Road Trip: Books for New Mexico

The Great American Road Trip

Destination: New Mexico

Book: The Guardians: A Novel
s (2007) by Ana Castillo

Ana Castillo

In The Guardians, her latest book, New Mexican writer Ana Castillo captures what it is like to live along the border between old Mexico and New Mexico.

We tend to pay passing attention to TV news crawls and we catch phrases like “drug cartel”, “Juarez kidnappings,” “gang war,” “death of undocumented immigrants in the desert.”  Castillo tells the story of people steeped in their Mexican roots and the reality of daily and sometimes deadly life beneath those headlines. She has an ear for dialogue that perfectly captures the speech sometimes referred to as Spanglish, that you will hear on your New Mexico road trip.

Castillo first drew widespread attention with So Far From God (from the Mexican saying, “Poor Mexico, so close to the United States and so far from God.”). That book, published in 1994  was named a New York Times Notable Book. Castillo publishes both novels and poetry, most concerned with the life of  Chicanas or Chicanos. A quote on her site says “Hispanic as the ethnic label for all people who reside in the U.S. with some distant connection with the culture brought by the Spaniards during the conquest of the Americas is a gross misnomer.”

Kerry Dexter talks about New Mexican musicians Tish Hinojosa and Robert Mirabal over at Music Road. Take a look at her lyrical description of Taos  and music for the Road Trip.

New Mexico

New Mexico offers the traveler stunning landscapes that rise from desert in the south to ski resorts in the mountainous north.  It’s history stretches from Clovis Man (the first tool maker site discovered in the States) through the old Spanish capitol of Santa Fe to the development of atomic power and solar arrays. The road trip through New Mexico is endlessly varied.

The people of New Mexico are similarly varied. Hispanic (there are still people who claim pure Spanish blood), Mexican, Anglo, American Indian (principally Apache, many Pueblo peoples and Navajo). Like parts of Texas and half of Arizona, the land belonged to Spain or Mexico for so long that it feels only accidently American.

So in searching my bookshelves for representatives of New Mexico, I could not narrow it down to one. Here is an Anglo woman who shares much with Castillo–political activism, facility in prose and poetry, plus she is a photographer.

Margaret Randall

Book: My Town: A Memoir of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in Poems, Prose and Photographs
(October 2010)
by Margaret Randall

I have written about Margaret Randall before, with her book about Easter Island, and have read her memoir of experiences in Castro’s early years in Cuba. My Town, her newest book, focuses on Albuquerque, her home town. She returned there after many years of traveling to countries with revolutions and living abroad and then a battle with the U. S. over her citizenship.

I have spent quite a bit of time in Albuquerque, and like the way that Randall presents it in this book. It is a beautiful book that introduces many nooks and crannies of Albuquerque that you might otherwise miss. Since this is Randall, it also presents political commentary on the large events of her life. As John Nichols, author of the Beanfield Wars says in the introduction: “There are poems to petroglyphs and sopaipillas, Juárez bullfights, atomic bombs and conquistadors, old-time movies theaters and a fear of being gay.”

People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that this land’s history started when the Spanish arrived. Had Margaret Randall been around in the 17th century, she would no doubt have joined the Pueblo Rebellion. When the Spanish settled, the people of the Pueblos tried to adapt, but eventually rebelled in America’s first bloody revolution.

Book: Po’pay: Leader of the First American Revolution
, (2005) ed. by Joe S. Sando and Herman Agoyo

While I was researching information about Quincy Tahoma, Navajo artist who attended Santa Fe Indian School, I was fortunate to talk to Joe Sando.  Sando, from Jemez Pueblo, is the foremost historian of the Pueblo peoples, so I was more than happy to learn from him, and knew that I would learn more from this book which compiles essays from many Pueblo scholars and leaders.

Po’Pay was a charismatic leader of the Pueblo people, and it was he who led the 1680 rebellionWashington DC 091against the Spanish clergy and soldiers who had arrived uninvited to dominate Nuevo Mexico. Not content to get the native people to attend their churches and work in the fields around their settlements, the Spanish destroyed hundreds of sacred items from Pueblo religion. Now the Pueblans blend religions, observing Catholic rituals, but still holding their Kiva ceremonies and ancient dances.

Every state puts two statues in the capitol in Washington, D.C., and Po’Pay, his likeness carved by an American Indian artist, stands as one of those to represent New Mexcio. The other statue is of Dennis Chavez, the first Hispanic in this country  to be elected to the United States Senate, but Po’pay’s story is the dramatic one.

All three of these books make excellent additions to a traveler’s library. Whether you choose one of these books, or dip into all three, (all are relatively small books), I encourage you to get acquainted with the marvelous variety of New Mexico.

Which of these books would you like to have on your own travel bookshelf? Which do you think would add the most to your road trip through New Mexico?

You might also like to read earlier posts about the Borderlands

Cinco de Mayo and the American Southwest

Travel of a Desperate Sort

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

4 thoughts on “Road Trip: Books for New Mexico

  1. I <3 Albuquerque and Santa Fe. My wife and I explored the turquoise trail a few years ago, and intend on returning. Thanks for sharing! I will have to check out Randall's "My Town…" -r

  2. While I have no quarrel with pictures of authors–or even statues–what I really want to see are pictures of places. And when the place is as varied and gorgeous as New Mexico, how ’bout whetting our appetite with snapshots?

    1. Thanks for the comment Susan. I think you’re very fair to ask for pictures of place. I have lots of photos of Albuquerque and some of northern New Mexico, so I could put a few up there.

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