Keeping New Mexico’s Spanish Alive: The National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Legacy Project

[Opening strum of theme music]

[00:00:00] Amy Padilla: 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. We are all the product of that same kind of shame around Spanish and trying to force people to assimilate.

[00:00:26] 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.

[00:00:39] Emily Withnall: ¡Bienvenidos! This is Encounter Culture from the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. I’m your host, Emily Withnall.

[Theme music rises]

[00:00:51] Emily: Talking about language, culture, and identity is complicated anywhere, but in New Mexico, perhaps more than many other parts of the country, we embrace these complexities and contradictions. We talk about them and wrestle with them while fighting to preserve the many languages and cultures that make our state so rich.

[00:01:10] I am often hard-pressed to explain who I am, both within New Mexico and outside of it. I was born and raised here, so I am New Mexican—an identity I claim with pride like so many other residents of this state. I am also Anglo. My roots do not go back generations. Still, having been raised in Las Vegas, Norteño speech patterns and pronunciations crept into my speech early on.

[00:01:38] My vowels are softer than they are in mainstream American English. I sprinkle Spanish words into my sentences. People frequently comment on my accent, confused by a gringa who speaks the way I do. When I was a kid, my dad would correct my sister and I anytime we said “watch” instead of “look.” We spoke the way our classmates did, influenced by the Spanish language we were steeped in. ¡Mira!

[00:02:03] English and the colonial drive to mandate it to non-English speakers across New Mexico has led to steep declines in Spanish speakers in New Mexico, but Spanish has left its mark on English here. People outside New Mexico are often surprised to learn that I grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish.

[00:02:24] Can you hear the Norteño influence in my voice now? It’s not strong but come with me to Vegas and you’ll hear it thicken. It’s an instinct I’m not usually aware of. What I didn’t know growing up in Las Vegas is that there are dialects of 17th-century Spanish spoken in small towns and villages across Northern New Mexico, dialects like Castilian and Basque.

[00:02:47] Because of the remote nature of the Rocky Mountains, pockets of Spanish speakers were cut off from the rest of the Spanish-speaking Americas. Evolution and influence on the language came through Indigenous languages and later English. But due to forced assimilation and prejudice, older generations of New Mexicans stopped passing the language down.

[00:03:08] Researchers estimate that the language could be gone in just eighteen years. I became aware of this history for the first time less than a year ago when Simón Romero, the son of my high school art teacher, wrote an article for the New York Times about New Mexico’s unique and rapidly disappearing Spanish. I had not known how unusual our words were here: 

[00:03:29] “Raton volador” for bat instead of “murciélago,” for example, or “Gallina de la Sierra” for turkey instead of “pavo.” Now, the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque is working with partners at New Mexico Highlands University and Northern New Mexico College to record and preserve what remains of these endangered dialects of New Mexican Spanish.

[00:03:54] In this episode, I am joined by the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Executive Director Zack Quintero, archivist Robin Moses, and Librarian Amy Padilla. We talk about how they are building relationships with the people who still speak the language, what they are finding early in the project, and what it means to preserve language and culture in the face of assimilation.

[00:04:15] Often, Spanish speakers from other parts of the U.S. or other countries have dismissed the Spanish spoken in Northern New Mexico. “It’s not Spanish” is a phrase I’ve heard on multiple occasions, but as New Mexico state historian Rob Martinez says, “It’s not wrong, but it’s how we speak. We are a part of the greater Spanish-speaking world.

[00:04:36] We were part of Mexico and part of Colonial Mexico. The area was conquered and colonized by Spanish-speaking people. This is our history and it should be preserved. The younger generation also has to have that desire and passion to learn it. Like our history, our language is very complicated. New Mexican Spanish is like hearing our ancestors speak.”

[Music fades]

[00:05:00] Welcome all of you to Encounter Culture. I’m very excited to be talking about the Legacy Project and wanna hear all about it.  

[00:05:08] Zack Quintero: Sure, thanks for having us on. My name’s Zack Quintero. I’m the executive director here at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So, the Legacy Project is a multi-year project started here from the National Hispanic Cultural Center that is focusing on preserving, archiving and being able to restore traditional Spanish languages being spoken in rural Northern New Mexico, different parts of Central New Mexico, and sporadic parts of Southern New Mexico.

[00:05:31] Robin Willoughby Moses: My name is Robin Willoughby Moses. I’m the archivist here at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My role in the Legacy project is to help preserve people’s archival materials that we encounter in the field, or if they’re donated here. I’m also helping to do oral history, recording, and all that goes with that.

[00:05:54] Amy: I’m Amy Padilla. I am the librarian here at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. My job with the Legacy Project has been to do some research into why Spanish is a different dialect here in New Mexico, some of that history, and then also document some of the traditional practices of folks in Northern New Mexico, and part of that is my curiosity about where these folks came from.

[00:06:26] We know that some of these people were in their ancestry, fleeing the Inquisition. We also want to document the use of Indigenous language within that Spanish dialect, and so we’re trying to familiarize ourselves with some of those words so that we can recognize them in the spoken word in Northern New Mexico.

[00:06:45] Emily: Is it multiple dialects or is it just one specific dialect of Spanish? 

[00:06:50] Amy: It’s primarily one dialect, and it’s from the antiquated version of Spanish that was spoken here when Spanish settlers first occupied the land and started meshing with Indigenous people, whether it was something that was supposed to be communal, like

[00:07:10] partnering or whether it was because they took wives that were Indigenous. There’s also Nahuatl, which is a Northern Mexican Indigenous dialect, and so there’s a lot of influences. There were also Greek and Jewish settlers. And the Jewish people in particular were, what we suspect, fleeing the Inquisition, and so they got as far away as they could, which was at the end of the Camino Real.

[00:07:42] Robin: It is kind of one general dialect, yet there are some subtle differences between the different smaller villages around, especially in Northern New Mexico. We’ve already seen that in just the couple visits that we’ve done and talking to people. 

[00:07:56] Emily: What are some of the towns and villages where this dialect is still spoken?

[00:08:00] Zack: It’s becoming a range for us on the map of times that we’re pointing out, and we’ve made two field visits at this point officially, we’re in the community outreach phase, which is building trust with different communities of different Spanish-speaking parts of the state, but mainly it’s spoken in Northern New Mexico, rural Northern New Mexico.

[00:08:19] Some towns would be Questa, Raton, Mora, Dixon. We also have Cuba. We have parts on the outskirts of Farmington, a lot of Rio Arriba County. All the small towns there have a different accent within this language. We just came back from Chama and Chimayó and same words, different accent, you know?

[00:08:42] Emily: Interesting. Yeah. Because I was gonna ask you about the influence of this dialect on the Norteño accent, but are there multiple Norteño accents? 

[00:08:50] Zack: There are multiple Norteño accents, but a lot of people, and I think Amy and Robin can speak to this, with strong background and lived experience. Once you leave the state of New Mexico, a lot of people in the United States say you have an accent, right?

[00:09:03] Mm-Hmm. And they say that we sing in the way that we speak. A lot of that is going back even from the cultural, religious elements of that traditional Spanish language being sung in church. Right. So when we say in English, it’s all the Las Vegas side for you, right? [using singsong accent] “Oh yeah. Where was he? He was there. Yeah.

[00:09:21] That’s nice. Yeah. Bueno. Go on. Let ’em find out. Let ’em find out what happens.” You know? Yeah. The carrying of the vows there is a lot different rather than the full articulation and slow and steady kind of approach, it’s going into almost like it’s a song and it’s a beautiful sound in my mind. The minute I hear that outside the state, I go, which part of New Mexico?

[Upbeat music rises]

[00:09:43] And they’re like, how’d you know I was from New Mexico?

[00:09:45] Emily: That’s funny. ’cause I am Anglo. But it seeped into me ’cause I grew up there and you know, when I’ve left New Mexico people have said I have an accent. So, yeah. [Laughs]

[00:09:54] Zack: That’s right. It’s for the best.

[Guitar music rises]

[00:09:56] Emily: When you are going to these communities, what are you doing and what are you hoping to collect as a part of this archive?

[Music fades]

[00:10:15] Zack: It’s a combined approach and you know, do it as a team in the field. One thing we’ve been doing is starting first with getting the person’s name, their family history, right, and who taught them Spanish, and then going from there trying to figure out what pinpoint of particularized Spanish they speak.

[00:10:31] So just making sure we have that element of trust is everything first. It’s mainly an introduction phase that we’re in right now, but then we get to ask these follow-up questions while we’re there, where we get to know their family a little bit more once the trust develops a little bit more. So, there’s religious communities that still actively use this language.

[00:10:48] In particular, the Hermanos up north. That’s a group of Catholic-specific individuals that have very focused ceremonies and practices that are private. They emphasized to me in Chimayó that it’s not secret-based. It’s private-based. There’s a difference in their mind, meaning they have to have trust to bring you in, but it’s not gonna be hidden away from you once you’re brought in.

[00:11:10] Emily: I’m curious about how this dialect in Northern New Mexico is different from other dialects of Spanish being spoken currently in other areas of New Mexico or across the Southwest, and how did it stay preserved for so long here? 

[00:11:25] Amy: I think that comes from the mountainous nature of New Mexico in part, and then how vast the land is here.

[00:11:35] When we became part of the United States, there was kind of a severing between us and Mexico, right? And so our communities were only speaking with each other for the most part. When that happens, you lose those outside influences. And so, that dialect is tied to our history. The case that first the Spaniards and then the Mexicans, and then we were part of the United States, and that all just wound up being very isolating.

[00:12:05] That 17th-century Spanish that came with the original settlers, was preserved in a way, it was influenced more by the Indigenous peoples than it was people from Mexico or Spain. That’s one of the things that we’re trying to capture is that that dialect that we’re afraid is going to be morphing and lost within the next fifteen to eighteen years because of the dilution that comes with people who are immigrating from other countries, and the loss of the population from Northern New Mexico as people move into cities in order to have employment that can sustain them. 

[00:12:46] We also have climate change as a problem. People are experiencing wildfires as we know, and what’s happening is people can no longer afford to live in those places. There’s not enough water, they can’t grow their crops anymore, and so, especially younger people are moving away, and when they do, they don’t necessarily take that Spanish with them.

[00:13:10] Emily: So, is that estimate of the possibility of this dialect being lost of fifteen to eighteen years, is that because it’s mostly older people who still speak it? 

[00:13:21] Amy: Yes, it’s primarily people over the age of fifty.

[00:13:25] I feel like I should mention too, that we are building on the work of Ruben Cobos, who wrote the dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish. We are utilizing his dictionary to familiarize ourselves. But there are other linguists who’ve done a lot of research in this area. This is not a first, but what we’re trying to do is capture it and figure out whether or not it’s really changed in the last fifty years.

[00:13:52] Recently, we had a collection by Esther May, who was a historian in Cuba, New Mexico. She donated multiple oral histories that were taken in the very early 1970s. We are hoping to use that as kind of a measuring stick for how much the language has changed. Those are gonna be digitized in the next few years.

[00:14:16] We have a digitization grant from Senator Martin Heinrich. There’s a whole lot of work that needs to be done. It’s gonna be a long process, but we’re really excited to be involved with this. 

[00:14:27] Emily: Yeah. And what is the hope with this Legacy Project in terms of preservation? 

[00:14:32] Zack: So, the hope of preservation here is really the main aim.

[00:14:36] You know, I feel it underlies a core part of our mission here at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, which is to protect, promote, and preserve the arts and humanities of Hispano and Latino people. And there’s only one National Hispanic Cultural Center in the entire United States, despite 67.5 million Hispanics registered in the U.S. Census.

[00:14:54] It’s even more, we have mixed status homes, some documented some undocumented families, so that number’s quite bigger, but yet there’s only one National Hispanic Cultural Center. So having us serve as a resource center as a point of reference for the United States to look towards for a location of language, culture, identity, and practices that were used in different cultures here of Hispano and Latino families, well before the United States was here, is the ultimate aim.

[00:15:21] Emily: I’m curious if the dialect, as it’s spoken now and has been preserved in New Mexico, is it the same Spanish that was spoken in Spain in the 1700s or earlier, or has it changed quite a bit with Indigenous influence or other influences? 

[00:15:38] Amy: There are definitely antiquated words that we still use in New Mexico, and oftentimes people who travel outside the country, if they use these words, can be mocked or like questioned.

[00:15:53] “Why are you using that word? Nobody says that anymore.” So, both the antiquated part and the part of using Indigenous words for things that people don’t use outside of our state. 

[00:16:07] Robin: What we’ve heard a lot from people that we’ve spoken to about this project is they’ll go to Spain and speak the way we do, and a Spanish person will hear them and say, that’s something my grandparents would say, 

Zack: right?

[00:16:21] Robin: Like, why are you talking that way? Where are you from? And so we’ve heard a lot of that. 

[00:16:26] Zack: It’s an excellent point, Robin.

[00:16:28] Amy: There’s also a component that I think we are wanting to study that is the kind of shame that people are made to feel if they’re not speaking “proper” Spanish. And I think it’s an interesting thing to think about the way there’s an attempt from the outside to spirit our culture away from us, take it away and make us…

[00:16:49] Oh gosh, what’s the word for it? Assimilate. So, they’re trying to make us assimilate by losing our language, losing our culture, and it’s the sort of thing that they’re being very successful at doing, unfortunately. And that’s another reason that we think fifteen to eighteen years is the estimate of scholars as to how long it’s gonna take for us to lose that special dialect.

[00:17:15] Emily: Wow. Yeah. 

[00:17:16] Zack: Building from that point too, if I may, you know, Amy and Robin hit the nail on the head, which is there’s a deep cultural element behind this that go back to the beginning of this region of this continent, and that goes not just from the time of Mesoamerica to two civilizations meeting between Mesoamerica and Spain, but what happened afterwards.

[00:17:36] So a lot of U.S. history textbooks say the form of governance of society started at Plymouth Rock for North America, which is patently false. Hundreds of years before that, there were societies existing here in the Southwest and, in particular, at the Camino Real between these communities having difficult times, absolutely, having very struggling times with each other, but then growing together afterwards, side by side.

[00:18:01] And it goes into the fabric of the story of America in such a powerful way because the United States didn’t want New Mexico at the very beginning. In fact, it was U.S. Senator Beveridge. That’s his name, my least favorite word in the English language when I was a kid, and I found out why when I was older, but Senator Beveridge spearheaded an effort to not include New Mexico, and he said so for three specific reasons:

[00:18:26] One, they are not white. Two, they do not speak English. Three, they are with Indigenous communities and are Spanish-speaking people. So, they’ll never accept the culture or language of the United States. When we later said we’d still like to be part of the United States, they tried to make a trade by saying, we’ll let you in if you become a slave state.

[00:18:51] And we said, no, we’re not gonna do that route either. So, it wasn’t until later on that we became an actual state becoming a territory before. And that’s why Amy mentioned a key point of our history, which is a lot of people are factually saying the border crossed us, and then we felt kind of trapped that the country didn’t want us to begin with, and then it still persists to this day where you have a lot of English-only movements, ChatGPT, and AI that is developing at a insanely fast speed that incorporates English-only elements within its context and its building of custom responses.

[00:19:26] Rather than keeping in mind the cultural significance and differences among non-English speaking communities, in particular Spanish-speaking communities. So that’s what is on the horizon that we’re also trying to protect on this side. If we make the investments now and we protect our culture and the language being spoken, we hope that the digital frontier won’t erase Latino communities of Spanish-speaking origin from the digital world.

[00:19:51] Emily: Wow. Yeah, and I’m curious too if there are any examples of the kinds of older Spanish words and Indigenous words that are used in this dialect? 

[00:20:01] Robin: What I’m coming up with off the top of my head is the fact that there are place names here in New Mexico, like Tecolote, that comes from a Nahuatl word, and then there’s lots of little words.

[00:20:13] What I’m thinking of is how people like the word así in Spanish. Even my mom was telling me the other day that in New Mexico we say asina, and she is a teacher, and she used that word at school, which is a dual language school, and the kids were telling her, she was saying it wrong. So that’s the example that came to mind right away.

[00:20:32] I, um, grew up in Las Vegas and so when someone told me owl was búho, I was like, no, it’s not. [laughs]

[Invitation to visit National Hispanic Cultural Center]

[00:20:38] Emily: Walking through the doors of the National Hispanic Cultural Center feels a little like walking into a New Mexican corrido, brimming with the arts and deeds of unsung heroes, vibrant cultural traditions, and rich multifaceted histories. Since 2000, NHCC has been dedicated to preserving, promoting, and advancing Hispanic arts, culture and humanities. At the Center’s twenty-acre campus in Albuquerque, visitors can tour one of North America’s largest fresco’s, attend plays, concerts, festivals, and films spanning three theaters.

[00:21:22] View a wide range of artwork at the Center’s Art Museum, trace their cultural heritage at an on-campus research library, and so much more. Plan your visit today at

[End promo] 

[00:21:44] Emily: So, is the goal eventually, once you establish these relationships to record people speaking? 

[00:21:53] Robin: We are going to be capturing oral histories, like setting up, you know, informal questions, just letting the conversation flow to talk about people’s history with Spanish, the culture of New Mexico in general, as well as if people are comfortable and want a place to house their photos or manuscripts or any other kind of archival materials.

[00:22:19] We are offering that as an option. Otherwise, like Amy said earlier, we’re starting a grant project to digitize our own archive, and through that I do want to offer the ability to digitize and house the digital copy of people’s archival materials within the National Hispanic Cultural Center, but then letting them keep their own physical items, teaching them how to take care of them so that they can preserve it on their own and pass it down in their family while also having a very good facsimile here.

[00:22:51] Emily: That’s wonderful. Are there people who still speak this dialect who have tried to pass it down or teach their kids or grandkids? 

[00:23:02] Amy: What comes into play is the shame again, that we talked about.

[00:23:07] 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. We are all, all three of us, the product of that same kind of shame around Spanish and trying to force people to assimilate.

[00:23:32] 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.

[00:23:42] Emily: Wow. Are you interested, being a part of this project, to try to retrieve some of that language for yourself?  

[00:23:50] Amy: Yes, I find it fascinating. I am doing my best to become more fluent in Spanish, but like I said, we typically learn from people who are from other parts of the Spanish-speaking world.

[00:24:03] I’ve had Puerto Rican teachers, I’ve had teachers from Spain. We don’t have that same tradition. Unfortunately, it’s been lost. Yeah. That’s part of what drives us.

[00:24:14] Robin: And at the University of New Mexico, they do have the Spanish as a heritage language program there. If you opt into it, you can get some exposure, at least to the cultural side.

[00:24:27] But even then, having gone through that program and trying to teach myself Spanish through like Duolingo, or hopefully soon through the Instituto Cervantes here at the NHCC. Like Amy said, you get this kinda like mix of everything and it’s hard to grasp that. So, I always tell people like, I can understand what you’re saying and I can read it, but I have such a hard time speaking it ’cause I can’t form a coherent sentence sometimes to save my life. [Laughs]

[00:24:55] Zack: Robin and I and Amy all came across an English word, right. That was really helpful and I feel it was powerful from a UNM professor who was given a talk here. Amy, right? 

Amy: Yeah. 

[00:25:08] Zack: Yeah. Dr. Wilson. And he said, A lot of us in New Mexico are bi-auditory, right? So, we’re able to understand what’s happening in front of us, and people can talk Spanish in front of us, and we can get about seventy to eighty percent of what’s going on in a good way and feel alright in the way we’re operating.

[00:25:24] But when it comes to speaking it, there’s some element in our mind that says, don’t do that. Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, like a warning. And that’s what I feel, you know, we’ve been hitting on throughout this interview, which is that immediate stigmatization of being outed as Spanish-speaking because our parents were outed as Spanish because, or our grandparents were.

[00:25:44] And then that trauma carried over where they said, you’re better off not learning that element, but not really the cultural impact that that would bring by not bringing that Spanish to us. So. 

[00:25:55] Emily: I certainly had my own weird experience and connection to this as a kid because I lived in Guatemala for two years when I was really young.

[00:26:02] And then we came back to Las Vegas and I was this tall Anglo girl with a Guatemalan accent and I could speak fluent Spanish and some my classmates tormented me because they couldn’t speak to their grandparents, who could only speak Spanish. And so, it was not cool that I could speak Spanish, so I stopped. So, like that shame had this layered effect. 

[00:26:25] Zack: Multiplier effect. 

Emily: Yeah. Yeah. Are you hoping that the Legacy Project, in addition to preserving this dialect, might change some ideas or some feelings around that shame?

[00:26:36] Zack: We would hope it would, our team all personally dealt with this, you yourself as well in feeling this element of stigmatization and shame.

[00:26:46] And I hope that ultimately the Legacy Project will first focus on being able to protect the language that was spoken and being able to serve as a repository for Hispano and Latino people across the United States to come see, listen, and interact with. But from that, feel empowered to be able to speak Spanish instead of feeling frightened to use Spanish in any situation.

[00:27:07] Emily: Are all three of you going out into the field and having these conversations in the communities? Because I’m curious about what it’s been like for you and some of the things that you’re learning as you go at the start of this. 

[00:27:20] Amy: We have all gone out into the field and plan to do so along with the Hispanic Genealogical Research Center who are partnering with us.

[00:27:30] They are also housed here at the NHCC. And many of them are volunteers and are older than we are, and so they actually have experience with this form of Spanish. So they’re a great partner to have along with us.

[00:27:43] Zack: And we’re gonna keep going out in the field as a team. One thing we’re considering, and the Cervantes Institute, the Instituto Cervantes, has recommended and is excited about maybe partnering with us as well.

[00:27:57] And I’d love nothing more to have one of their, you know, Madrid-based Spanish-speaking teachers come with us into the field, to rural Northern New Mexico and hear this particular Spanish. I think their jaw will drop and I think they’ll be blown away. But I did recently return back from Spain from a diplomacy and arts exchange program through the U.S. Hispanic Council, and it’s where they bring different Hispanic leaders over to Spain to meet with different governmental entities.

[00:28:24] And I shared with them about the Legacy Project and they were very excited about that and to have a connection back with New Mexico because a lot of families, like they say, that visit over there, they hear the Spanish being spoken and they wanna know why they’re speaking such traditional Spanish and they know why, but they wanna understand how it’s stayed alive and why it’s important still to this day.

[00:28:45] Robin: I feel so honored to have gotten so far to go out on at least one visit and many more to come. I think, as just a personal note, it was kind of nerve-wracking being from, you know, Southern central New Mexico. I’m from San Antonio, New Mexico. I didn’t wanna feel like an outsider and I didn’t wanna make someone uncomfortable by being an outsider ’cause I’m not Northern New Mexican.

[00:29:10] But everyone is so welcoming and so nice, and honestly very excited about this project, and we’ve had a lot of people reach out, wanting to participate, donate items. Like Amy said, I’m processing a couple collections that have gotten donated because of the press around this project, so I’m very excited.

[00:29:32] Emily: What have you received so far? 

[00:29:34] Robin: We did get a large collection, Esther Cordova May. She was kind of like an anthropologist, historian from Cuba, New Mexico. Her friend, her name is Jean Anderson, donated these materials posthumously. Ms. Cordova May passed away earlier this year. There’s about forty reel-to-reel tapes of different oral histories she did in her hometown of Cuba, New Mexico.

[00:29:59] Along with all her notes, and she wrote her master’s thesis and her PhD dissertation concerning this. So, I have all those materials. And also, someone donated a legal document as well from 1841. That means it’s before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo so this was still part of Spain here. There’s a official seal on it.

[00:30:23] We’re still trying to figure what it is, but it’s like a debt claim, I believe. A couple of our volunteers have helped us look at it, and it is written in the Spanish. It’s a really, really awesome artifact and was donated because someone saw the news article in the Journal that featured Zack and thought, oh This is just gonna get thrown away. Might as well give it over here.

[00:30:45] Emily: Wow. So, I know Zack, you had mentioned that the Hermanos, for example, are private. Are there some challenges with accessing some of these communities? 

[00:30:58] Zack: The challenge first is just the traditional New Mexican challenge. No matter where you would go in the state, you would have to have somebody from the community or a family member vouch for you to be able to go into someone’s home.

[00:31:10] That’s a start and that’s a huge obstacle. If you’re not from New Mexico or if you haven’t been here a long time. So luckily for us, we have multi-generational staff in that sense, multi-generational families who have been able to go to bat for us and being able to say, this is part of our culture and history that they’re wanting to preserve.

[Norteño music starts to swell]

[00:31:31] And that gets us in the door. And then the next step is just being able to go through some basic questions, let them know what our intentions are, and then going from there to actually documenting things that they provide to us. And some folks have been. Way more open than that in that sense of donating items to the National Hispanic Cultural Center or being able to say, “Hey, I have my dad still alive right now.” 

[Norteño music rises]

[00:31:54] For now—that’s a big stress. Please come and visit us or talk to us over the phone. Is there a way we could meet with you?” All our hearts are very grateful to the rest of New Mexico for opening your homes to us.

[Music swells]

[00:32:03] Emily: Robin, you mentioned something about the Cervantes Institute. Can you say more about that? 

[Music fades]

[00:32:27] Robin: Sure. The Instituto Cervantes is an Institute from Spain that puts different programs in non-Spanish speaking countries. They focus on educating people, teaching Spanish, and promoting that. So, they teach like Castilian, like Spanish-Spanish, so

[00:32:44] Zack: Mm-Hmm, that’s exactly right. And they’re housed here at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. There are a total of, I believe, nine to twelve locations. They have some satellite offices as well. But we’re part of that network across the United States. We’re very fortunate to have them here. Um, it’s an outstanding international relations agreement with the government of Spain through this.

[00:33:04] In fact, New Mexico is one of the few state governments that have a standing MOU like this, and it’s really great to have them here because what I have figured out is having them on campus is a huge resource for us, not just within our community. Also for staff development and empowerment too. So we’re offering for all of our NHCC staff that if they would like to be able to take language access classes to be able to improve their Spanish or get back to basics and start from scratch, like many of us might need to, right?

[00:33:35] Start from there and then keep going until they. Get to the point where they feel comfortable enough to use it in any kind of setting. So having them here is really important. 

[00:33:43] Emily: Is there any possibility at the conclusion of the Legacy Project, of incorporating some kind of language classes that help preserve and continue the dialect that’s spoken here?

[00:33:54] Zack: That’s something worth exploring, for sure. I think we’re gonna be at a point where we wanna make sure we’re collecting all the needed vocabulary words and different forms of accents out there, and then trying to compartmentalize it in a way where we’re able to make it into an easy format for people to pick up in different settings.

[00:34:13] Somebody is from Southern New Mexico and they visit the Center and they’re on their way to Northern New Mexico, they can get maybe a resource guide as well and be like, “Hey, the ‘a’ is gonna sound different for these words, just a heads up,” or something like that. 

[00:34:24] Amy: We have also thought about creating an exhibit about the words that are from outside of the typical Spanish, whether it’s an Indigenous word or one of the antiquated Spanish words, maybe incorporating some of the people who are still speaking that language. 

[00:34:43] Ideally, it would be really cool to put some video together so that people can hear how those inflections are different, how those pronunciations are different, and capturing it.

[00:34:54] And then showing it in a way that people can actually understand and absorb.

[Upbeat pop music plays]

[00:35:00] Emily: I’m curious if there’s anything that I haven’t asked yet that you would want people to know about this project or the process or what you hope to accomplish by the end. 

[Music fades]

[00:35:15] Amy:  I come back to the end product and the fact that we want to make it all accessible to everyone with the digitization. Hopefully we’ll be able to put a lot of this online so that people can study it.

[00:35:28] It can be easily accessed by other people who are Spanish speakers or people who just wanna learn more about our history, and not just the spoken language, but the traditions that are also built into our culture. So there’s prayers and songs. The kinds of things that people cook. There’s all kinds of things that we’re hoping to capture.

[00:35:50] People have been so generous already, both with their time and just pouring things out from their hearts, and so it’s a really exciting and wonderful thing to be a part of. 

[00:36:02] Robin: I want to give a shout out to the institutions that have been really helpful for us. The New Mexico Highlands University, we visited them and have made some good connections there, as well as Northern New Mexico Community College.

[00:36:18] They’re a great resource and they have been wonderful and welcoming as well.

[00:36:21] Zack: This project is designed to protect and expand all of our culture here by having more inclusion and understanding, and it’s designed to bring us together as New Mexicans, as Latinos and Hispanos in the United States as well. And all cultures outside of that as well.

[00:36:38] I hope that anyone that has information about communities that speak this specific form of Spanish or maybe has a family member or documents that they would like us to take a look at, please contact us. Visit the National Hispanic Cultural Center website. We have our information on there. Please reach out to us; we’ll come to you. 

[00:36:58] Amy:  Because it’s such a massive project, it is going to take us some time, but we are keeping track of people who have reached out and we will be getting back to them. We’re putting together a comprehensive list. If we don’t get to people right away, we still are interested. Please keep contacting us.

[00:37:14] We’re still so early into this project, having just made two visits into communities. You know, I’d love to hear more about the traditions, how people have coped with certain things being so isolated. Yeah, it should be really interesting. There’s a lot of factors that come into play, including funding.

[Upbeat guitar strumming]

[00:37:35] Also, we’re busy with other projects and so trying to focus and make sure we have enough time to actually devote to really doing a good job with this. We wanna make sure that what we’re doing holds up for history.

[EC Theme Music plays]

[00:37:50] Emily: To learn more about the Legacy Project, go to New information will be added to the website as the project progresses. Or visit the National Hispanic Cultural Center in person. The museum is open every day of the week, except Mondays. And if you’re interested in contributing to the project, please contact Zack Quintero at

[00:38:23] Or Robin Moses at

[00:38:47] Emily: Encounter Culture is a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. 

Our producer is Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios. 

Season five is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder and Alex Riegler. 

Our recording engineer is Cabby at Cabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe. 

Technical Direction and post-production audio by Edwin R. Ruiz.

[00:39:11] Our executive producer is Daniel Zillmann. 

Thank you to New Mexico artist El Brujo D’Santi Nava for our theme music.

For a full transcript and show notes, visit or click the link in the episode description in your listening app. 

I’m your host, Emily Withnall. 

The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs is your guide to the state’s exceptional museums, historic sites and cultural institutions, music, art, language, film, theater, food, and so much more.

[00:39:44] Celebrate the diverse identities that shape the Hispanic community at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Plan your visit today at 

And if you love New Mexico, you’ll love El Palacio magazine. Subscribe at 

Thank you for listening, and if you learn something new, send this episode to a friend or share it on social media.[00:40:11] We love celebrating the culture of New Mexico together.