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Lessons from my roots

My past helps me better appreciate how cultures can mix, says Edward Baca

Like millions of others of Latino origin in the United States, I speak Spanish and am a direct descendant of someone who migrated north from Mexico. One of my ancestors, Captain Cristóbal Baca and his wife, doña Ana Ortiz y Pacheco, journeyed up El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road of the Interior, from Mexico City to Santa Fe, in 1600.

Except for a 12-year hiatus in the 1600s, members of my father’s family have resided in what is now the southwestern United States for 410 years. My mother’s Hispanic roots don’t go quite as far back. Her oldest ancestor, Cristóbal de Torres, was the first of his clan born in New Mexico in 1642!

The story of how my Hispanic forefathers got to New Mexico was truly exciting, but not as exciting as what took place after they arrived.

They were by no means bluebloods or aristocrats. If they were, they would have stayed within the comfortable confines of Madrid or Mexico City. They reached their destination northern New Mexico several years before the first English colonists dropped anchor on the East Coast, and the survival challenges that they faced were as daunting as those endured by their Anglo counterparts at Jamestown and Plymouth.

And, shamefully, they were equally guilty in the mistreatment of the native Indian populations that they came in contact with. That said, there was still a great deal of intermarrying with the Indians.

Around the time of the Civil War, the mestizo blood on both my father and mother’s sides of my family underwent massive transfusions. Three of my great-grandfather’s – Phillip Bourguignon from Darmstadt, Germany; Samuel Zimmerly from Switzerland; and Richard Stackpole, from County Limerick, Ireland – were young immigrants lured into the Army and posted at Ft. Craig, N.M. As their enlistments expired, each chose to stayin the region and work at such jobs as Indian Scout, miller, and miner.

All raised large families in Socorro County, N.M., and within one generation, were assimilated. Into the general culture of the area, which was predominantly Spanish speaking and Roman Catholic. For example, when my maternal grandparents, Ricardo Zimmerly and Eloisa Stackpole, married on Feb. 26, 1900, the entry in the San Miguel parish records was made in Spanish.

Those familiar with the history of New Mexico know that this story is very typical for the many thousands of native New Mexicans of Hispanic ancestry who may or may not have a Hispanic surname. Regardless, they are inextricably linked by a common culture and language while still equally at home with the mainstream culture and language of their county of birth.

Some first-time visitors to New Mexico, and most certainly the current breed of nativists and xenophobes, cannot appreciate the value that bilingualism and biculturalism adds to society as a whole.

As a longtime tennis fan, when I see Roger Federer effortlessly address the crowd in French while receiving the men’s single’s trophy at Roland Garros, then speak in equally flawless English when accepting the championship cup at Wimbledon, I cannot help but feel that these skills are priceless.

My past helps me better appreciate how cultures can mix, says Edward Baca.[Dallas Independent School District] campus administrator greeting a 16-year-old English as a second language student who had just come from the rancho in Coahuila, or when I talked to a nurse at Baylor Hospital newly arrived from Manila, or when I visit with the Pakistani owner of the dry cleaners I patronize. I look for chances to treat such people with dignity regardless of their appearance, accent, or citizenship status, be.cause when I see them, I see Cristóbal Baca and Richard Stackpole – and, ultimately, myself.

Ed Baca is a resident of Santa Fe.

This piece was first published in 2010 in The Dallas Morning News.

Photo: Richard Stackpole and Maria Elisia Torres de Stackpole who were married on July 26, 1877 in Socorro. Courtesy of Ed Baca.

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