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Our History Comfort Zones

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

Excerpt from November 14, 2021, Cultural History Series Event. View the entire conversation on the CHART Santa Fe YouTube channel.


The first survey question that CHART posed was: How do we come to a fuller understanding of the history of Santa Fe? We spent a lot of time on that word – fuller - because it seemed to us that a lot of us have a certain view of history of the city, but maybe not the whole picture. What's your perspective on that, do we need to step outside our history comfort zone?


Yes, we do need to step out of our comfort zone. A fuller understanding of history to me also means a broader understanding and a deeper understanding. And to gain that we all must have open eyes, open minds, open hearts. And we need to get out of our comfort zone because it's our comfort zones, I think, that can create problems because it keeps us from having empathy. We need to have empathy for people who aren't in our comfort zone. A comfort zone is a great place to be if it’s just you. But history here in Santa Fe, and here in the state of New Mexico, is about all of us. It's about everybody. So, I think we need to do just that, which is get out of those things that make us happy and feel good about history because that's not what history is for. It's not supposed to make us happy or feel good. It’s supposed to teach us. History is a teacher and we're the students, so that deeper way of looking at it is something we all need to work on. I mean, we were talking earlier about how there was a Native American name for this area before Santa Fe was named La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís. Well, that's a matter of having a fuller understanding of our history here, and going deeper, that we're not just one kind of people with one kind of history and that history goes back before 1610, it goes back before 1608 here in this area. There's centuries of history and culture, and people, our fellow New Mexicans who still live with us.


When I think of a fuller understanding, I must bring into some other dynamics and bring in other realms that shouldn't be forgotten and that’s starting with something like cultural migration and origin stories. It's tremendously important. There's a lot of history that's contained in traditional ecological knowledge. It took hundreds of thousands of years for people to learn how to communicate with nature, how to use the plants, how to live within the means of the day to day living so that ethnobotany, geology, artifacts, those can tell a story about how people once lived and what the environment was like in those days. We tend to forget that humans were scientists they were observers for a long, long time and they recorded special historic significant events, have recordings of the cosmos and pictographs and petroglyphs and that's yet another element that we should not forget in our history.

When I also think of a fuller perspective, there are perspectives that are missing. And it's not just women who are missing from that fuller perspective it's slaves, it's folks that were coming into Nuevo Mexico hundreds of thousands of years ago to trade. And can you imagine all those people when they’re speaking different languages, and they're coming together and they weren't just communicating oral history, they were telling stories they were telling legends, lived experiences they were sharing fashion. They were talking about their latest invention and how to make a recipe for chocolate better or whatnot. Right? And they weren't using one language. They were using theater and dance and music. They were drawing pictures. They were communicating in other ways that we forget. And it's not just the oral history that's been passed down with all these nuances and cultural knowledge but all of that should be brought to a fuller understanding.


I like what Valerie was saying about looking at history from different perspectives. I mean, yes, women, slaves, the marginalized and also looking at different disciplines. Even as a historian, looking at anthropology archaeology, sociology, ethno- ethnic studies, these are all part of a bigger picture that helps us to get a fuller understanding of history and of ourselves. If we don't do that, we're really limiting ourselves. We're limiting our perspective and our views, and we need to remember when we look at a book that we don't agree with that helps us broaden our perspective. We need to realize that there are voices in historical documents. We just need to look deeper. Women are there, they're suing men who are abusing them. They're buying and selling land and animals. There are wills, where we learn the kinds of lives that they lived. But we must search for this stuff because it's not always going to jump out at us, but they're there.

The other point I want to make is, if we decide to go beyond our comfort zone, we're not erasing our history, we're not getting rid of our culture, we're just adding to it, adding what's already there, things that we need to just acknowledge and embrace. It's our heritage. It's our history here in New Mexico. New Mexico is a multiracial multicultural place. We don't lose anything by saying, oh, you know, there's this Spanish past here but there's a Mexican past too. In fact, our Spanish past comes from Mexico, and that doesn't erase our Spanish past it just helps us to understand it a little better that, wow, this is a journey these people took from Spain and North Africa to Mexico up the Camino Real following trails that were already blazed by Native Americans before the Spanish came. Or the Americans on the Santa Fe Trail, there are already Native Americans crisscrossing the North American continent for centuries, so we need to understand that and that just helps us get a deeper understanding. It doesn't erase the Santa Fe Trail, or the Camino Rael. It just helps us understand that a lot of people contributed to making us who we are today.

State Historian Rob Martinez is a native New Mexican born and raised in Albuquerque. He's a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a BBA in International Business Management. Rob then went on to pursue his interest in New Mexican culture and history at UNM earning an MA in Latin American History with an emphasis on church, cultural and social practices of the Spanish colonial period in New Mexico.

Valerie Rangel is an alumna of the University of New Mexico, where she earned a Bachelor of University Studies that carried a concentration in Freshwater's Studies and Cultural Anthropology. She also graduated from the Master of Community Regional Planning program, where she majored in natural resources and environmental planning, concentrating course work in Indigenous Planning, with a minor in public health. Valerie has worked as an archivist for the New Mexico Records Center, and archives where she digitally archived Spanish land grants oversized maps and civil war muster roles. She also conducted historical research and contributed historical essays for the New Mexico Office of the State Historian.

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