Ray John de Aragon
|Ray John de Aragon|
January 19, 1946|
Las Vegas, New Mexico
|Occupation||Nonfiction, fiction writer and poet|
|Notable works||Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy, The Legend of La Llorona|
|Notable awards||Blue Feather Press Award, Pan American International Literary Award, New Mexico Research and Study Council Quality Award|
Ray John de Aragón, a Hispanic American author, was born on January 19, 1946 in Las Vegas, New Mexico. He is best known for his historic book entitled Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy and his writing of The Legend of La Llorona.
Birth and early life
Ray John de Aragón was born in Las Vegas, New Mexico, a small town in northeastern New Mexico. It is generally agreed that the most significant biographical link between de Aragón and his work is this fact of his birth and growth to maturity in his native New Mexico. Here is the source of his knowledge and love of his Hispanic culture and traditions, his biological view of life, and many of his characters, whether true life heroes such as Padre Antonio Jose Martinez, who is the subject in many of his writings, or the legendary La Llorona, who is the wailing female ghost of Hispanic folklore. (Jim Sagel, "Ray John de Aragón in Profile")
De Aragón lived most of his first thirty years in Old Town Las Vegas near the Arroyo Manteca, where his mother Maria Cleofas Sanchez de Aragón recounted stories to him of La Llorona roaming up and down the waterways in search of her lost children. He also learned about the heritage of Los Penitentes, the flagellant lay brotherhood of New Mexico through the stories told of his maternal grandfather and uncles who were members of this deeply religious order. The author's love of this “land of enchantment” can be felt as he describes the land and its people: (Jim Sagel, "Ray John de Aragón in Profile")
"Along the lush green banks of the Rio Grande, la gente, the people, lived, prayed, cried, and laughed. Spirits of the old ones nurtured the rich perfumed earth. Los Hispanos understood the joyous meaning of life in the beautiful winding valleys, but they also felt the very forceful presence of Doña Sebastiana, Death…The knowledge of being and passing was learned from Los Antepasados, those who came before. This wonderful heritage was passed down through los dichos (folk sayings), that mingled harmoniously with the haunting alabado chants of the Penitentes and the stories of the elders, which flowed onward incessantly like the nurturing water of the river."
Surely these years with his family form the background from which de Aragón draws his detailed—and often beautiful—descriptions of natural phenomena as he attaches importance to these experiences in his work. (Jim Sagel, "Ray John de Aragón in Profile")
At the same time, in addition to his love of the land, it is clear that de Aragón read widely. He says he was influenced through an elementary teacher who had her students write book reports and highly motivated their interest in reading. It was through her that he was exposed to tales of knight errantry like Don Quixote, Amadis de Gaula, and El Cid. Later influences were Fray Angelico Chavez, Fabiola C. de Baca, Aurora Lucero and Cleofas Jaramillo. The author's interest eventually leaned toward the controversial which was sparked by the defaming novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop, written by Willa Cather in which she tainted the image of Hispanic New Mexicans and their heroes.
Although Ray John de Aragón contributed to literary publications both in high school and college (he attended the University of Albuquerque for six years where he earned two degrees), the entire period of his young adulthood was influenced by Reyes Lopez Tijerinas’ Alianza Federal de las Mercedes, a land grant group of the 1960s which sought justice for New Mexico Hispanos. His membership in this group provided him with first-hand knowledge of pressing land grant problems and other civil rights and human rights struggles which were affecting all Hispanics in the United States. This became the basis of his future writings, which were further stimulated by Willa Cather's novel, wherein she denigrated the accomplishments and fame of the heroic folk hero priest of New Mexico Don Antonio Jose Martinez.
The perpetuation of “La Leyenda Negra” or the “Black Legend” by Cather and others incensed him to the point of writing against social injustice and striving to correct the historical record. His source material was derived from a variety of subjects as diverse as Hispano women in history, the “Gorras Blancas” (the Hispanic New Mexican ranchers who fought injustice during the 1890s) and the famous Sheriff Elfego Baca.
His historical revisionist award-winning and bestselling book, Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy written during the social unrest of the 1960s and 70s, focused on trying to change the stereotypical image of the Mexican bandido and the barefoot, fat and pregnant Hispanic woman or her counterpart, the slut. This book, claimed one newspaper reporter (Rita Pino Vargas, "El Visitante Dominical"), became one of the most frequently reviewed books produced by a Hispanic writer in the U.S. This prompted the use of the book as a source text in courses at various universities such as Stanford, the University of UCLA at Berkeley, Harvard, Notre Dame University, and the University of New Mexico. In addition, it was used as required reading in history classes and some English classes in numerous other schools. The publicity that this book aroused led to a series of speaking engagements for the author and countless appearances on nationally syndicated radio and television talk shows that included the networks of CBS, ABC, NBC, Univision, and Telemundo. The end result was a documentary filmed for Illustrated Daily through KNME TV in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was shown through PBS.
During this period de Aragón married Rosa Maria Calles, a renowned artist, playwright, director, and producer from Tome, New Mexico. After the birth of their children, Rosalia Cleofas, Lucia Dolores, Ramon Juan, and Linda Dulcinea, the author in partnership with his wife wrote and illustrated a series of children’s books entitled, City of Candy and Streets of Ice Cream, Fright on Halloween Night, the Christmas No One Wanted, Dodo the Bird, and the Adventures of Don Quixote, which is a bilingual adaptation of the famous novel by Cervantes. Even in his children’s books there is that feeling of searching to make things right.
De Aragón has of course written prolifically and variously in both English and Spanish over the years. He also continues to comment, through fiction and non-fiction, in current periodicals. His major works to date are as follows: Memorias sobre la vida del presbítero, Don Antonio Jose Martinez (Memories of the Life of the Priest, Don Antonio Jose Martinez); Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy; The Legend of La Llorona; Padre Martinez, New Perspectives from Taos; Hermanos de la Luz: Living Tradition of the Penitente Christian Faith, Enchanted Ghost Tales and Hidden History of Spanish New Mexico.
Ray John de Aragón’s first book, Memorias sobre la vida del presbítero, Don Antonio Jose Martinez, is a translation of a book that was originally published in 1903 in Spanish. The book was written by Pedro Sanchez of Taos who was a contemporary of the well known New Mexican priest. Sanchez, who was married to a niece of Padre Martinez, wrote a glowing account which was brief and in most instances historically inaccurate as to dates, events, and locations. Ray John de Aragón corrected all the problems with the original work, updated and expanded it with important and relative material. Pedro Sanchez was present and had first hand information on many of the events which he wrote about. His problem was the fact that he wrote about these events many years after they occurred and he depended on his memory of the experiences to tell about Padre Martinez. The forward to the book was written by Dr. Myra Ellen Jenkins, the former director of the New Mexico State Records and Archives Center in Santa Fe. Dr. Jenkins called de Aragón’s translation and corrections “a very significant contribution to the life and work of this famous priest.”
Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy is a comparative study of these two men. De Aragón had always known of Padre Martinez as the founder of New Mexico’s first newspaper, as a major progenitor of bilingual education in the U.S., and as a humanitarian of the poor and orphans. The padre sent young Hispanic New Mexicans to the seminary, kept the Catholic Church alive in poor mountain settlements and campaigned against tithes and ecclesiastical fees demanded by archbishop Lamy to finance the building of his cathedral in Santa Fe. But in the historical novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, Martinez appears as a lecherous ogre, the father of illegitimate children, and as an opponent of the civilizing influence of Lamy upon the backward Hispanic communities of New Mexico. The padre was excommunicated ipso facto (in name only) by the bishop in 1857 because of his conflict with the bishop over his mandatory tithing, abuse, oppression, and mistreatment of the poor. After many years of research, de Aragón found that the padre was indeed a major Hispanic figure and that Cather had turned him into a treacherous, conniving, and malicious and cowardly character in her book. To add to the insult according to de Aragón, some historians (Eric M. Odendahl, "Saint or Devil") later used this book as a historical reference when writing about New Mexico history and its people.
In de Aragón’s version of The Legend of La Llorona, the legend is basically of a beautiful woman who gave birth to two children out of wedlock and then killed them in despair when their father refused to marry her. The father is from nobility, the woman is a peasant. La Llorona has been described as a spirit that has returned to prey upon the living. The legend has been used as a disciplinary tool, with parents warning their children that La Llorona especially seeks out bad children and carries them away. De Aragón writes that most Spanish-speaking communities proudly lay claim to the legend of La Llorona as part of their local folklore. But the legend is a universal one, he writes, probably stemming from the mythology of Ancient Greece and possibly introduced to Spain 2,000 years ago by the Hispano-Roman tragedian, Lucius Annaeus Seneca. De Aragón also writes that the story of La Llorona parallels that of Ino, a figure in Greek mythology, who killed herself and her two children. The Greek tragedian Euripides took the Ino myth and incorporated it into his famous play, Medea. Ovid carried the story of Medea further in his Metamorphoses, De Aragón states, and Ovid’s Medea eventually influenced Seneca, in Spain, who wrote another play on the same theme. Spanish settlers brought the legend to the New World. De Aragón also says it spread, with variations, throughout all Latin American countries.
In Padre Martinez, New Perspectives From Taos, Ray John de Aragón wrote a scholarly study entitled, Padre Martinez, The Man and the Myth. He explored the various erroneous myths that have arisen throughout the years, and that have blackened the memory of the priest and his deeds. This work included new research and new discoveries by the author.
In Hermanos de La Luz: Living Traditions of the Penitente Christian Faith, later reprinted by Sunstone Press under the title The Penitentes of New Mexico, the author explores the sources of this ancient branch of Spanish Catholicism and the role it played in community life after Spanish settlers brought it to the New World in the sixteenth century. He discusses other expressions of faith that are closely associated with the Penitente tradition—especially the work of the santeros, or saint makers, who for centuries have created distinctive wooden carvings and paintings of saints and other sacred images for shrines in churches, homes, and moradas (Penitente chapels). De Aragón is himself an accomplished master artist in this medium; a number of his own santos are reproduced in the book.
Alabados, or meditational hymns, which have been passed down for generations among the Penitente Brotherhood, form a central part of Penitente worship. Hermanos de la Luz offers the first collection of these beautiful works in a Spanish/English edition. The author provides a history of Penitente worship, which Spanish settlers brought to the New World in the 17th century, and the role the Brotherhood played in the life of isolated Spanish communities of the Southwest. He discusses and provides a thoughtful, informative commentary on the historical, spiritual, and artistic roots of the religious faith that inspired them. These alabados, or meditational hymns, are a central element in Penitente worship. The alabados included here and translated by Ray John de Aragón, have been passed down for generations among the Penitente Brotherhood and women’s lay penitential groups in New Mexico. With his balanced, sympathetic portrait of the Brotherhood and the roots of its Christian beliefs and practices, de Aragón counters popular misconceptions and sensationalist publicity surrounding the Penitentes and captures the authentic spiritual inspiration that underlies their faith.
In Enchanted Ghost Tales, the author has continued to break new ground by writing about the Hispanic history, culture, traditions, and heritage of New Mexico in an informative and entertaining way. In this popular book de Aragón explores the myths and superstitions of the people surrounding ghosts, witches, and unexplained mysteries. Some of the stories date to the Spanish Colonial period and tell about phantoms that people still insist appear in the dark shadows of the night. What makes this book unique and intriguing is that it also features Hispanic folk sayings and folklore about the wandering spirits that are forever searching for peace.
Ray John de Aragón’s critical recognition is in that he has selected controversial subjects and has provided new insights and perspectives backed up and strongly supported by in-depth research. This research coupled with personal interviews has often dramatically changed the general view that has been upheld for decades by other writers and which has continued to remain in print up to today. Misconceptions about the culture and people of New Mexico have been brought out by de Aragón and corrected by him. The new treatments by this writer have not only cleared up the misconceptions, but have pointed out the significant contributions of New Mexico Hispanics to the history and culture of the United States, Latin America, and the rest of the world.
- The Penitentes of New Mexico: Hermanos de la Luz: Brothers of the Light, Heartsfire Books, 1998, Sunstone Press, Bilingual, 2006, 268 p. ISBN 978-0865345041
- The Legend of La Llorona, Pan American Publishing, 1980, Sunstone Press, 2006, 104 p. ISBN 978-0865345058
- Padre Martinez And Bishop Lamy, Sunstone Press, 2006, 152 p. ISBN 978-0865345065
- Hidden History of Spanish New Mexico, The History Press, 2012, 128 p. ISBN 9781609497606
- Enchanted Legends and Lore of New Mexico: Witches, Ghosts and Spirits, The History Press, 2012, 112 p. ISBN 9781609495725
- Anderson-Cozen, Kera. Artist of New Mexico. Pan-American Publishing: Las Vegas, NM, 1986.
- Black, Charlotte. “New Books Reveal the Richness of Hispanic Culture.” The Albuquerque Tribune, October 1981.
- Boggio, Enrique E. “Padre Martínez and Bishop Lamy: Un Libro que Reivindica la obra del sacerdote nuevo mexicano,” El Sol De Nuevo México, January 27, 1983.
- Bryan, Howard. “La Llorona Is Universal.” Albuquerque Tribune, November, 1982.
- Bullock, Alice. “Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy.” El Palacio Magazine, Winter Issue, 1979/1980.
- De Aragon, Ray John. City of Candy and Streets of Ice Cream, Pan- American Publishing, Las Vegas, NM, 1981.
- De Aragon, Ray John. Hermanos de la Luz: Living Tradition of the Penitente Christian Faith, Clearlight Publishers, Santa Fe, 1996. The Penitentes of New Mexico, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, Reprinted under this title in 2008.
- De Aragón, Ray John. Memorias sobre la vida del presbítero, Don Antonio Jose Martinez, The Lightening Tree, Santa Fe, NM, 1978. Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, NM, reprinted in 2006.
- De Aragon, Ray John. Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy, Pan American Publishing, 1978. Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, NM, Reprinted 2008.
- De Aragon, Ray John. Hidden History of Spanish New Mexico. The History Press. 2012.
- De Aragon, Ray John. Padre Martinez: New Perspectives From Taos, Millicent Roger Museum, Taos, 1986.
- De Aragon, Ray John. Personal Interview. October 30, 1996.
- De Aragon, Ray John. The Legend of La Llorona, Pan American Publishing, 1978. Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, NM, reprinted 2008.
- Editors. “Contemporary Authors, Volume 115.” Gale Research Company, August, 1985.
- Editor. “Ecclesiastical Struggle Is Recalled In New Book.” The Las Vegas Daily Optic, November 1978.
- Editor. “Hispanic Folklore.” Newslines, April 1, 1982.
- Editors. “Hispanic Authors.” Gale Research Company,
- Editor. “La Gente.” Las Vegas Daily Optic, August 13, 1985.
- Editor. “Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy.” La Mecha, April 1988.
- Editor. “Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy.” Spanish Today Magazine, November 1978.
- Editor. “Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy.” Theology Digest, Winter 1979.
- Editor. “Padre Martínez y el obispo Lamy.” La Luz Magazine, April 1977.
- Editor. “Ray John de Aragon, Researcher, Author: Artist Profile.” El Puente: the quarterly newsletter of the Hispanic Culture Foundation, Spring 1993.
- Editor. “Ray John de Aragon Writes Book On Controversial Priest.” The New Mexico School Review, Christmas Issue, 1977.
- Gerdes, Dick. “Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy.” New Mexico Historical Review, 1981.
- Gorospe, George. “De Aragon Sticks To Roots.” Valencia County News Bulletin, January 28, 1987.
- Lyon, Fern. “Southwestern Bookshelf.” New Mexico Magazine, May, 1979.
- Mondragón, Roberto. “Ray John de Aragón.” Amigos: Aspectos Culturales, 1996.
- Myers, Dwight. “Padre Martinez and Bishop Lamy.” Book Talk, January 1979.
- National Hispanic Culture Center. Ray John de Aragon archives in the Literary Arts Division.
- Peterson, Karen. “Ray John de Aragon Retratos/Portraits: A Southwest Sketchbook.” Impact/Albuquerque Journal Magazine, July 22, 1986.
- Sagel, Jim. “Ray John de Aragon In Profile.” Feria Artesana Magazine, August, 1982.
Myra Ellen Jenkins Papers: Inventory of collection at Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College Center of Southwest Studies.
Jim Sagel Papers, 1947–2002, Subject: Ray John de Aragon.
Jim Sagel Review, Los Hermanos Penitentes . Ray John de Aragon, Sp ’03 p-39.
La Herencia Magazine Article Archives, Ray John de Aragon.
Palace of the Governors-New Mexico Vertical Files, Ray John de Aragon.
Inventory of Ray John de Aragon Papers 1968-2008 National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Arts Division.