A voice not silenced: The story of New Mexico’s state poem
A Voice Not Silenced: The story of New Mexico’s state poem, “A Nuevo Mexico.”
The story of Luis Tafoya seems more like a product of Hollywood than the story of a New Mexican poet. Luis Tafoya, a Hispanic man born 1851 in New Mexico, published primarily under the pen-name “XXX”. An educated man, Tafoya fought for the recognition and representation of a marginalized people, his people, through his politically charged poetry and prose. Much of his work was published in anonymity in Spanish Newspapers such as La Revista de Taos, El Independiente, and El Nuevo Mexicano. Through multiple assassination attempts, Tafoya navigated a tumultuous political, and cultural landscape in an effort to be heard. His voice rang out, and a decade before his death his dream was realized. New Mexico achieved statehood, and in the wake of this achievement Luis wrote and published the poem “A Nuevo Mexico”. Today that poem is etched into the fabric of New Mexico, it is the state poem.
As was stated, the story of Luis Tafoya seems to be a product of Hollywood. The underdog fights against all odds, and in the end the poet’s dream comes to fruition. It’s a tidy ending seemingly wrapped in a bow. The truth is, of course, more nuanced; the story of Tafoya is not quite so straightforward. Tafoya was not a lone crusader, nor were all the troubles of his people put to rest in one fell swoop.
The history of New Mexico is a story of many nations and tribes. It is a story of colonization, revolution, and bloodshed all centered around the land that is now New Mexico changing hands many times over. In Tafoya’s writings, he made clear his view of this story being rooted in the Hispanic people’s fight for representation and the preservation of Hispanic culture. At the time of Tafoya’s prolific writing New Mexico was not a state, rather it was a territory. An important distinction, as without statehood representation was merely a dream. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s many in the United States feared New Mexico statehood. Given the majority Hispanic population New Mexico statehood meant a Hispanic governance, and many simply could not stomach the idea. Furthermore, within New Mexico an influx of Anglo-Saxon culture threatened the Hispanic culture. Along with the racial and cultural divides, New Mexico was also wrought with economic troubles.
It is with this culturally and politically turbulent backdrop that Tafoya and countless others like him demonstrated a thriving culture using a handful of Spanish newspapers. Though the politics of the day were complex, many vied for statehood in order to achieve some semblance of political power and representation. It is easy to give in to a reductionist view of the period and believe with the goal of statehood achieved there came a remedy of the challenges of the time. Though Tafoya counted statehood as a major victory; a single victory does not always mean the fight is won. Indeed, many of the concerns raised in Tafoya’s time are still politically and culturally relevant today.
And so perhaps the story of Luis Tafoya is better remembered for what it truly was. Through all manner of racial prejudice and economic suppression many attempted to hush the voice of the Hispanic people of New Mexico, but they could not. Perhaps Tafoya’s often used anonymity was not solely a means of self-preservation, but rather a way of speaking as not only an individual. Tafoya’s story is best understood not as the story of one man’s victory, rather the story of the voice of a people; a voice still heard today- a voice not silenced.
For a thorough discussion on this subject see Doris Meyer’s “Speaking for Themselves: Neomexicano cultural identity and the Spanish-Language Press, 1880-1920.”
What follows is Luis Tafoya’s “A Nuevo Mexico” in both its original Spanish, and English translation.
A Nuevo Mexico
Levanta, Nuevo Mexico, esa abatida frente
que anubla los encantos de tu serena faz,
y alborozado acoje corona refulgente,
simbolo de gloria y de ventura y paz.
Despues de tantos anos de lucha y de porfia,
tu suerte se ha cambiado y ganas la victoria,
llegando a ver por fin el venturoso dia
que es colmo de tu dicha y fuente de tu gloria.
Has sido un gran imperio, colmado de riqueza,
y grandes contratiempos tuviste que sufrir,
mas ahora triunfo pleno alcanza tu entereza,
y el premio a tu constancia pudiste conseguir.
Tu pueblo por tres siglos aislado y solitario,
de nadie tuvo ayuda, de nadie proteccion,
lucho por su existencia osado y temerario,
sellando con su sangre dominio y posesion.
Tras tan heroico esfuerzo por fin has merecido
el bien que procurabas con insistencia tanta
de que en la Union de Estados fueses admitido
con la soberania que al hombre libre encanta.
Obstaculos y estorbos del todo desaparecen,
y entrada libre tienes a la gloriosa Union,
en donde los ciudadanos prosperan y florecen,
con tantas garantias y tanta proteccion.
Por tan pasmosa dicha el parabien te damos,
a ti como a tus hijos, de honor tan senalado,
y que en tu nueva esfera de veras esperamos
que a fuer de gran imperio seras un gran estado.
To New Mexico
Lift, New Mexico, your tired forehead
That clouds the enchantment of your peaceful face,
And joyfully receive the bright crown,
Symbol of glory, venture, and peace.
After so many years of fight and persistence
Your luck has changed and you gain victory,
Reaching up to see your fortunate day at last
That is an overflow of happiness and the fountain of your glory.
You have been a great empire filled with riches,
And many mishaps you had to suffer,
But now complete triumph reach up to your integrity,
And reward for your constancy, you were able to achieve.
Your people for three centuries, isolated and lonely,
With help or protection from nobody,
They fought for their existence, reckless and daring
Sealing with their blood their dominion and possession.
After such heroic effort finally you deserve
The goodness with such an insistence you procure,
To be admitted in the state of the union
With the sovereignty that is a free man’s enchantment.
Obstacles and hindrance for good they disappear,
And free admittance you have to the glorious union,
Where the people prosper and flourish
With so many guarantees and great protection.
For that marvelous satisfaction we welcome you,
You and your children such a deserved honor,
And in your new sphere we truly hope
That by dint of imperiousness a great state you will become.
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