Traveling to some remote parts of Northern New Mexico can feel a little like traveling back in time. There’s the slower, rural lifestyle and lack of cell reception, for starters, but in some small pockets of rural communities, people still speak a 17th-century dialect of Spanish. 

Encounter Culture host Emily Withnall speaks with National Hispanic Cultural Center’s executive director, Zack Quintero, archivist Robin Moses, and Librarian Amy Padilla about their work to collect and preserve this ancient Spanish dialect before it disappears—which they say could happen in just fifteen years. Though the mountainous region of Northern New Mexico once helped to preserve this unique dialect, greater connectivity and the forces of assimilation have resulted in fewer native speakers. 

As Zack, Robin, and Amy reveal, they hope to preserve New Mexican Spanish as a part of their work with NHCC, but their investment in the project is personal, too. 

“For many decades, people were punished for speaking Spanish in school, and the legacy of that is that they did not want their children to be punished in the same way. So, they did not teach their children Spanish,” says Amy. “We are all, all three of us, the product of that same kind of shame around Spanish and trying to force people to assimilate. Unfortunately, we don’t speak Spanish in the way that our ancestors did, and if we speak Spanish at all, it’s what we learned in school.”


New York Times article by Simon Romero
Esther Cordova May
Instituto Cervantes Albuquerque
New Mexico Highlands University
Northern New Mexico College

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Encounter Culture, a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios.

Hosted by Emily Withnall, editor at El Palacio Magazine
Executive Producer: Daniel Zillmann
Technical Director & Post-Production Audio: Edwin R. Ruiz
Recording Engineer: Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe
Editor & Production Manager: Alex Riegler
Theme Music: D’Santi Nava

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