|Academic Programs Events Calendar Our Library Contact Us Photo Album|
The Santa Fe Trail: In Search of the Multiracial WestChican@ and Latin@ Studies 330, June 2005
A photo essay from a CLS-sponsored course
Photographs taken by Leah Mirakhor and León-Carlos Miranda.
Tuesday, May 31:
Thursday, June 2:
Friday, June 3: (written by Maria Bibbs)
The memorial, which includes a mural local high school students painted, was not the product of business interests, but was a grassroots effort of North St. Louis residents with a stake in recovering their neighborhood’s history. “We usually don’t think of history as a way to empower people in a direct way, but with this Mary Meachum project, North St. Louis community leaders have done so,” said Hurley.
After the bus tour students visited the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott case was tried, and the Museum of Westward Expansion. Students were especially glad to see St. Louis through new eyes and drew similarities between the city with a complicated regional identity and their own knowledge of modern urbanization in Madison.
Saturday, June 4: (written by Maria Bibbs)
At Tahlequah, Oklahoma’s Cherokee Heritage Center students got a glimpse of several of the Cherokee Nation’s rich cultural traditions and early social infrastructure. The museum’s tour guide enthusiastically dispelled myths about American Indian life by engaging students in several role playing scenarios where the men hunt, the women cook, and everyone plays stickball. After the tour, Cherokee Nation Chief, Chad Smith, gave the group an update on the community’s contemporary political interests. One of the most critical issues, Smith said, was the Nation’s effort to sustain the language for future generations. “The vessel of the culture is its language,” Smith said.
Next, the group stopped at one of the U.S.’s last remaining historically black towns, Rentiesville, OK. These rural settlements were established by African American “exodusters” seeking sanctuary after emancipation. “I’m about to take you down to the cut,” said tour guide Cassandra Gaines. The group shared a moment of heart stopping astonishment upon seeing the letters “KKK” etched on the town’s Civil War memorial celebrating the contributions of African American soldiers. After reconvening to discuss the issue, they moved on to the Down Home Blues club to hear renowned bluesman D.C. Minner. With silver rings lined up to his knuckles, Minner strummed both the hits and original material giving the class a lesson in music history that they could dance to. While we were finishing the last dance, lightning was illuminating the night sky like dropping bombs. We were caught in the middle of one of the plains region’s trademark thunderstorms.
Sunday, June 5: (written by Maria Bibbs)
Monday, June 6: (written by Ryan Quintana)
Braving several of nature’s obstacles including fire-ants, snakes, and heat and humidity that never visit Madison, Professor Brown led the class to the Levi Jordan Plantation in Brazoria County and presented his findings. There the students learned about the harsh reality of enforced labor on a sugar plantation. As slaves and as tenant farmers, the African American community on the Levi Jordan plantation, usually numbering around 144 souls, toiled in extreme conditions most of the year, six days a week, from sunup to sundown. Brown’s research has revealed that despite these harsh conditions, they created a culture that thrived within the slave quarters. Reflecting Afro-Christianity, West African cultures and religions, and the Gullah and Geeche cultures of the Atlantic coast, the materials that Professor Brown has uncovered reveal a complex social world that connected the Africans and African Americans that inhabited the Jordan plantation to the cultural world of their ancestors and the Afro Atlantic Diaspora.
The class trekked through the overgrown brush that now covers the site of twenty-six slave cabins—a site where slaves laughed and worked, wept and prayed. Words cannot describe the emotions that many of the students felt as they stood on this now sacred site. Many of the students who are descendants of African American slaves dealt with the emotional realization that they were standing on the site where their ancestors labored, loved, and lived. Others reflected on the reality of life as a slave on a sugar plantation. The heat, fire-ants, and snakes made our own journey a difficult one; however, to contemplate the daily lives of slaves and the worlds that they constructed within these conditions was overwhelming for many on the trip.
Later that day the class moved on to the Varner-Hogg plantation. A smaller sugar plantation than the Jordan site, the Varner-Hogg plantation was transformed in the twentieth century into a romanticized celebration of Southern plantation life. Unlike the Jordan site, this shrine to Southern history purposefully obscured the presence of slaves who made up the majority of the land’s population. Indeed, many students were shocked with the stark difference between the two plantations. Nonetheless, this site allowed the students on this journey to begin the process of understanding the violence of plantation slavery and its connection to the racism of the twentieth century and today. Ultimately, the journey to the plantations reminded the students that this trip is not only educational but emotional. In order to uncover the multiracial West they must not only be willing to confront many of the nation’s most difficult historical moments, but must also struggle through the various feelings that inevitably accompany such a journey.
Tuesday, June 7:
In the afternoon, we headed for Corpus Christi, and Prof. Marquez gave us some background on the Mexican American civil rights movement while we made the trip. We were greeted in Corpus by the local media, who were curious to hear why a group of students had come so far to visit their town. Ramiro Chavez, a local activist, taught us about local civil rights legend Dr. Hector P. Garcia, and gave us a tour of the town, pointing out important sites in Dr. Garcia's life.
(written by Ryan Quintana)
Dr. Garcia, a World War II veteran, was the founder of the American G. I. Forum, a Mexican American civil rights groups that struggled for Hispanics’ equal protection under the law. After the war, Garcia found that many Mexican Americans who fought in the war faced incredible discrimination. Using his financial resources, charisma and passion, Garcia mobilized the civil rights efforts of the post-war Mexican American community in Corpus Christi. Garcia is idolized in this city, where Mexican Americans constitute more than half of the population. For many of the students on our trip, the hagiography of Garcia and its subsequent iconography made no sense and seemed somewhat excessive.
However, the morning before we arrived in Corpus Christi, we visited Houston’s historic 3rd Ward, a predominantly working-class African American community. Facing many of the problems that other similar communities face, the 3rd Ward has been recently transformed by Rick Lowe, a local artist, who has turned much of the area into a living sculpture that is now called Project Row Houses. Created in 1992 as a way to revitalize the community by providing young mothers with homes, offering scholarships, and inviting world-renowned artists into the community—all without sacrificing the community’s character and affordability to gentrification—Project Row Houses works to retain the original beauty and character of the neighborhood while simultaneously reinvigorating it with new energy.
Words cannot describe the hope that this project filled our bus with. As we explored the shotgun houses that filled the neighborhood’s blocks, you could imagine each person in our group begin to ask themselves, “How can we make our space into a sculpture?” “How can we do this and more?” These feelings accompanied us as we traveled to Corpus Christi. And while many on the bus did not know of Dr. Hector Garcia before we arrived, the history we learned about in Corpus Christi reflected the same hopes and efforts present in Houston’s Project Row Houses.
In Madison, we are distanced from the struggles that many impoverished Americans suffer through each day. From our safe distance, those struggles can seem abstract, isolated, and even simplistic. The experiences that many of us shared in Houston and Corpus Christi, I think, began the process of transforming that perspective. This trip and these experiences have opened our eyes to the multiple ways that people give shape and meaning to their worlds and how they transform and improve them. Mainly, I think it not only opened our eyes and hearts, but it pushed us all to strive for something similar, something more.
Wednesday, June 8:
Thursday, June 9: (written by Mark Goldberg)
After lunch in San Antonio, we headed for El Paso. On the drive, Prof. Marquez continued his lecture on the Chicano Movement and we watched two films, "I Am Joaquin" and "Lonestar." After our viewing of "Lonestar," we discussed such issues as masculinity in the West, the power of history, race relations, and the film's infamous last line, "Forget the Alamo." The movie complemented our visit to the Alamo. Unlike the famous site, "Lonestar" reveals the divisiveness of different representations of the past and how history affects race in contemporary society.
(written by Ryan Quintana)
Right now, at this very moment, we are at the one week mark, including our acclimation days, and emotions are running high. There have been some amazing experiences thus far on our journey. I have laughed until tears ran down my face, and I have cried like a baby. There are so many emotions on this bus right now. There is so much pain and joy. People are excited and frightened to learn more. And here at the Alamo all of those feelings and so much more were represented. The Alamo, maybe more than any place that we have gone, was portrayed as a celebration. Yet this celebration was one that many if not all on our journey were unable to partake in, because the Alamo as it is presented now is a celebration of empire, nation, whiteness, and masculinity. It is unfortunate that the museum focuses on the celebratory aspects of the Alamo, rather than the complexity of the actual history. One of the individuals on the trip, a Texan and African American, mentioned that it reminded her of seventh grade Texas history, and of being written and remembered out of that history.
Earlier this week we were at the Levi Jordan plantation and the same person’s family joined us. Together our class and descendants of some of the original makers of Texas learned how the slaves of the Jordan plantation were able to retain their culture and enrich their lives in the midst of the sadistic avarice of Levi Jordan and his descendants. The next day we went to Project Row Houses in Houston’s 3rd Ward. There was so much hope there. As in the woods at the plantation, we witnessed the way that individuals make claims to their lives and infuse them with optimism and joy in the face of struggles.
So today to go to the Alamo, and yesterday to the San José mission, two places whose apparent historical purpose is to obscure the history of Texas’ and America’s “complicated” past, was both incredibly disappointing and I think inspiring. As aspiring historians, there have been many times when all of us have felt irrelevant. Today, however, when we witness the profound and purposeful ignorance of a site like the Alamo, we can become inspired to change this injustice.
Friday, June 10: (written by Mark Goldberg)
The big question for us is, what is the relationship between this seemingly arbitrary border and history? Historically, the construction of the Texas border was an extremely violent process, silencing many voices along the way—voices of individuals who imagined the region that they lived in, not as two "different" places, but as one place, home. Individuals who shaped the complex history of what we now call the borderlands. Yet today, we do not read about the violent conquest of the Southwest in our history books or museums. During debates over immigration, we do not sufficiently address the complicated ties between Mexico and the U.S. that makes the border seem meaningless. And people continue to discriminate against others who have historically inhabited the border region before the U.S. even arrived there. The border crossed them, they did not cross the border.
After El Paso, we headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico. On the way, we ate lunch at a casino in the Isleta Pueblo and, afterwards, met with Ramona Montoya, a graduate student in land resources at UW-Madison. Ramona showed us parts of Isleta, and she lectured about some of the environmental issues that the Pueblo is dealing with, such as hazardous waste sites, water management, and Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS). After Isleta, we drove to Santa Fe, where we met one more member of our teaching team, Prof. Camille Guerin-Gonzales. We ate dinner as a group at Tomasita's, a wonderful restaurant serving authentic New Mexican food.
Saturday, June 11: (written by Kelly Roark, Jerome Dotson and Mark Goldberg)
At all of the museums on the hill, the exhibits were not confined to the past. Artisans like Ray Baca were actually in the museum practicing the craft that was behind the plexiglass displays. Art historians considered Baca’s straw appliqué technique a lost art form in the early 20 th century, but Baca and his family revitalized the tradition. Charles Loloma was the featured artist at the Wheelwright, and his jewelry straddled the traditional and the modern. A Hopi jeweler, Loloma’s work questions the notion of Indian authenticity. By blending non-native materials and modern designs with traditional Hopi symbols and styles, Loloma challenged images of Indian culture as static and unchanging.
Concluding a day of museum visits, our group was joined by Juan Ríos and Estevan Rael-Gálvez. Ríos discussed local and state politics, weaving his personal experiences in organizing the LGBT community with the larger political scene in New Mexico. The State Historian of New Mexico, Rael-Gálvez, discussed his scholarship on captivity and kinship in the Southwest. He also presented his initial efforts in developing a new web site – www.newmexicohistory.org – intended to make the state’s complicated history accessible to teachers, public school students, and the people of New Mexico. His vision of public history stood in stark contrast with other sites. His work stressed the complexity and violence of the past. He also emphasized what was hidden in the shop windows and monuments of downtown Santa Fe: the cultural hybridity of New Mexico. He envisions a new public history that does not conform to linear chronologies and questions the presentations of cultural purity in the state. The task is not simple; he must balance his statutory responsibility to protect the past with the pressures of development that threaten it.
The evening following our day at Museum Hill proved to be inspiring. Unlike previous dinners in New Mexico, this one was more intimate. Hosted by Professors Susan Johnson and Camille Guerin-Gonzales, we were treated to an array of New Mexican cuisine and a poetry reading by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Praised as the Pablo Neruda of our day, Baca engaged us with stories about his life in prison, which have been portrayed in the movie Blood In Blood Out. Recounting his personal biography, he described how he became a poet during his incarceration, drawing on language to make sense of the world around him. His talk expressed his belief in the power of language to transform lives.
Echoing our visit to the Cherokee Nation, Baca connected language to culture, showing in a few precious words what this journey is about: reclaiming history to create social change and the importance of building ties across racial lines. Baca’s personal passion showed us that the past is not trapped in museum exhibits and history books. History is all around us – in our actions, communities, and personal relationships. In his words and in his work, the past moves; it creates change in real people and real places. Prior to the poetry reading, students were feeling the wear of the trip, but Baca’s words provided a spiritual renewal, reminding us why we left Madison in search of the multi-racial West.
Sunday, June 12:
Fresh air feels funny to lungs accustomed to
Nature has never seemed so close as the air in
Trees grow on mountain tops in the distance.
I must give thanks. Please accept my gift.
I remember now. To speak to the past the
The air leaves my lungs as I exhale.
Monday, June 13: (written by Jerome Dotson, Mark Goldberg and Kelly Roark)
Right under our noses in the Plaza, a marble obelisk commemorates the heroes of the Federal Army who “fought with the rebels” and fell “in battles with savage Indians.” On one side of the monument that was originally erected in 1868, the word “savage” has been chiseled out. One of the many Native American vendors at the Plaza said that from time to time “savage” reappears on the monument, only to be scratched out again. There is no mistaking the contested history in Santa Fe.
During our discussion of the past, students brought up the current racial climate of Santa Fe. Only in 1990 did Anglos officially outnumber people of color in Santa Fe. So the elite, upper-class, and overwhelmingly white tourist area is a recent incarnation. Relating to these local demographic changes, some students felt that the city’s hospitality industry was not equally hospitable to all members of our group. While tensions mounted on the bus, students directed their attention to the outside, to the tourism and hospitality industries that power Santa Fe’s economy. Eventually, these incidents of racially biased treatment forced some students to look inward, contemplating how race and class functioned within our group, at the University of Wisconsin, and in Madison.
The difficult discussion was fresh on everyone’s minds, as we drove past the federal post office with its American flag at the entrance to San Juan Pueblo. Our group had a special invitation to attend the ceremonies that day. Gathering together, the group tried to put the contentious issues of the morning behind them. Carol Harvey, mother of staff member Aaron Bird Bear, led the group in a Navajo prayer. To honor the Pueblo culture and people, no photographs or notebooks were allowed in the central plaza. Leaving cameras and pencils behind, the students gathered to witness a dance celebrating the growth of the maize or corn crop.
From San Juan Pueblo, the bus climbed further into the mountains to Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited community in what is now the United States. Tribal members were also performing ceremonies to mark the growth of summer crops. The main structure of the Pueblo stands several stories tall, its colors blending with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that surrounded us. Only a few miles from the Pueblo lay a restored Spanish hacienda.
We slowly crossed over a softly flowing stream onto the grounds of the Martínez Hacienda. During the 1800s, the hacienda was an important trade outlet along the Santa Fe Trail and the Camino Real. The brown adobe building resembled Pueblo structures, reminding one student of the multicultural exchanges between Spaniards and native peoples in New Mexico. Entering the hacienda, we walked along the two courtyards, visiting various rooms devoted to the many aspects of hacienda life in the early 1800s. Many students thought back to our time in Houston and the plantations we visited there. While the New Mexico hacienda looked very different, it was still a place of captivity. Like the plantations, the Martínez Hacienda was built and operated with forced labor. A few days earlier at Museum Hill, state historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez described the practice of Indian slavery in New Mexico that affected 5,000 Indians between 1700 and 1880. However, the pristine displays in the weaving and blacksmith rooms concealed the violence that underlay the relations between Indians and Spaniards.
From the hacienda, we trekked up narrow, winding roads through the mountains to the remote spiritual center of New Mexico, Chimayó. Handmade crosses crafted in the memory of lost loved ones lined the chain-link entrance to the small Santuario. Every Good Friday, hundreds of thousands of Catholics come to the shrine in the remote valley to seek healing from the sacred sand inside. One student was left conflicted by the depiction of a patron saint of the conquistadors that stared directly at the Santuario in Chimayó, a place that was once Pueblo land. There are even greater contradictions in the life of the community today. While 300,000 people make pilgrimage to this sacred site, most of the town’s inhabitants live in poverty and struggle to negotiate the violence of the global drug trade. From spaces of violence and slavery to spaces of healing and spiritual renewal, we fostered a stronger sense of community and began to think about how to translate what we learned into action here in Madison.
Tuesday, June 14:
(written by Maria Bibbs)
Wednesday, June 15: (written by Mark Goldberg)
After the panel discussion, we headed to the Sand Creek National Historic Site. Each of us found our own spot to think about the past and what happened at Sand Creek. Our bus had some technical difficulties, which actually turned out to be a good thing, since it gave us time to contemplate the trip, the site, the past, present, and future. We left Sand Creek and traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, our last stop before home.
(written by Maria Bibbs)
Thursday, June 16: (written by Mark Goldberg)
(written by Maria Bibbs)