I have written about the strange invisibility of generational Indo-Hispano Taoseños before, but the theme keeps bugging me. Taos has no bottom. We are like a cenote, one of those pools in the Yucatecan jungle that (they say) go all the way to subterranean oceans under Turtle Island.
Our invisibility is economically and psychologically oppressive, it is part of the process of colonization, an ongoing act of violence. "El Ojo" or the Evil Eye is attributed with the power to make you sick or even kill you just by the way it sees - or does not see - you. It is analogous to the imperialist eye which has the power to confer both fame and invisibility. Kit Carson is famous, the conquest of which he was a part and the people whose land he helped confiscate are invisible. Making you invisible is a way of killing you.
The story of the Spanish-speaking people of the town of Taos has never had the exotic, colorful appeal that the Pueblo narrative has. Thomas Van Houtryve, the world renowned photographer who is currently documenting the restoration of Notre Dame for National Geographic, told me something shocking. In the process of researching for his book, "Lines + Lineage" (radius books, Santa Fe) which features the faces of my people, he went through the Smithsonian's collection of photographs of the southwest. There are thousands of photographs of indigenous people - but not ONE New Mexican Hispanic face.
Ambivalence is almost our defining characteristic, and contributes to our invisibility. We are like a ball of Mercury - you can't pick us up or pin us down. In my lifetime, the name for my family and community has gone from Spanish American, Mexican-American, to Chicano, Indo-Hispano, Mestizo, Genizaro, Latino, Latinex, and Chicanex.
Key to understanding the Americas is this mixed blood. From Chile to New Mexico, we are a vividly colorful, diverse weaving of European, African and Indigenous genes. Racial memory and historical trauma are now accepted by science as real and have become part of psychological treatment modalities. This means that the genius, the traumas of our ancestors, their dysfunction and wisdom is alive in our cells. Our minds and bodies ARE our ancestors. This is the fundamental contradiction, the implicit paradox of Turtle Island's collective consciousness.
This painting, or nicho (a box with doors), is another way of saying the same thing. With the doors closed the scene could be anywhere in the Americas on market day. The indigenous people come to the plaza every Sunday, in front of the church they lay out their traditional wares as they have for centuries.
Open the doors and you are in the same place, the same people are there, their crafts and traditional clothes have not changed - but you are 500 years into the past. Churches on Turtle Island were built on the ruins of the temples, and the memory of this historical cataclysm lives and the story is not finished.
Indo-Hispano Taoseños are too European and not Indian enough to be marketable - and in a white supremacist culture we are too brown to qualify for white privilege. Romanticizing Indians is more lucrative. Taos Pueblo is the goose that laid the golden egg of tourism. And Mabel Dodge Lujan laid the golden egg of the art colony. It is as if Taos didn't exist until she got here. Mabel and D.H. Lawrence helped create the mystique surrounding Indians, which at bottom is just as racist as the contempt in which Mabel held "Mexicans." Whether demonized or idealized, both the racially despised and the racially romanticized are deprived of their authentic humanity and made into objects valued in terms of marketability. The power of Mabel's gaze still imposes the same stereotypes on Taos's older cultures in el ojo of tourist media.
The same bohemian clique that helped the Pueblo get back Blue Lake (which was a good thing) were the same people who stole our santos and took our land in a feeding frenzy that consumed the land grants and destroyed the land base of an agricultural economy and culture.
Our story is too complicated and nuanced for sound-bites. We are sandwiched between two historical enemies, and whereas the tribes have attracted sympathy and support because their victimization is obvious, we are not so easily categorized. Both conquerors and conquered, we have become a magnet for the projection of white guilt. The illegality and violence of the American conquest of New Mexico is displaced onto Indio Hispanos. "Well they stole it from the Indians after all!" And meanwhile, remembering my ancestor's atrocities, the Pueblo smolders in silence and we enshrine the Padre on the plaza, a man who betrayed them and deserved Willa Cather's accusations of lasciviousness. (Death Comes to the Archbishop)