ASC class experiences richness of SLV Hispanic heritage


student holds lamb

Maribelia Avalos '06 holds one of Marvin Muniz's Churro lambs.

Students in Adams State's Spanish of the Southwest class understood when LeRoy Salazar spoke of Hispanic hospitality; they had just experienced it first-hand.

The class was taught by Michelle Salazar, visiting assistant professor of Spanish and LeRoy's wife. She arranged a June 15 field trip for her summer class to explore and learn about the San Luis Valley and the Hispanic heritage. Her sister-in-law, Loretta Mitson, met the class in Manassa and took them on an afternoon adventure through high winds, across rabbit and sage brush, and over rocks to taste Churro lamb ribs, experience de Vargas' flight back to Santa Fe, and get close and personal to petroglyphs.

Michelle Salazar said students in the linguistics course are required to read articles about the history of the Southwest and learn the characteristics that differentiate the region's dialect.

"There is an existing myth that the local Hispanics speak sixteenth-century Spanish," she said. "Most early settlers moved from northern New Mexico after being there for hundreds of years in relative isolation. The dialect has maintained some archaic forms associated with rural places (truje, naiden) and developed other innovative forms (estabanos)."

michelle salazar holds lamb

Michelle Salazar organized a field trip for her Spanish of the Southwest class.

The class focuses on the history of the settlements of the area and the sociocultural issues that led to the current relationship between the languages of the southwest.

"We study the history of the Spanish language unique to the valley," Michelle said. "One example is 'code switching,' a term used when a person speaks interchanging two languages, like Spanish and English."

She said studies have shown that the ability to move in and out of more than one language when speaking is a trait in people who have mastered both languages, not the result of a lack of acquisition.

The students are required to do their own research project either by interviews or listening to the radio.

"The radio station, 99.1, out of Taos, New Mexico, is a great example of celebrating a local dialect," Michelle said. "It validates who they are, and people need to celebrate that."

Although English is now the dominate language and Spanish the minority language, it was Spanish that predominated for 200 years before English arrived.

Michelle said she believes education systems need to honor the home language of students, while developing pedagogy that helps them bidialectally, so they have access to academic register also.

"We cannot ask students to change the color of their skin, but we regularly expect them to speak differently the minute they walk through our doors," Michelle said. "Students are more likely to succeed if we accept the way they speak."

Marvin Muniz's sheep farm

Alfonso Castillo '07 was born and raised in Alamosa, and his parents were born in Mexico. He is majoring in history and Spanish and seeking secondary education licensure. He said he took Spanish in the Southwest because it is a significant part of the local history.

"It is important for students, and myself, to learn more about the southwest culture and to preserve the culture of this area," Castillo said.

Others in the class hailed originally from Mexico, California, New Mexico, Colorado, and the San Luis Valley.

The first stop for the field trip was Marvin Muniz's sheep farm. He raises the same breed of sheep, Churros, that was first brought over by the Spaniards to clothe and feed the explorers.

class eats lamb ribs

Spanish of the Southwest students gather round Marvin Muniz's table for lamb ribs.

"Antonito was built and prospered because of the sheep industry," Mitson said.

Muniz brought a couple of the younger lambs over for the class to handle, pointed out some of his prize winning sheep, and explained the history of Churros and the use of their wool and meat. He then treated the class to lamb ribs and heart and kidneys sauteed with onion.

"Some of these ewes and rams have won blue ribbons at shows," Muniz said. "My flock is all natural."

Sam Armijo, a Spanish teacher at Alamosa High School, took the summer class to enrich his knowledge and pass that along to his students.

"I wanted to learn about this history to bring back to my high school students,"Armijo said. "I've been a Spanish teacher for fifteen years, and have recently started teaching the History of the Southwest."

sheep herd and lama

Marvin Muniz keeps a llama among his sheep to protect them.

Mitson's next stop was the King Mine, which, according to Zuni legend, is where turquoise man and old salt woman got their turquoise to bring to the mine near Cerillos, New Mexico. "Although the mine was first discovered by Anglos in the 1890s, there is evidence the Native people used this mine for thousands of years," Mitson said. "In fact, in the early 1900s the miners were tunneling and down came baskets, pottery, and other miscellaneous Native items. The turquoise mined here is prized by traders for its high quality."

De Vargas first stop at Rio Grande

The class moved on to a point overlooking the Rio Grande and learned about Diego de Vargas, who was appointed the Governor of New Mexico in 1690.

According to Mitson, de Vargas and his men needed to cross the Rio Grande and get to the west side of the river. She took the class to their first stop where the Rio de Culebra emptied from Culebra Peak into the Rio Grande in early Spanish times. It no longer flows that far because of irrigation, but at that time they were both deep and fast flowing rivers, especially in early summer, when the Spanish were trying to ford the rivers.

The students stood on a plateau while Mitson explained how de Vargas detoured through the San Luis Valley trying to get back to Santa Fe.

Miston talks of de vargas.

Despite high winds the ASC Spanish of the Southwest class learns about the Hispanic heritage in the SLV.

The New Mexico territory had been free of the Spanish for fourteen years, after the Natives drove them back to Texas in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. It was de Vargas who wanted to reclaim New Mexico. He and his men re-conquered Santa Fe in 1693 but by summer had no food, and it was too early in the season to harvest. De Vargas tried diplomatic means to relate to the Natives.

He took 100 mules and as many men and started north to the pueblos to negotiate for food. He arrived at the first pueblo only to find the people had fled to the mountains to avoid trading or dealing with the Spanish. He and his team traveled to the Taos Pueblo, only to find the same result.

De Vargas had his men go into all the homes and take the corn from the previous year, but they did not disturb the present crop. For three days, they stayed and shucked the corn for easier transport. The San Juan Pueblo Indians who were his guides told him the Taos Pueblo Indians were sending smoke signals and planned to ambush his party on their return.

In order to avoid the ambush, de Vargas led his troop further north into what is now known as the San Luis Valley.

"They soon realized they couldn't cross where the two rivers met," Mitson said. "Their San Juan Tewa guides led them further south where the Rio Grande was divided by an island and therefore was crossable."

mitson explains de vargas crossing rio grande

Loretta Mitson explains how de Vargas crossed the Rio Grande.

The class returned to the van and drove to the place where de Vargas crossed the river.

De Vargas crossing on the Rio Grande

"This is an important spot," Mitson said. "If they had been unable to cross here and get back to Santa Fe, this area might not be what it is today. At the time, the French were scouting throughout and may have settled the San Luis Valley had de Vargas not made it."

A ferry was later built at the same spot on the Rio Grande.

"It was the only crossing point north of Espanola," Mitson said.

At the former crossing, students examined fragments of pottery and arrowhead flakes, as well as petroglyphs.

Just east of the Lobatos Bridge, Mitson led the class to an area used as a camping spot for many summers.

remains of rock shelter

Loretta Mitson and class stand in what remains of an old rock shelter.

"In this area you will find many large boulders the Natives used for grinding seeds and grains," Mitson said, as she pointed out bedrock metates. She then walked further to a sandy spot surrounded by rocks.

"We are standing on the remnant of a rock shelter," Mitson said. "We like to camp in a beautiful spot, and so did the nomadic Utes. They would make temporary shelters piling rocks around a sandy or cleared area and then pile brush on top of the rocks."

The next stop for the class was right alongside the Lobatos Bridge.

Mitson pointed out more petroglyphs, including one of a lizard just north of the bridge.

"I was looking for petroglyphs and spotted a live lizard," Mitson said. "Then the lizard moved off his spot, and I saw a petroglyph of a lizard."

Many of the students started picking up old shards of glass from the bank of the river.

"The purple glass shards predate the first world war," Mitson said. "You can see the remains of a foundation. We know a family by the name of Mondragon lived here and was employed by the state to monitor the Rio Grande flow."

Throughout the San Luis Valley there are abandoned homes. Many are adobe dwellings with only the walls remaining, however some of them were once very fancy, two stories, wall paper, etc.

"Before electricity, people would build a home anywhere, as long as water was readily available," Mitson said. "After certain towns, like Manassa, had electric lines put in, people abandoned their homes and moved into town."

Kiowa Peak

The class then drove by Kiowa Peak, where the last known Indian skirmish between the Utes and the Kiowa Apache occurred in the 1870s. Around that time, the Utes of the San Luis Valley were being forced onto reservations.

Amy Van Dyck '07 is a Spanish Elementary Education major with roots in Colombia.

"I think the field trip connects everything we have been learning in class. I believe much we learned today could not be taught in a classroom," Van Dyck said. "As a student, you don't always remember what you are lectured about in class, but I do not think I will forget what we learned on this trip."

Salazar's House

Everyone was pleased to exit the vans and enter the home of Michelle and LeRoy Salazar in Los Rincones. Laid out on their dining room table were sumptuous dishes of shredded beef, fresh vegetables, and fruit, along with cold drinks.

leroy salazar talks to class

LeRoy Salazar talks to students about growing up Hispanic on a ranch in the San Luis Valley.

Speaking in Spanish, LeRoy related his memories of growing up Hispanic in the area and what life was like at that time.

His great grandfather, Francisco, settled in the San Luis Valley in the mid 1880s.

"I thought there were only two kinds of people, whites and Hispanics," LeRoy said. "We didn't have a television because electricity did not arrive until 1981. And I was only exposed to the people in this area."

His father wanted all his sons to become priests and sent them to a Franciscan seminary school in Ohio when they reached the ninth grade.

"Then I realized there was a much larger world," LeRoy said. "I believe in the last twenty years I've seen a lot of changes and more acceptance among people. My father always told us we were as good as anyone else and you can be anything you want."

LeRoy's younger brothers, John and Ken, are both members of the US Congress. LeRoy currently serves on the Adams State College Board of Trustees.

"I don't remember many Hispanic role models in medicine or politics," LeRoy said. "That has changed greatly. My father preached hard work, tolerance, family and faith and education as the key to do well in the community."

He said speaking two languages opened doors for him professionally.

"I am very proud of my heritage," LeRoy said. "I have worked throughout the world because I am bilingual."

LeRoy and Michelle's home is within a stone's throw of the home of Emma Salazar, matriarch of the family.

"We never left home without the blessing (la bendicion) from an elder," LeRoy said. "When you leave home with a blessing, you accept the elders have sent you off to return safely and accept the responsibility to do so.

"I believe in the Hispanic culture you are always offered something when you enter a home," LeRoy said. "It is a very hospitable culture."

Manuelita Quintana '06 is a business administration major and minors in Spanish and English.

"My language was handed down orally by my grandparents who raised me and who only spoke Spanish," Quintana said. "I took this class because I believe our heritage is of great value."

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By Linda Relyea