The Children of la Pepa
By Jerry Ortiz y Pino
I am from that generation of New Mexicans who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, who spent a lot of time discovering our ethnic roots in the rich soil of our mestizaje, the part of our heritage that involved celebrating the blending of Old and New World, the Indio and the Hispano.
In many ways this was a reaction to the oft-repeated declarations of our parents’ generation that “we are not Mexicans, mi’jito, we are every bit as European as the Anglos, we just come from a different part of Europe; Spain, not England.”
For many of us, this strained credulity; we had only to look closely at the historic record to recognize that, in fact, we had always been called Mexicans by the Anglos—not surprising, since we were part of Mexico when they conquered us. It was also patently a response to the unspoken racism of the Anglos who viewed “mixed bloods” as inferior.
Having been told to ignore the Indian/Mexican part of our heritage in order to feign equality with the Anglos, an equality that was rarely acknowledged by them, it is not surprising that the revolutionary spirit of the ’60s would have produced across the Southwest a newfound pride in (variously) chicanismo, mestizaje, Aztlan, la Raza Cosmica and la Causa. All were concepts that linked our contemporary struggle for recognition for equality in contemporary U.S. life with the historic rebellion of New World peoples against their European conquerors.
In time the urgency to affirm the specifically indigenous part of our heritage waned, and by the ’80s we were hearing chicano more and more rarely as a self-descriptor. In its stead the next generation began referring to themselves as “Hispanos” or “Latinos,” names that consciously link us to the European portion of our background rather than to the Indian, New World portion.
It was patently a response to the unspoken racism of the Anglos who viewed “mixed bloods” as inferior.
In April of 2008 I received an e-mail from the secretary of the Cadiz, Spain Press Association, Rocio Romero, who contacted me to ask if I was a descendent of Pedro Bautista Pino, the New Mexico delegate to the Spanish Cortes (Constitutional Convention) of 1812. That led to a lengthy correspondence and ultimately an invitation to spend three days in Cadiz last fall as a guest of the committee organizing the Bicentenario (200th anniversary) of that historic Cortes, whose product sprang from the same winds of liberalism that produced the American and French constitutions.
I returned to New Mexico with my head reeling. The Spanish government is making a determined effort to reach out to its former colonies around the globe to join in the celebration of the Constitution of 1812, not because they have illusions about empire being re-established, even in a purely economic sense, but because they believe the 1812 document (they refer to it fondly as la Pepa) provides a common philosophy of progressive humanism that links those former children of Spain to their spiritual “motherland” culturally, linguistically and socially.
New Mexico (and Florida, Texas and California) are among those children of la Pepa. I have agreed to try to pull together a committee of New Mexicans who would be willing to help us plan some New Mexico participation in the year-long 2012 celebration of the Bicentenario. In the next few months I’ll write more about this upcoming event. Let me know if you are interested in helping to organize our part.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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