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New Mexico State University

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NMSU uses humanities grant to showcase state's rich Hispano-Native American culture

The New Mexico State University Department of Languages and Linguistics and American Indian Program will host a symposium and exhibition of cultural dances by Hispanicized Native Americans, known in New Mexico as Genizaros, next month.



Comanche dancers from the Ranchos de Taos along with Tortugas Pueblo dancers will perform during the symposium hosted by the NMSU Department of Languages and Linguistics and American Indian Program. The event is free and open to the public. (Image courtesy Spencer Herrera)

The symposium, "Los Comanches de los Ranchos de Taos: An Hispanicized Native American Cultural Tradition," will consist of panelists discussing the similarities and differences of the Hispanic and Native American cultures. The dialogue will shed light on New Mexico's rich history in relation to these two groups and answer cultural and social questions that are pertinent to the state's multicultural identity.

"We want to expand the idea of Hispanicized Native Americans and talk about what it all means," said Spencer Herrera, assistant professor of Spanish. Herrera also wrote the grant to fund this project, which is sponsored by the New Mexico Humanities Council.

Greg Gonzales, a student and Comanche dancer from Rancho de Taos, proposed an event at NMSU that would illustrate the dances he and his family practice as part of their heritage. The Genizaros took on Hispanic last names, but through history have been able to maintain their culture through things like dancing.

After a year and a half of planning and conversations as well as gaining support from the American Indian Program on campus, Herrera decided to add the learning symposium and panel elements. When the grant came through, things began to come together.

The panelists include LaDonna Harris, founder and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity; Enrique Lamadrid, author of "Hermanitos Comanchitos;" Felipe Chávez, president of Tortugas Corporation; Francisco Gonzales, Greg's grandfather and Los Comanches elder/singer; and Esteban Gonzales, Greg's father and Los Comanches dancer.

"It'll open up the topic to conversation," Herrera said. "It's more about celebrating New Mexico's rich cultural history. There aren't many other places in the United States that have this where both cultures share a common history."

A $2,000-grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council will help to fund the symposium. It has been designated a "We the People" project by the National Endowment for the Humanities, meaning it is supported as an American historical and cultural endeavor.

The money will go toward the panelists, who will speak from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The Comanche dancers and the Tortugas Pueblo dancers will perform from noon to 1:30 p.m. followed by La Rueda dance.

The event is free and open to the public. It will be held March 6 at the Tortugas Pueblo off of Stern Drive, south of Las Cruces. There will be an option to purchase a $5 lunch provided by Tortugas Pueblo following the dances.

For more information, contact Spencer Herrera at (575) 646-2403 or spencer@nmsu.edu.