The Manitos Digital Resolana is a virtual gathering space for manitos, as people from rural northern New Mexico and southern Colorado call themselves. In many villages throughout this region, the resolana is the sunny side of a building, where people congregate to converse and share knowledge and wisdom. This Digital Resolana will serve as a space for people from these rural communities and their urban diasporas, where people connected to these villages now live, to reconnect, recollect, record, and reflect on their shared cultural heritage.
The Digital Resolana will also document the progress of the Manitos Community Memory Project, an initiative to establish community-based digital cultural heritage archives grounded in the living culture of the villages of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The Manitos Community Memory Project is funded by a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation to the New Mexico Highlands University Department of Media Arts & Technology.
There are several components that are central to the focus of this initiative, and in what follows are reflections about three of these concepts: on the term ‘manitos’ itself, on the concept of ‘digital resolana’ and on a grove of aspens as a metaphor for healing from historic trauma.
The term ‘manitos’ is one of endearment and kinship and derives from the Spanish word, hermano, ‘brother’ or ‘sibling,’ inclusive of both brother and sister, though early 20th century folklorists have pointed to its origin as one that was originally pejorative, one given by Mexican immigrants to the Indo-Hispano populations of northern New Mexico in the early years of the 20th century. 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, whose 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.
Another meaning of the word “mano” is hand, and for this project, we think of that connotation as well. We use the term metaphorically to commemorate the hands (manos) of those generations who have passed before us, building community — petitioning for, cultivating and defending land, gathering the ground into adobes, adobes into homes and homes into plazas. Building and experiencing community has also meant, however, that these manos often folded conflict into the everyday, where the differences between cultures, between men and women, and even those manifest over honor reveal that experience is complex and full of struggle. And yet, even through conflict, these chili-colored, alfalfa-scraped manos sustained family and community— they tilled the soil, raised children to their breast, cleared the acequias, shucked the corn and sheared the sheep. These manos carved the santos, rolled their fingers over the beads of the rosary and folded them together in prayer. These manos picked the yerbas and soothed the fevers; they turned capulin into wine and played barajas, poker, between their fingers. These manos made the tortillas, quilted creativity and made necessity into a way of life. From these manos, words flowed into poems, imagination into story and story back into memory.
But the metaphor is not only about the past but the present and the future as well, about the the little Manitos, the ones that live in these villages still as well as the ones far away in urban neighborhoods throughout the world. No matter their circumstance, they hold their ancestors in their bones and blood, spirits to engender hope that these new generations will continue to rise in strength to make the world better.
The Spanish word resolana is derived from resol, a re-flection of the sun, illuminating everything all at once. In villages throughout northern New Mexico, the term refers to both a physical space and a process. As a space, it is literally the south side of a building, shielded from the wind and bathed in the rays of the sun. As a process, it 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.
The work of the late Dr. Tomás Atencio, a native of Dixon, New Mexico and a prolific scholar, was the first person to bring resolana into the realm of academic study. He contributed his knowledge and cultural insights to the resurgence of this cultural practice. Professor Atencio saw an alignment between the ancient Socratic dialogues and the cultural practice of the resolana, and the arc of the metaphor extending not only to knowledge production through dialogue, but also to community healing, even so far as its digital potential, or as he noted, the resolana, as “a pathway toward a learning society for the cyber age.”
It was this cultural influence that led in part to my work to develop the New Mexico Digital History Project when I served as the New Mexico State Historian over 15 years ago. It is the same impulse that for a digital resolana, where knowledge and wisdom is gathered, that defines our work to develop the blog for the Manitos Community Memory Project today. More than a static project, it is an active process to gather memory in and with community and to illuminate it.
A Grove of Aspens – Roots, Radiance and Resilience
The story of New Mexico is one of astonishing complexity. It is set within a magnificent landscape that is both ancient and modern. Hispanic and Native American people of this region, represent some of the oldest indigenous land-based communities in what is today the United States. Its people are the heirs to unique and richly-woven histories, traditions and a depth of wisdom. Yet, it is also a place that is beset with a multitude of challenges, economic and social.
There is no way to fully measure the depths of the cultural wounding that came from colonialism and imperialism. While statistics in part measure the impact of the devastation, particularly of poverty, homelessness, suicide, hunger and a devastating dependence on drugs and alcohol, none fully capture the harm to the spirit of a community as whole, especially when calculated across multiple generations. As I think about the idea of a cultural wounding, at the metaphorical level, the ravages of a fire that impacts a forest comes to mind, and how over time, there is also healing from the conflagration that occurs organically.
In this way, a metaphor that has become meaningful in my work, particularly around trauma, is that of a grove of aspens, which offers a way of thinking of our community around three key concepts: roots, resilience and radiance. Roots provide an opening for dialogue about being and belonging to a community, but also about connectedness. While a grove of aspens appear as separate trees, it is actually one huge organism linked by a single root system.
Resilience describes the capacity of our community to navigate through experiences that devastate. Similarly, though at first glance aspen trees appear as picturesque, what should not be lost is that the grove’s very presence reveals a forest healing following a disturbance to the land.
Lastly, to experience the Radiance of a grove of aspen trees, to hear their “quaking” leaves whispering and responding to the wind — a sound like no other — or to absorb the magnificent sight of the grove, standing resolute and alive in all seasons, nourishes the body and soul, but also serves as a reminder of the very nature of life – beautiful and always changing. In summer, aspens capture and reflect the sun, only to reveal a majestic performance in the fall, sunset colors that were there all along, hidden only to the naked eye, a process that we describe as the leaves “changing.”
New Mexico is more than metaphors, however, and more than the stories that are compounded daily by long-standing and ongoing challenges. Emerging from these realities will not only take a time and energy, but will require imagination. The people of this place hold tremendous wisdom and a history, all of which reflects a transcendence that can come from the full impact of falling down and the inverse power of rising up. The velocity of this imagination defines the promise of our humanity, not just the delicacy, but the strength of what we do to collectively change what we are.