuild, if not actually, then digitally. We also learned that virtual reality may help to recover what may once have been invisible. 

Recovering a Manito Topography

The erasure of place names and the imposition of new ones is a salient element of conquest, and the U.S. conquest of New Mexico is no exception. There have been many mechanisms utilized to implement such measures, such as the creation of the Board of Geographic Names, charged with the standardization of toponymy for federal publications. Its work literally erased from the map many place names. Recovering those names became a focus for University of New Mexico graduate student, Len Beké, who initiated the Manitos Topos Project, wherein he engaged with community members, drawing upon their memories and stories to develop an alternative cartography. 

As part of his fieldwork, Len planned a biking expedition throughout the Manito homeland, beginning in Santa Fe, on to Fort Garland, Colorado and across La Veta Pass, then riding back down the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. We promoted the project through the blog and connected Len to a network of community members. During his trip, he was able to stop to give a lecture about his work in Embudo, New Mexico, facilitated by project partners, and at every stop, he collected knowledge on the original names toward this recovery project. Well beyond this first expedition, we have continued to collaborate with Len to this day, connecting him to other knowledge bearers from these communities.  

Working with Len, we learned that the archive is sometimes erased. Place names are like any archival remnant, but by pulling back the layers, we know that community memory is critical to counter official records where erasure has taken place.  We learned that building a community archive sometimes emerges in a collaborative between academic scholars and community knowledge bearers, but it is important to continue to impart to these scholars why it is so important to give back and find ways to reciprocate the information that has been shared. 

Visualizing Migrations

The migrations of Manitos out the homelands of northern New Mexico are an important part of the histories and experiences of Indo-Hispano communities. Some left for places like Wyoming and Utah for work, particularly sheepherding in the early twentieth century; others to California to work in the shipyards during the inter-war years; others still to Colorado, as new settlements provided opportunities for farming. Industries in cities offered work. Some left from places like Abiquiú along the Spanish Trail to Los Angeles even earlier and others because of military or educational opportunities. 

Over the past year, we have begun to establish the infrastructure for the Manitos Migrations- Visualizing Place, People, Time and Story. We have established a digital platform to facilitate gathering data to create data visualization, a sociological tool utilizing graphs and maps illustrate complex data sets, which we believe will be useful for both community connections and for research. There are many inspirations for this project. First, Following the Manito Trail, an ethnographic project focused on collecting stories on these migrations, is the work of Professors Levi Romero and Vanessa Fonseca. The documentary and curatorial work that has been accomplished on this project is so important. In terms of how to illustrate these migrations, the pioneering work of African American activist and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois inspired us in this regard. He directed the creation of over sixty charts, graphs and maps, featured at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. to graphically represent data on African American life, including charting their urban and rural populations in 1890. 

We have learned that there is a tremendous interest in developing this initiative since so many Manitos migrated out of the region. We also have learned the challenges of building an accessible database with options for data input from the general public alongside security measures that protect people’s privacy. We learned that this initiative alone requires a dedicated manager to oversee its development. As we look to the future, a recently minted University of New Mexico Ph.D., Dr. Tisha V. Martinez, a Manita scholar was raised in Wyoming and whose doctoral work has focused on this topic, would like to serve as the manager of this particular initiative.  

A R C H I V I N G ‘T H E P E O P L E’ 

At the heart of the project is our use of the words Manito and Manita, terms of endearment and kinship derived from the Spanish word, hermano, ‘brother’ or ‘sibling.’ As a term of identity, it has been widely used by the people of the mountains, valleys, hills and plains of the northern-most part of New Mexico and beyond, with experiences and histories are firmly rooted in this region. To this day, when these villagers or their descendants living anywhere in the world encounter one another, the terms ‘mano’ or ‘mana’ paired with the first name is often used.

The Spanish word for ‘the people’ is gente from the Latin word gens, referring to the origins, histories, families and even names held in common within a group. To imagine what it means to archive ‘the people’ includes a vast array of elements at the heart of being human, bound by a unique collective where there is a shared sense of history and identity. Even if once connected by a similar geography, language, experience, in spite of losses or shifts, there remains a common bond. Here, and for Manitos, the most meaningful and profound reflections of the people emerge in both the individual and the collective and all of the relationships developed and sustained in-between. 

Image of women quilters from Questa, New Mexico, circa 1930s. Photo courtesy of Estevan Rael-Galvez

The Manito Community Memory Project centers on its people. Our work has been to consider who they are, that is to say, their identity, as both represented by others and as understood by themselves. We have worked to understand the depth of experiences that have defined their history and their present realities. As with any ethnic community, Manitos are actually not a homogenous group, and as we have endeavored to develop a repository, it reflects an astonishing depth and complexity and the examples of projects below reveal this.   

Recovering Our Archetypes – Manito Personas

New Mexico identity is set within a national paradigm of race that persistently renders non-whites and non-blacks invisible. Perhaps even worse than invisibility is the reality that the representation of has been framed by images that are static, stereotypical and often derogatory. Thanks to the tourism industry, even locally, representations of New Mexico’s people are reduced to an early twentieth century invention of three typologies — Anglo, Indian and Spanish — an enduring and yet deeply flawed mythology that continues to conflate distinctions between sovereign tribes, erases entire groups of people and obscures the reality of centuries of mixture, born from acts of both love and violence, including that of indigenous slavery. Here, identity is unique and the language of blood and belonging that developed within Spanish colonial rule was a highly complex racial taxonomy and cultural hierarchy of caste with superiority based on the percentage or European blood , and a vocabulary so ingrained that some permeations exist to this day, including words like mestizo and coyote

Set within this narrow context of either invisibility and stereotypical, there are only a few archetypes in which Manitos are portrayed and portray themselves. Perhaps the most iconic and pervasive symbol is that of the conquistador. It is visible on logos, monuments, and even on Chicano murals. That it emerges in the early decades of the twentieth century is one thing, but that it continues to circulate on social media and worse still. That it is embedded in individual and group consciousness at the heart of a sense of self, reveals the depth of the wounds. The Spanish word conquistador translated to English means “conqueror.” The historical figure behind the word is associated with males who were mercenaries of the Spanish or Portuguese monarchies charged with the conquest of the Americas. Technically, conquistadores constitute all military officials and could very well be extended to include all first European settlers of a region, which is how it is used. The use of the word in official documents and even in popular culture was most likely limited to a very particular era—the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In New Mexico, the use of the term emerged five hundred years later, particularly as a moniker of the overarching frame of Nuevomexicano identity in singular Spanish terms. In a letter from writer, artist and the first curator for the Spanish Colonial Arts, Museum of New Mexico, Elizabeth Boyd, to anthropologist, Charles Briggs, in 1973, she noted, “As I have told you before –they (northern N.M. Spanish) are great people but most of them have lost historical background behind grandparents—when it merges into myths on los conquistadores.” Even more pointed, the figure of the conquistador, according to anthropologist, Sylvia Rodriguez, “constitutes nothing less than a claim to whiteness.” So ingrained in consciousness and narrative, many New Mexicans continue to frame their sense of identity in simple terms, as the “descendants of conquistadores.” Beyond the static nature of this figure that serves as a font of identity, the misperception persists even though the evidence has long been available that they are also the descendants of Native American people.

In reality, identity is neither static nor something that can be easily defined. It is more like nesting dolls, one inside the other, with beauty buried in the layers of complexity and consciousness, unknown perhaps, but still there. Some individuals and communities stand in strength and sovereignty, knowing who they are. Others, whether they carry the complexity of their ancestry in their faces and hands or not, sustain memory in an aching consciousness. Recognizing the need for new symbols for Manito identity grounded in pride in its Indo-Hispano roots, one major goal of our project has been to lay the groundwork for recovering in the archive more authentic counterpoints to invisibility, stereotypes and reductive representations. In the summer of 2019, this effort began by brainstorming with students at New Mexico Highlands University about identifying more meaningful archetypes, what we also refer to as Manito personas. From a long potential list, we identified five personas illustrated by Natasha Vasquez that served as key figures in the game design and in the development of posters and placemats that began to be used in the classroom to engage young students:

  • Abuelos: As protectors of culture, grandparents often pass their knowledge and wisdom onto the next generations, keeping it alive.   
  • Curandera: Recognizing the importance of a healthy community, a healer turns to the tradition of using herbs and rituals to provide care and healing to people.  
  • Maestro: A teacher provides guidance in learning and inspires critical thinking and the development of knowledge.
  • Mayordoma: The protector of waters holds the important task of stewarding the ancient system of water irrigation in a community, including the care of the channels that carries the water to the gardens, fields and orchards.
  • Cuentistas: Drawing upon an ancient tradition of making sense of the world, storytellers gather tales and share them, entertaining and providing guidance to those who listen. 

It is challenging to invert or counter the stereotypical images, especially when they are so deeply ingrained in the community’s consciousness. We have only begun to share these archetypes with the public, including with educators and students and are about to place some of these placemats in libraries as well. Already we have learned that this particular initiative holds the potential to open discussions about identity.  

Genealogy and Genetics

As a way to engage with the past, genealogy has long been popular for Manitos. For many, there is a particular vocabulary often employed to talk about ancestry which promotes the false idea that it is a singular linear structure that follows one patriarch. In tracing these single lines, it erases the complexity that actually comes with a family tree. In reality, we all descend from two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. At the 10th generation, which more or less takes us to the late 1600s to mid 1700s in New Mexico, we descend from 512 individuals. By 1750, the population of New Mexico was largely mixed, with over 70% of people having a parent or grandparent that was indigenous. So, of these 512 individuals, over 70% of them were indigenous people. By the twentieth generation, we descend from 524,288 individuals, and every single one of them counts. I shared this information at one of two gatherings we held in Pueblo, Colorado at the annual conference of the Genealogical Society of Hispanic Americans.

While genealogy has long been popular, with the advent and expansion of DNA research, the interest in ancestry has dramatically expanded. Miguel Tórrez, the administrator of the New Mexico Genealogical Society’s DNA Project, became a core partner in this work to help us think even more deeply about what it means to archive a people’s history. Miguel’s skill is not only in the science of blood and biology, but in helping to understand that DNA tells part of the story, just as documents and memory tell others. One of several projects highlighted on the Manito Blog is Miguel’s collaboration with the Pueblo de Abiquiú Library and Cultural Center to engage community members with long standing genealogical and historical ties to the Pueblo of Abiquiú who also identify as genízaro descendants. Genízaro was the name given in the colonial period to Native Americans captured and enslaved, and in time, a term that was adopted as an ethnic category recognizing the legacy of this history. This work has perhaps been one of the most popular and interesting to individuals and communities alike. It is also not limited to singular villages but across the diaspora. 

Gabriel John Lopez (cq) swabs the inside of his mouth as Miguél A. Tórrez (cq), genealogist and New Mexico Genealogical Society’s (NMGS) DNA Project administrator, times him on a stop watch inside The Pueblo de Abiquiú Library and Cultural Center on January 19, 2018. Archuleta is taking part in the El Pueblo de Abiquiú DNA and Ethnography Study project which looks to sample a group of men and women with strong genealogical ties to El Pueblo de Abiquiú that identify as or are descendants of Genízaros.

What working with Miguel has revealed is that genetic genealogy provides opportunities for connections, but also for reimagining the archive. We have learned that while some people remain skeptical of the science of this work, it is like any record, only a part of the story. We have learned that with more support, DNA begins to affirm what many of us have been saying about the complexity of ancestry for many years.   

Leaning in and Listening to the Storytellers

Communities of color often are depicted as illiterate, and certainly not as people who have a rich literary heritage. New Mexico’s Indo-Hispano population is no exception to this stereotype. Here, the work of contemporary scholars like Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, Enrique R. Lamadrid, A. Gabriel Melendez, Genero Padilla and Tey Diana Rebolledo has revealed the depth and breadth of the literary font that is the legacy of these communities. Many other scholars have followed, but there are also early pioneer academics, in these efforts such as Juan B. Rael, a Manito born and raised in the village of Arroyo Hondo, north of Taos. 

Like me, Rael was not destined to be a sheepherder, but was instead drawn to education which he followed to the highest level. Also like me, even when drawn away to other places, he recognized the rich history that had shaped him and why sharing it with the world matters. In the summer of 1930, as a young graduate student freshly minted with a Master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, he returned home and visited villages throughout northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, recording stories shared by nearly a hundred individuals. That summer, while teaching at the University of Oregon, this 29 year-old with his pressed suit and tie, walked alongside gardens and orchards and sat at kitchen tables and 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 its cuentistas, the bearers of the stories contained therein. Unfortunately, the collection remains out of print and inaccessible to the public, including those whose ancestors and communities shared the stories to begin with.

This pioneer linguist and folklorist has yet to have a full biography of his work completed and his efforts have, over the decades, been largely obscured. However, the identities of 97 storytellers that shared stories with Rael remain even more obscured. This past Fall, as a part of our project, New Mexico Highlands University Department of Media Arts and Technology offered a course wherein students took up the subject of these stories and their storytellers, designing a digitally enhanced travelling exhibit. The exhibition, which is now on view at the City of Las Vegas Museum, in Las Vegas, New Mexico and also available digitally, showcases ten stories and ten storytellers. 

The process to develop this exhibit was equally as valuable as the final product in that it allowed us to begin to engage on social media and in person with descendants and friends of these ninety-seven storytellers. 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 about these individuals. 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. 


For Manitos and Manitas, there are as many stories as there have been, and are, people, places and events. Here, multiple and overlapping themes evoke origins, prophecy, resilience and convergence. Some are tales spun to excite, enchant or lure and others to inform and elevate. Story is a thread through the entire project, and as noted in the introduction, story is embedded in how an archive is built and what it holds. As we have begun to implement this work, there are certain projects that serve as examples of the imagining, the building and the holdings in an archive, all of which reflect the power of story and sharing, including the challenges and opportunities. 

Stories are also embedded in symbols and we recognized this early in the project. In an effort to graphically define the project and engage communities, Chris Romero, a Las Vegas native and New Mexico Highlands University student, was engaged to develop a logo. As with any brand identity, the logo went through several iterations and was designed with an attention to the core elements. The sun is perhaps the Manito region’s most pronounced symbol, which is why it serves as the logo’s central image. The northern New Mexico and southern Colorado landscape is largely defined by high desert mountain topography depicted at the lower portion of the design. The sun’s rays can be seen as an urban skyline, revealing the intricate connection between rural and urban communities, but are actually drawn from a radial tree graph structure, meant to reflect the potential of digital technology to this project. 

Object Stories

At the very beginning of the project, in anticipation of its launch, in July of 2018, we held a workshop in the village of Questa, New Mexico. The workshop was called “Gathering Memory-Object Stories,” and we asked participants to bring an artifact from their homes to share a memory that we could record. The objective of the activity was to emphasize the importance of material culture (objects) to people and the relationship of objects to memory and story. The workshop was inspired in part by the work of novelist and Nobel Prize recipient Orhan Pamuk, who in “A Modest Manifesto for Museums,” wrote that “the future of museums is inside our homes,” and that the measure of a museum’s success “should be its capacity to reveal the humanity of individuals.” Having organized similar workshops in 2016 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I recognized the importance of this type of engagement. 

While previous Object Story memory gatherings at community engagement events Santa Fe were successful, the recording of object stories there served only as a backdrop to other activities taking place. The population of Santa Fe (i.e. 90,000) is much larger than Questa, and I was unsure if this process would work in a rural setting. My original plan was to document small talking circles, but when I arrived in Questa I was pleasantly surprised when over 100 participants showed up. Following a brief pre-planned lecture about the history of the region, rather than breaking such a large crowd into talking circles, I pivoted the workshop to focus on the sharing of the objects similar to “show and tell.” This energized the crowd, and as one object was shared, it invited other stories to emerge. We recorded and photographed the storytellers and their objects. 

At the Object Story workshop held in Questa in July 208 Flavio Cisneros shares a Letter that was written in February, 1925, requesting the marriage of his mother, Corina Gonzales (later Cisneros) to Francisco Cisneros.

Some of the more memorable object stories that day included Flavio’s, who brought a letter he had saved written by his father requesting his mother’s hand in marriage; Loveida shared bottles that once held whiskey infused with camphor for the ailments, one of the most recognizable smells in the region; and Jeanie, who described her grandmother’s “at home shoes,” the ones that reflected gender, labor and continual creativity. Our partners in the village are now working diligently to upload the recordings and photographs to a website they created as well as the digital archive. 

The workshop in Questa affirmed the interest people have in objects and the need to capture the memories and stories they hold in a community archive. From the very beginning, we learned that when we work in community, we have to be flexible, to pivot when necessary in these types of workshops. We learned that to adequately document each object story for archival and preservation purposes we need to create an appropriate quiet space or arrange to record at a later time. Above all, we confirmed our expectations that these personal objects hold so much meaning and in many cases, their narratives are unique to the nation. We also learned that while not everyone is comfortable sharing or archiving those stories, many are. 

Pueblo de Abiquiú Catholic Church Sacramental Registers

Early in the initiative, I learned of work by a colleague, Samuel Sisneros, an advisor to our initiative and a manuscript archivist at the Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections (CSWR) at the University of New Mexico’s Zimmerman Library. In 2016, when I was visiting Samuel, he invited me into his office to see a collection that had been brought to him for assessment by an elderly couple from northern New Mexico. My eyes brightened the moment I saw what sat on his desk, six hide-covered sacramental books from the Mission Church of Santo Tomás Apóstol de Abiquiú. Even in my position as the state historian of New Mexico, I had seen records like this only once before held at the Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Most researchers can only review these primary sources as microfilm or microfiche. The old familiar sentiments of encountering the treasures of an archive rushed to my heart and head, because there is something special about these types of records like no other. What was before me were registers of the arc of lives in one community, dated from 1777 to 1861, records of baptisms, marriages and burials. While many other sacramental records of Abiquiú existed, these books had long been missing and thought lost in time. In my drive home, I thought about those records and how they reflected the lives of so many Manitos, including my own ancestors, baptized, married and buried.  

Registers before rehousing and preservation.

I could think of no better person to hold these records than Samuel, a native Nuevomexicano who is deeply ethical, knowledgeable in archival best practices, and grounded in community core values. Since that first encounter, I have remained in contact with Samuel about his diligent assessment of the records, and a process he developed that is illustrative of the complexities in building a community based archive. He outlines his work on this project in a blog he wrote for the Manito Community Memory Project, “Recovering Abiquiú Lost Church Records.”

I believe these records and Samuel’s project serve as an interesting case study for what it means to build this type of archive, revealing the sometimes contested issues of preservation and access. He estimated the registers could have been in private hands since 1861. Samuel recognized that the repository where they belonged would be the Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, a traditional place whose mission is primarily preservation and not access. Before taking them to Santa Fe, Samuel first digitized them, emphasizing preservation and access values. Yet, recognizing also the value to researchers and community, he worked with the New Mexico Genealogical Society (NMGS) to extract the data from the registers; NMGS then developed books from the data to sell, though they also gifted several copies to Pueblo de Abiquiú Library & Cultural Center for their own fundraising. Samuel shared the digital records with the Pueblo de Abiquiú Library & Cultural Center and also  them on a UNM digital repository, a searchable and downloadable dataset spreadsheet of the burial entries from the earliest burial register. As a result of these beneficial efforts, including the Manitos blog article, many descendent community members have made previously unknown genealogical connections to early Abiquiú area ancestors while local and regional historians are uncovering the social, geographical and cultural history of the region.  

All of this has prompted us to ask how to truly fulfill the mission of establishing a community based archive, with other questions following: While many descendants of those listed in the registers continue to live in Abiquiú, there are others that live throughout the region and beyond. Given this reality, who is the community that decides the ownership of the records? Those who remain in the village or those who can prove a connection? If someone from this “community” would like to access the record, they would not easily be granted permission by the Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to see them, a preservation value that is upheld by most official repositories, locally and globally. They could purchase the extractions from NMGS, but not all have the ability to do so. They could visit either the library in Abiquiú or at the University of New Mexico to access digital files and a microfilm edition. As we continue to explore what it means to establish community based archives, these are real challenges, and yet the Abiquiú church registers recovery project is a success story from which we will continue to learn.

A Digital Resolana

Early in the project, we developed the Manitos Digital Resolana, a blog initially intended to serve as a space to document our progress. We also began to utilize the site as a means to disseminate relevant content and to stimulate dialogue–in other words, a digital resolana. The work of designing and sustaining the site was collaborative and became largely the responsibility of Manitos intern Chris Romero and Research Assistant, Shane Flores. Guest blogs required a high level of engagement with the authors. New posts were shared in Facebook groups and several generated a great deal of dialogue both on the site and in the groups. The blog will soon be expanded to include a page for resources for building the digital archive that were developed as part of this project. In addition, several new posts have been commissioned and will be shared over the next several months and include a focus on youth engagement, LGBTQ storytelling, genealogy and more 

Toward capturing the process it takes to develop an archive, we have also showcased several posts as follows:

Sebastian Ortega in front of the Questa Public Library, 2018. Photo courtesy of Honorio Rael.

Several other posts reflected particular elements of content rich material, many of which generated a great deal of dialogue, on the site and through Facebook groups where the posts were shared:

  • Alabados – Voices of Spirit” is a post about the ancient spiritual hymns known as alabados that were collected in the 1940s by folklorist and linguist Dr. Juan B. Rael and are now accessible on the online portal for the Library of Congress.
  • Hipólito Espinosa – And the Old Spanish Trail” is a guest post by Mary Anne Pentis of California, who shares the migration of New Mexican families into California in the mid-nineteenth century through a memoir like reflection about her ancestor, Hipólito Espinosa.
  • The Moon Rises Over Hernandez Again and Again” is a guest post by Dr. Patricia Marina Trujillo reflecting on her encounter with the now iconic Ansel Adams photograph and the meaning the actual site holds for her.
  • Los Argüellos – Connecting Migrations and Memories” is a guest post by Jerol Argüello about his family that settled in the Manito village of Las Trampas, and their many migrations out.
  • Dando Los Dias – Greeting the New Year with Poetry and Song” describes a unique New Year’s tradition practiced in several Manito villages. 
  • Manito Migrations Stories“, the first in a series of migration stories is by guest blogger  Al Cordova who grew up in Jaroso, Colorado but migrated to various locales in Colorado.
  • Independence Day” is a reflection  about the complexity of celebrating the Fourth of July in 1935 in a Manito village that had once been Mexico. 
  • Food Heritage: Diving Deep into Milk and Toast,” is a post about regional food culture. 
  • Reflections of Africa in New Mexico” uncovers an important element of Manito identity in African heritage. 
  • Fermin Valdez: Memories of Costilla,” by guest blogger John Valdez reveals a powerful family memory of loss and resilience.
  • The Hunt for Nicolas,” is a post by guest blogger Miguel Tórrez about the Espinosa family in New Mexico, whose presence can be found in the historical record as far back as 1598. Because of genetic research many descendants can now trace their origins to a man named Nicolás, whose own ancestry is defined by slavery.  
  • Women and Creativity” is a post about the importance of thinking about Manitas, women, and creative expression. 
  • Reconciliation” is a post about a museum exhibition developed with Hispano and Native American artists responding to the concepts of intercultural relationships, history and the process of reconciliation.


We have accomplished a great deal, especially in our efforts to work deeply in community to think more critically about the prospect of building community based archives. Above all, we have recognized this work is a process.

We have also begun to envision what this project looks like in the future. Interrogating the idea of one center, in the sense of a physical place, we are using the term “center” to mean the focal point from which activities to promote and coordinate cultural heritage conservation emanate across multiple sites within a geographic region and also online. By working with multiple universities and Manito scholars in particular, we have begun to conceptualize a scholar-and-artist-in-residence program for regionally based artists, community scholars and Manito university students who study outside the region, together with our partners in the village of Questa, and an archaeological field school run by UC Berkeley in the village of Abiquiú, NM.

In our initial proposal to the Mellon Foundation, we accentuated the reality of extractive practices that have impacted Manito communities. The story of the encounters with the archive in the mid nineteenth century shared in the opening of this paper is an example of why understanding the past is so important. In order to reimagine the archive, it is also important to understand the critical imperative of decolonizing it as well. Decolonizing history is not easy. As Maori scholar, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, has cogently observed, “In order to decolonize our histories, we must revisit site by site.” [3] Efforts to transform the impact of this trauma will actually require a concerted effort to contextualize and reimagine site-by-site, event-by-event and story-by-story. Ignoring this imperative and the opportunity before us is critical to creating an archive of new possibilities, including healthy, vibrant and even more resilient communities.

Similarly, in her work to recover Latina histories, Emma Perez, uses the term “decolonial imaginary” as a way to overcome a colonial past, by literally re-inscribing new possibilities. [4] Decolonial imaginary demands that we create a new cartography, a new way of recording presence and a new way of remembering ourselves whole. This counterpoint lies in our ability to creatively imagine the future, to ground it in the communities and networks that are essential to our communities, spaces that are changing all around us, and by this, raise consciousness core to the philosophy of why history matters. New Mexico’s story is certainly complex and full of contradictions, but here wisdom and memories resemble precious seed sand, their germinative power lies in the capacity, as it always has, of their heirs awakening a practice of memory that does not simply contemplate history, but invites us to make it.

We recognize the difficulties before us in fully implementing the project. The work of community visioning naturally engenders more work that is both labor intensive and costly, particularly when presented as a democratic process across a vast region with so many stakeholder perspectives. Additional challenges, which also present opportunities are as follows:  

Youth Engagement

One of the most frequent anxieties we hear expressed from community partners is the need for more activities to engage their youth so that they develop positive social identities, stay in school, learn marketable skills, and make positive contributions to their communities. In addition, a core component of the sustainability strategy for the Manitos Community Memory Digital Repository is the training of community youth storytellers who can master digital media skills, the capability of working with cultural content and who are committed to serving their communities.    

Legacy Content

Over the past several decades, organizations and individuals have created a large quantity of material that includes video and audio oral histories and documentary recordings of traditions and events. Much of this material is rare and could be valuable to the repository. However,  it is not ready for archiving because it exists in legacy formats, or needs to have metadata tagged or revised in order for the content to be searchable. Sometimes the sound quality is poor but could be improved using enhancement technologies. These tasks are time consuming and can be tedious. Some community partners are advocating for a centralized resource that could provide necessary services. Especially where the material is in danger of deterioration and loss, this need has some urgency compounded by identifying a location and taking the time to develop a business model. 


The Manitos region is rich in cultural resources and yet remains impoverished economically, educationally and spiritually as a result of cultural extraction. Our approach to sustainability is grounded in self-reliance through resource pooling and cost sharing. An ongoing challenge is finding reliable funding partners to help maintain the momentum and enthusiasm of our community partners, to take bold steps towards the realization of a sustainable, multi-organizational and multi-faceted initiative and to leverage additional support from local sources to help counteract the effects of misrepresentation and erasure of Indo-Hispano cultural heritage, and the historical trauma it has caused. We also see the engagement of university students as an essential component of our model for sustainability and community capacity building. To that end we have begun a dialogue with the Digital Programs Coordinator at the New Mexico Humanities Council and faculty members and staff in multiple departments and programs at UNM to explore the intersection of Cultural Technology and the Digital Humanities. 

Through all of these efforts, we have developed an initiative for Manitos and Manitas, scholars and cultural practitioners to continually encounter the archive. It has enabled us to recognize the losses, to place them in a historical context and to keep imagining the possibilities. We have learned a great deal and look forward to this project continuing to evolve. 


  1. Reies López Tijerina, They Called me “King Tiger” : My Struggle for the Land and Our Rights, 2001.
  2. José de Jesús López, “Trovo del cafe y el atole,” ed. Enrique Lamadrid, Teseros del Espíritu, A Portrait in Sound of Hispanic New Mexico, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1994. pp 147-150. Anonymous, “ Trovo del cafe y el atole,” ed. Nicolás Kanellos, Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature in the United States, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 89-91. 
  3. Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (London: Zed Books Ltd, 1999),  p. 34
  4. Emma Perez, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas Into History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).

4 thoughts on “Manito Reflections — The Archive of Time, Place, People & Story

  1. As a Historian and Retired Educator, I like this information. Now as Chairman of an Acequia, some of our Customs are not being followed. Landowners not using water for irrigation feel they should not clean the Laterals that go through their property and the list goes on.

  2. As a Mestiza with deep roots in Hispanic New Mexico, I have to take issue with the claim that the connection Nuevomejicanos feel to their Spanish past is somehow “misplaced.” There is no reason that we cannot feel as much pride in our Euorpean-Spanish ancestors as in our Indo ancestors. This denigration of our Spanish roots begins to sound too much like the Hispanophobic Negra Leyenda promulgated by Anglo writers of the last several centuries, with its roots in the 15th century enmity between England and Spain. The respect and admiration for those ancestors who brought Spanish culture into the southwest is widely felt by most Nuevomejicanos, who refuse to disparage the men and women from whom they are descended.

    1. Well said Ms. Duran! We can celebrate our Indio-Hispano cultures and be proud of our Spanish heritage.

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