“I was loud and just boisterous and having a grand old time, and I was speaking Spanish. Here came these two bully kids, and they grabbed me and told me that I was breaking the rule. ‘You’re not supposed to speak Spanish.’ I told them, ‘There is freedom of speech.’” (Teddy Madrid in A Tortilla is Like Life, Carole Counihan).
This quote from Teddy Madrid, a woman from Antonito, CO recounting her elementary school experience from 1940, shows some of the complex history and backgrounds the people who live in the San Luis Valley share. This valley was occupied by the Utes before European settlers came. It has then been inhabited by Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo people. It was a part of Spanish land, then Mexico, and now the United States. We visited the southern part of the valley today and got to see this history in the people we met and the places we visited. Many families in this area exclusively spoke Spanish until the middle of the 20th century. Richard de Oliva explained to us the complexity and diversity of how people self-identified. He lamented the loss of some rituals and traditions in recent generations and wanted to bring some of these back, but also recognized that to say you want to preserve a culture means it is already dead. He recognized that culture was going to evolve and change, but he wanted to make sure that his did not disappear. We also saw this mixture of cultures meeting Cano and Ron Rael in Antonito. Cano’s long rambling performance demonstrated his rich varied history. He peppered in Spanish words, spoke of his Spanish ancestors, and his Jewish roots. Almost everyone that we have met in this valley has a deep understanding of their ancestors and where they came from, and this connection to personal history is very important to identity in the valley.