The Faces of Old Town
by Emma Moya
In the 1930's, I was one of several hundred Spanish-speaking students at Old Town public school in Old Albuquerque. The school's contradictory policies always bothered me. In class some non-Hispanic teachers told us that we should not speak our language in school. On the other hand, we were allowed to learn --four times a month-- Spanish music taught by Vicente Gallego, "El Profesor."
Our second-grade teacher, Mrs. Winkler, would assign me to stand on a bench after Don Vicente finished his lesson. I was told to repeat each word written by Don Vicente on the black board and "reteach" the words to the students. We were told, indirectly, that our language was okay, at other times not okay, to be spoken among each other while we were on the school grounds. To complicate matters further, we had begun to speak American English among ourselves at home. However, this was not done in the presence of our abuelitos. When we did so, we were scolded and forbidden to speak inglés. They seemingly always knew what we spoke in their lengua extraña. I had learned to read and write in español before entering kindergarten. Our language impressed me. It was as if each word, when spoken, gave birth and life. We learned to shape our communications with each other, mixing both languages.
Pueblo people always stopped in Old Town to chat with their compadres. It was common for Pueblo and Hispanic folks to act as baptismal sponsers to their children. Don Tomas Montoya, father of the late Sen Joseph M. Montoya and our abuelo, Frederico, from Corrales, would communicate in Tewa, Kares, Diné and other native languages. Abuelito was not allowed to view Kiva ceremonies when he visited a Pueblo with Abuelita at trading and bartering times. Once an Isleta Pueblo elder came to our home to sell harina de maíz azul. The kind man asked me in Spanish, "¿Eres tú Mechicano?" I nodded my head, realizing that this word "mechicano" was acceptable in the Old Town area where we lived, a few yards from the Old Town Plaza. In later years the word, I suppose, was shortened to "Chicano" during the 1960's and 1970's.
The word Chicano was bastardized. While I found it convenient to refer to myself as a "Mechicana," I am not comfortable with the half word Chicano, even though it may and does have a reference in an 1847 Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty map. "Chicana" is written on one place on the map. It refers to a place and not an identity. Racial distinction was not contingent on racial classification. It was more a color and a class distinction. Some pobres in Old Town acknowledged Native ancestral blood. The elite were members of the Old Town Historical Society.
At 12 years of age, I was hired by Julia Bottger de Gallegos to help serve tea and bizcochitos at her mansion, located one block south of Old Town Plaza. Bottger called the elite group "The Aristocrats." The ladies wore large hats and expensive clothes. The men were attorneys and businessmen. Among the group were several historians and artifact collectors. This exposure helped me to realize that Old Town was comprised of several classes.
Members who called themselves Spanish had researched their families in both Spain and Portugal. One family had roots in Old Mexico. Others were born in Spain or were not racially mixed with genízaro or Pueblo blood.
Middle-class women wore beautiful hats and clothing. Most were handcrafted by sastres of La Plaza Vieja. Almost each household had one person who sewed and designed clothes for special occasions, including First Holy Communion, wedding and dancing costumes for young girls and boys. The Armijo families in the 1800s classified themselves as españoles mexicanos, an identification with both Mexico and Spain. Laborers were called peones. During festivals at the church, all classes mixed as they did during elections and other special occasions. The church's men's society in 1950 was comprised of an editor, several attorneys, two judges, a Bernalillo County sheriff, painters, laborers and artisans--a group of more than 40. Las Premicias was collected yearly. Contributions of produce, money and other items were recorded by a special mayordomo assigned to record the donation of the "first fruits."
Racial classification at Old Town School was not contingent on true genetic classification. If you were light-skinned, you were called Spanish-American. If you had medium-colored skin, you were given the possiblity of having a bit of Spanish. When your skin was dark, you were considered Native American or Mexican. Other features had variable degrees of interpretation. A young man who had slightly feminine traits was said to be "medio" o "poco," again a reference to degrees of exhibited traits or manerisms. The word zurumato, denoting a person from south of the border (from Zuruma, Mexico) was used derogatorily. It was also common for folks born in Mexico to call us manitos. When angry, the word cursiento was added. This is how we dealt with cultural animosities that were part of our lives. The word American was used by elders who referred to a non-Hispanic. I seldom heard the word gringo used. Families who were part Hispanic and part European, German or English descent were called coyotes.
Our amalgamated community provided an ethnic-education arena, where we could identify with many cultures. In 1900, Albuquerque was comprised of several ethnic groups. For some unknown reason Native Americans were not included, nor Jews, even though some of the families lived inside Hispanic communities: Hispanics 476; Germans 217; Blacks 155; Canadians 123; English 98; Irish 92; Italians 76; French 47; Chinese 43; Mexicans 40; Swedish 38; Scottish 32.
16 La Herencia / 2000