As I mentioned in last week’s update, Saturday, March 26 was the opening reception of the Following the Manito Trail Exhibit in Taos. Over the past year, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez (Arizona State University), Dr. Trisha Martínez (University of New Mexico, Taos/University of Wyoming), Poet Laureate Levi Romero (University of New Mexico) and curandero, santero and Ph.D. candidate Jesús Villa (Arizona State University) on this project. Weekly, we met to plan out programming and structure of the exhibit. I had an idea of how the exhibit might turn out but it exceeded all of my expectations in more ways than one. Our design team, Lily Padilla and Natasha Vásquez captured the spirit of the project and that spirit permeates the museum’s space. Aspen trees, which are a key component, of the Following the Manito Trail were at the root, as they so often are, of our manito community. The voices and music of our familias were everywhere overlapping in the palimpsest of storytelling.
For me, working in New Mexico and on projects such as these has always been a source of anxiety. Do I even belong here? Should I even be speaking? These questions kept me up all night on Friday and Saturday. What right do I have to say anything? Yes, my dad had been born here and had died here. My Uncle Tony had been born here and still lives here. I have cousins and great-aunts and great uncles that have never left. My grandparents were born and raised here; but I was not. For the first twenty-four years of my life, I was in Texas. Granted when I went with my grandparents to the grocery store or to the K-Mart, we had to travel the ten miles from Friona to Clovis, but I don’t know where Clovis falls on the manito map. It’s not northern New Mexico. It’s not a mountain village. Many find its landscape desolate and forbidding. I don’t but I can understand why some people do. Nevertheless, do I have a right to do any of this work? To tell any of these stories?
There was a long conversation during the panel presentation on Saturday about labels. What do we call ourselves? What do they mean? I grew up mexicana. That is what we called ourselves. At the University of Texas surrounded by all these new books and all these new ideas, I added Chicana. Throughout the decades I have used different labels within a variety of contexts and each one sits differently. However, what I remembered as the five of us from the Following Manito Trail team sat at the table is we are all the descendants of those ancestors that survived. They survived genocide, hunger, invasion, and all degrees of cultural assimilation.
This is who we are. We are their descendants.
*Check out our Following the Manito Trail page here. Gracias to Vanessa Rey and Trevonte’ McClain for the beautiful website design.
*To watch the video on the significance of the aspen trees in the Following the Manito project, click here.