A Woman of Substance

 

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I first met Beatrice at the Abiquiu Library and Cultural Center when I was searching for a book. She had just started working there as a librarian after five hours of training! Beatrice has penetrating sea green eyes, and an abundance of dark curly hair with chestnut highlights that frames her lovely face. It is impossible to believe that she is old enough to be a grandmother of two. That she is unusually bright becomes obvious the moment she opens her mouth. Beatrice once told me that her mother used to tell her “an idle brain is a waste of time.” Beatrice surely got the message! She is warm and friendly, honest, talkative, and she has strong opinions like me! I liked her immediately, and as we struck up a conversation she began to tell me a little about her life…

Beatrice Garcia – Fernandez grew up Abiquiu and farmed a five acre plot in the neighboring town of Medanales with her family, a lovely area where cottonwoods tower over every other tree shading the ground in the summer. The Chama river flows through the valley nearby. A couple of her brothers still have land in this area. Beatrice’s mother still lives in the same house that her father, a construction worker, built for his family in Medanales, after Beatrice and her siblings left Abiquiu. Her mother, now 84 years old, still maintains a small garden on this property. The house with its many apple trees sits tidily behind a blue iron gate, situated near the little adobe church and not far from the “spider tree.”

Below: road in Medanales:

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As a child Beatrice’s first memories are about working in the fields with her mother and the other children who grew cucumber, tomatoes, squash, beans, pumpkins, chile, and made chile ristras to sell. Her father worked two jobs. During the day he was a construction worker/builder. When he came home her father joined his family in the fields. Beatrices’s mother eventually started one of the first farmers markets in Sante Fe and Los Alamos. Beatrice says that all her social skills were developed at the farmer’s market while she helped her mother sell the food the family grew. Beatrice’s mother brought back any produce that didn’t sell and distributed it among the people of Abiquiu who needed the food. Beatrice was also encouraged to sell fresh produce outside the local market and was able to keep the money she made.

Beatrice is passionate about her love of the land. “My parents taught me to love the earth. The land is the heart and soul of my family. I can grow anything,” she finishes with authority.” (There is never a pause between her sentences!) She is teaching both of her grandchildren to garden whenever she can. She dreams that one day she and her husband Roland will be able to afford to buy a piece of land with water rights so that they can grow their own food, as she once helped her parents do as a child.

Below: view from Beatrice’s garden

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Beatrice has a powerful work ethic, which she no doubt inherited from her parents. She has always had more than one job and simply doesn’t understand why other people don’t work! One of Beatrice’s jobs is to care for her two-year old grandchild, Tiffany, while her daughter, Andrea, teaches elementary school in Abiquiu. Some days her astute and friendly six – year old grandson Isaiah comes with her to the library to use the computers. Apparently, this child is educating Roland, his grandfather, about how to use new technology. Beatrice exclaims proudly, with deep feeling and respect, that her husband is a wonderful father and grandfather. Beatrice also looks after her mother who is 84 years old and still quite independent, most of the time.

Beatrice and Roland have known each other all their lives; they went to school together and became childhood sweethearts. When they married Beatrice was 15 and Roland was a year older. Her parents encouraged the young couple to move to the city to find work, which they did. Beatrice trained as a paralegal, a medical transcriptionist, and a bookkeeper. Beatrice has held many jobs. She worked for the state beginning with data entry and was promoted to the Department of Health/Infectious Disease, and then to the Inspector General’s office where she became an auditor. She also worked for an independent contractor running the office and presently transcribes documents for a psychologist. In her own words “she jumped from one job to another because it was interesting.”

In 2010 She and Roland, who worked as a truck driver, moved back to Abiquiu because Roland couldn’t stand living in the city any longer. At first Beatrice was angry because she liked city life but now she is glad to be home because she can be close to her mother. Today, Beatrice and her husband live in Roland’s parents’ house (which they remodeled) that is located high on a hill above the library in the part of Abiquiu named Moqui (a word that identifies the people who first lived in this part of Abiquiu as those that had Hopi heritage). This home has an astonishing view of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Beatrice proudly shows me around her small garden even though the growing season is long past. Like me, she loves flowers and we fall into conversation about what grows best where. She learned as a child how to care for the soil, so growing is as natural to her as breathing…

Beatrice’s father worked two jobs his entire life and did not want his children to work as hard for a living. He encouraged each of his offspring to seek other less physically “demanding” careers in the cities, which most of them, including Beatrice, did.

A prime example is her brother Rudy Garcia has a Master’s Degree in Soil Conservation and presently works for the State of New Mexico as a Regional Soil and Health specialist (USDA and Natural Resources Conservation Services For New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado). His long – term vision is to help his people (and others) produce, quality, nutritious and affordable food by learning how to keep the soil healthy. When he gave a presentation here last November I was impressed. Rudy’s obvious intelligence, extensive knowledge base, and ability to reach people at any level demonstrated his extraordinary competence in the field of soil health. Like Beatrice, Rudy learned the basics of soil technology from farming with his parents as a child. And even during the presentation he credited his father for teaching him the basics of what he knows.

Although the Pueblo people developed The “three sister’s technology” to grow nutritious foods in arid conditions the last few generations have moved away from farming and good nutrition. Historically, Corn, beans, and squash were grown supplemented by hunting elk, deer, buffalo, and rabbits, watercress, wild roots, plants for medicinal purposes, and pinion pine nuts. Today, it is people like Beatrice and Rudy that can lead the people back to growing healthy food. Beatrice told me that her family spent one weekend last November up in the surrounding mountains gathering pinion nuts, just as her ancestors did. During famines these seeds sometimes kept the people in the pueblos from starvation. Today the riparian area next to the Chama River supports hundreds of apple and other fruit trees and many crops are grown. All are watered by the acequias that are dug into the ground downhill from the river that allowing the water to irrigate the land. Each spring these ditches have to be cleaned out, and water rights are shared by all.

When I visited the Tewa outdoor market in Pojoaque last fall I was amazed by the diversity of the produce being sold (The Tewa are Pueblo peoples who speak the same language and who live in this immediate area). Like Beatrice’s family once did, these people do not use pesticides as part of their growing practice, and consequently these fruits, vegetables, beans and buffalo meat are all organic, and reasonably priced.

After Beatrice’s father died eight years ago, most of her children (including Beatrice and her family) lived in other parts of New Mexico so her mother sold the five acres of farming land that she and her husband owned for$ 600. 00 dollars. In order to understand why her mother did this it is important to recall that neither parent advocated farming as a viable profession for any of their children because it was such hard work. Today, her mother bemoans this decision since Beatrice is the one daughter who would be only too willing to farm the land, if her mother still owned it. Unfortunately, land with water rights has sky rocketed in price even more than other acreage in the Abiquiu area. The artist Georgia O’Keeffe brought fame to this valley with her paintings, and one unintended consequence of the 40 years she spent living here is that Abiquiu continues to draw very wealthy people to this land of astonishing natural beauty. Today, one acre of land with water rights might sell for as much as $150,000 thousand dollars, a price that few can afford. I am dismayed that the original inhabitants of this area have been priced out of buying land to farm unless they inherit it.

Although the little sign at the top of the hill names Abiquiu as a pueblo, strictly speaking the village is not generally recognized as one, at least by the surrounding Tewa speaking pueblo peoples. This is because this pueblo was settled by Genizaros, people of mixed heritage.

In the book that Beatrice’s uncle wrote and published about working for artist Georgia O’Keefe as a young boy/adult (The Genizaro and the Artist”), Nepoleon Garcia complained that people asked him repeatedly what it meant to be a Genizaro.

In order to give the word genizaro context it is important to know a little about the history of the Pueblo people in this area. After the pueblo revolt of 1680, in which the Pueblos successfully fended of the Spanish for 12 years, the Spanish finally took control of the land around the upper Rio Grande. Few are aware that the Plains’ Indians maintained an active Native American slave trade during this period. The Spaniards, colonists, and some Pueblos bought or traded children with the Plains Indians. These Native American women and children captured in warfare were converted to Catholicism, taught Spanish/English, and held in servitude by New Mexican families. Although the slaves were freed as adults most of these people chose to stay with their captors, since many had families already. However, some did leave and today, descendants of these people (who later intermarried with Spaniards), live in a few scattered villages in this region. One such village or pueblo is Abiquiu. The Genizaros of Abiquiu were the recipients of an official Land Grant of 16,000 acres given to the people by the Spanish governor in 1754, a grant that remains in effect today. The Genizaros have Navajo, Ute, Comanche, Kiowa, Pawnee, Apache and some Hopi Indian roots. Today the 300 year old villages are starting to tell their stories…

Beatrice is a Genizaro who is very proud of her Indian and Spanish roots. When I comment on her granddaughter’s curly black hair Beatrice tells me with pride that this is because of her Spanish heritage.

She is also a feminist who has no use for men who desert their women, wives, and children. She tells me proudly that when the pueblo burned (it burned three times in all) it was the women who rebuilt the homes. “Even today, the imprint of their hands can still be seen on the three foot thick walls” she states with pride.

Beatrice is very enthusiastic about educating her family into traditional ways. She listens carefully to the stories her mother tells her. When Beatrice lost her father more than ten years ago she said that “she didn’t know enough” to ask him about his experiences and regrets this loss of her family history. Beatrice is “not very religious” when referring to her Catholic affiliation but she was very upset when her daughter was not allowed to participate as a dancer at the Indigenous celebration last fall.

Abiquiu pueblo celebrates both its Indigenous and Spanish heritage with two festivals held each year. The Feast of Santo Tomas, is enacted every November to honor the Genizaros’ Indigenous roots, and specifically the children and young women who were sold into slavery. After Mass, drumming can be heard coming from inside the church. The church bells ring solemnly. Moments later the Santo appears carried by some of the men, and behind the saint, four young female dancers with red circles on their cheeks (to denote purity) accompanied by one male dancer appear in vibrant blood red Indian regalia that depicts the peoples’ anguish over the loss of these young women and children to slavery. These dancers move around the church and finish in the plaza. Periodically, a single gunshot can be heard. According to Giberto Benito Cordova’s folk history, the guns are fired to frighten away evil spirits that might be lurking around the church. After the traditional dances are over everyone is invited to a delicious meal at the home of one of the hosts. Traditional hot soup, Pozole, is served along with delicious cookies, Biscochitos, while live music is played by musicians on the guitar and violin. After lunch everyone is invited to dance in the ever expanding circle before guests depart, walking down the hill.

In August the people’s Spanish heritage is honored at the church ruins located about three miles from Abiquiu with the participants wending their way back to the church of Santo Tomas. The Feast of Santa Rosa de Lima is a time of celebration and the festivities go on all day.

According to its mission statement, The Library and Cultural Center was established “to provide resources for residents and neighboring communities to educate young people (and adults) about this region’s history and culture.” This group is also dedicated to protecting the land and water rights of Abiquiu pueblo. This organization is made up of Genizaros like Isabel Trujillo from the Pueblo and other dedicated folks from neighboring communities. It has done a wonderful job providing educational resources of all kinds, especially books about the history of this area, although it is totally dependent on grants for financial help. Cultural activities occur periodically at the library. Two recent examples come to mind. One was the presentation given by Beatrice’s brother, Rudy Garcia. Another was a book reading given by author and artist Sabra Moore. In the front of the library is a beautiful sculptured clay mosaic created by the children of Abiquiu with help from a talented artist and writer, Sabra Moore.

Beatrice is very honest about the difficulties that plague some of Abiquiu’s present population. She says some young people are leaving because they need jobs, and that theft and drugs are sometimes problems that afflict the pueblo. She expresses dismay over the fact that some people do not seem to care about their heritage.

Beatrice has a complaint about the Abiquiu Artists Tour that is held each fall in October. There are talented artists that live in Abiquiu pueblo that cannot afford the $250.00 fee required to participate in the Tour, and thus many Genizaros are left out of a community event that could bring some much needed income to the Pueblo.

Another grievance that Beatrice has is that during the tourist season many buses arrive everyday with people who are going to visit Georgia O Keeffe’s house at the northeastern edge of the plaza for a fee of 35.00 per person. Some of these people are very rude, wandering up the hills to people’s houses and taking pictures without asking permission. Having witnessed these infractions myself I wondered why the Georgia O’ Keeffe Foundation would permit such behavior. I believe that the pueblo of Abiquiu should be financially compensated for these continuous disruptions that plague the village, occurring over a period of about seven months a year, every year. Surely, Georgia O’Keeffe would approve of this idea, because during her lifetime she brought water into people’s homes, built a gymnasium, and used her money in other ways to help the people of Abiquiu without trying to change them.

One afternoon Beatrice and I drove up through Abiquiu so that I could see the whole pueblo without being intrusive. I was very grateful to have this opportunity because the scenery is stunning. Abiquiu is nestled in between two mesas, with a creek running in between. The sense I have is that the village evolved as an extension of these juniper tipped mountains, with modest houses, and some trailers tucked into the hillside. I was very curious to learn about the Pentitentes, or the Brothers of Light who practiced prayer especially during Holy Week in the Morada del Alto, a church – like structure that sits alone on one of the hills overlooking the Chama valley. This organization is connected to the Catholic Church, but also functions separately from Santo Tomas.

I learned from reading The Genizaro and the Artist that just after Christianity came to Abiquiu, there were not enough priests to officiate and that the Brothers of Light became servants of the church performing Rosaries for the dead, preparing burial plots, assisting grieving families, and caring for widows and orphans. They also performed marriages and baptisms. Today, the mission of the Brothers is to help the people of Abiquiu in times of need and to pray for them. Beatrice told me that inside the Morada there is a frightening doll -like figure called Madre de Muerto (Mother of Death) who has real human hair and who terrified her the one time she saw it.

Early in December the hood of a car fell on Beatrice’s hand breaking some bones. She could not drive and told me that without the support of her husband and family she didn’t know how she would have managed.

“My life is not my own” she quipped the last time I saw her, laughing, but we both knew she spoke the truth. Beatrice’s Life is inextricably woven into the tapestry of her extended family and her culture, and there are endless responsibilities associated with both that Beatrice takes very seriously. Whenever she has the time to spend with me I am grateful, for indeed we have a lot in common, and I continue to be delighted by her very active mind and practical wisdom, her effervescent personality, and her generosity of spirit. With people like Beatrice carrying on both family and cultural history, and organizations like the library, I feel confident that Abiquiu will be able to move forward into a future that allows for self sufficiency, creativity, and as a community that engenders hope because its present culture is still intact. My one prayer for Beatrice is that someday she and her husband will own their own land, and Beatrice can follow her dream of growing her own food as she once did as a child.

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