Hispanos of New Mexico

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The term Hispano redirects here. Not to be confused with Hispanic, the English translation of Hispano. For other uses of the term, see Hispano (disambiguation).
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Total population

(More than 340,000*

in New Mexico and Colorado)
Regions with significant populations
Flag of New Mexico.svg New Mexico 340,162 (2000 U.S. Census)
Flag of Colorado.svg Colorado unknown
American English · New Mexican Spanish  · Ladino  · New Mexican English

Roman Catholic  · Judaism[1]

The Hispanos of New Mexico (less commonly referred to as Nuevomexicanos) are people of Spanish or Indo-Hispanic descent native to the region of Santa Fé de Nuevo Mexico, now northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, in the United States.[2] New Mexico belonged to Spain for most of its modern history (16th century – 1821), and later to Mexico (1821–1848). Like Californios and Tejanos, most settlers in New Mexico were of Spanish ancestry (either directly or through Mexico). The descendants of the settlers still retain a community of thousands of people in this state and that of southern Colorado.


In Spanish, the predominant term has always been hispano, analogous to Californio and Tejano. A more specific regional term may have not been as common since the Spanish-speaking population of New Mexico was always greater than that of California and Texas. The term is commonly used to differentiate those who settled the area from 1598 to 1848 from later Mexican migrants, but can also refer to anyone of "Spanish or Indo-Hispanic descent native to the American Southwest."[2] Since the spread of the term Hispanic since 1970 to encompass all peoples in the United States of Spanish-speaking background, the terms Nuevomexicanos, Novomexicanos, and Neomexicanos are sometimes used to refer to the group in English.


Main article: History of New Mexico

Spanish government of New Mexico[edit]

The first Spanish settlers emigrated to New Mexico on July 11, 1598. On this date, the explorer Don Juan de Oñate came north from Mexico City to New Mexico with 500 Spanish settlers and soldiers and a livestock of 7,000 animals. The settlers founded San Juan de los Caballeros, the first Spanish settlement in what was called the Kingdom of New Mexico, after the Valley of Mexico.[3]

Oñate also conquered the territories of the Pueblo peoples and he became the first governor of New Mexico. The exploitation of Spanish rule under Oñate caused nearly continuous attacks and reprisals from the nomadic Amer-Indian tribes on the borders, especially the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche peoples. There were major clashes between the Franciscan missionaries (brought to New Mexico to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity and hispanicize them) and secular and religious authorities. Indian labor exploitation by the colonists was somewhat common in New Mexico, but no more so than in other areas of the Spanish colonies in the Americas.

In the 1650s, Governor Bernardo López de Mendizabal and his subordinate Nicolas de Aguilar enacted a law to force the settlers and Franciscans to pay Native Americans for their work. He opposed the what he perceived as the mistreatment of the Indians by the Franciscans and proposed to allow the Indians to keep alive their culture and customs. The Franciscans protested the law and accused the governor before the Inquisition. Later he was tried in Mexico City. So, the Franciscans indirectly governed the New Mexico province.

In the 1670s, the nomadic tribes attacked the Spanish and left to return to their old religions. This Pueblo Revolt forced the flight of the settlers from New Mexico.

They returned to the province in 1692 when Don Diego de Vargas became the new governor of New Mexico. He entered the former capital bearing an image of La Conquistadora. The Native Americans were so intrigued by the statue of the Virgin Mary that they are reputed to have laid down their arms at the sight of it. This "Reconquista" of New Mexico is reputed to have been bloodless and every year since then this statue of the Virgin Mary has been carried in procession through the City of Santa Fe to commemorate this event.

At the time of Vargas's arrival, New Mexico was under the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Guadalajara and belonging to the Viceroyalty of New Spain. However, with the creation in 1777 of the Provincias Internas it was included only in the jurisdiction of the Commandant-General. After the revolt, the Spanish issued substantial land grants to each Pueblo Amer-Indian and appointed a public defender to protect the rights of the Indians and argue their legal cases in the Spanish courts.

Mexican government of New Mexico[edit]

The mainland part of New Spain won independence from Spain in 1821 and New Mexico became part of the new nation of Mexico. The Spanish settlers of New Mexico and their descendants adapted to Mexican citizenship somewhat. The Hispanos choose to make New Mexico a territory of Mexico over a state for more local control of its affairs. In 1836, after the Republic of Texas gained independence, Texas claimed part of the Province of New Mexico, which was disputed by Mexico. In 1841, the Texians sent an expedition to occupy the area, but the expedition was captured by Mexican troops;[4]

The Revolt of 1837 in New Mexico caused the Hispanos to overthrew and execute the centrally appointed Mexican governor, demanding increased regional authority. This revolt was defeated by Manuel Armijo, a fellow Hispano appointed by Mexico which eased the peoples concerns. The impetus for this revolt being the class antagonism present in New Mexican society. When central rule was reëstablished, Armijo ruled the province as governor, though with greater autonomy. In the mid-1830s New Mexico began to function as a trading hub between the United States, Central Mexico, and Mexican California.

New Mexico grew economically and the United States began to take notice of the strategic position New Mexico played in the western trade routes. In 1846, during the Mexican–American War, the U.S. Army occupied the province, which caused the Taos Revolt a popular insurrection in January 1847 by Hispanos and Pueblo allies against the occupation. In two short campaigns, United States troops and militia crushed the rebellion. The rebels regrouped and fought three more engagements, but after being defeated, they abandoned open warfare. Mexico ceded to United States the territories of the North with the so-called Mexican Cession. By this Texas gained control of the City of El Paso, which was formerly in New Mexico. However, in the Compromise of 1850 Texas gave up its claim to the other areas of New Mexico.

American government of New Mexico[edit]

The New Mexico Territory, played a role in the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War. Both Confederate and Union governments claimed ownership and territorial rights over it. In 1861 the Confederacy claimed the southern tract as its own Arizona Territory and waged the ambitious New Mexico Campaign in an attempt to control the American Southwest and open up access to Union California. Confederate power in the New Mexico Territory was effectively broken after the Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862. The "New Mexico Volunteer Infantry", with 157 Hispanics officers, was the Union unit with the most officers of that ethnic background. Besides Colonel Miguel E. Pino and Lieutenant Colonel Jose Maria Valdez who belonged to the 2nd New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, the New Mexico Volunteer Infantry also included Colonel Diego Archuleta (eventually promoted to Brig. Gen.), the commanding officer of the First New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Jose G. Gallegos commander of the Third New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, and Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Perea, who commanded Perea's Militia Battalion.[5]

After the Mexican–American War, Anglo Americans began migrating in large numbers to all of the newly acquired territory. Anglos began taking lands from both Native Americans and Hispanos by different means, most notably by squatting. Squatters often then sold these lands to land speculators for huge profits, especially after the passing of the 1862 Homestead Act. Hispanos demanded that their lands be returned to them but the governments did not respond favorably. For example, the Surveyor of General Claims Office on New Mexico would at times take up to fifty years to process a claim, meanwhile, the lands were being grabbed up by the newcomers. One tactic used to defraud Hispanos from their lands was that they needed to present English language documentation of ownership, which, due to previously being part of Mexico, could only present Spanish language documentation. While the Santa Fe, Atchison, and Topeka railroad was built in the 1890s, speculators known as the Santa Fe Ring, orchestrated schemes to disland natives from their possessions. In response, Hispanos gathered to reclaim lands taken by Anglos.[6] Hoping to scare off the new immigrants, they eventually used intimidation and raids to accomplish their goals. They sought to develop a class-based consciousness among local people through the everyday tactics of resistance to the economic and social order confronting common property land grant communities. They called themselves Las Gorras Blancas a name coming from the white head coverings many wore.

In January 1912, New Mexico became an American state, and Anglophones eventually became the majority population. The Hispanos became an economically disadvantaged population in the state, becoming virtual second-class citizens compared with the Anglos. The Hispanos suffered discrimination from Anglophone Americans, who also questioned the loyalty of these new American citizens. The cultures of Hispanos and immigrant Anglophones eventually mixed to some degree, as was the case with immigrants in other parts of the United States.[7][8]

The United States and the New Mexico State governments tried to incorporate the Hispanos more and more into mainstream American life. A good example is the mixing of Hispanos images with American patriots symbols, the first translation of the national anthem into Spanish, and the recruitment of numerous Hispanos ranchers, horsemen, and farmers to fight for the U.S. in both the Spanish–American War and the First World War. One early contribution of the Hispanos to American society is their support for women's suffrage. These contributions from both sides helped to improve the conditions of citizenship in the community, but social inequality between the Anglos and Hispanos remained.[7][8]

The Anglos and Hispanics cooperated because both prosperous and poor Hispanics could vote and they outnumbered the Anglos. Around 1920, the term "Spanish-American" replaced "Mexican" in polite society and in political debate. The new term served both the interests of both groups. For Spanish speakers, it evoked Spain, Not Mexico, recalling images of a romantic colonial past and suggesting a future of equality in Anglo-dominated America. For Anglos, on the other hand, it was a useful term that upgraded the state's image, for the old image as a "Mexican" land suggested violence and disorder, and had discouraged capital investment and set back the statehood campaign. The new term gave the impression that "Spanish Americans" belonged to a true American political culture, making the established order appear all the more democratic.[9]


Currently, the majority of the Hispanos population is distributed between New Mexico and Southern Colorado. Most of the Hispanos that live in New Mexico live in the northern half of the state. There are hundreds of thousands of Hispanos living in New Mexico. Those who claim to be descendants of Spanish settlers in this state currently account as the first predominant ancestry in the state.

There is also a community of people in Southern Colorado descended from Hispanos that migrated there in the 19th century. The stories and language of the Hispanos from Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado were studied by Hispano ethnographer, linguist, and folklorist Rubén Cobos, Juan Bautista Rael and Aurelio Espinosa.

New Mexican Spanish[edit]

Main article: New Mexican Spanish
Spanish language in New Mexico by county.

The original state constitution of 1912 provided for a bilingual government with laws being published in both English and Spanish;[10] this requirement was renewed twice, in 1931 and 1943.[11] Nonetheless, the constitution does not declare any language as "official."[12] While Spanish was permitted in the legislature until 1935, all state officials are required to have a good knowledge of English. Cobarrubias and Fishman therefore argue that New Mexico cannot be considered a bilingual state as not all laws are published in both languages.[11] Others, such as Juan Perea, claim that the state was officially bilingual until 1953.[13]

With regard to the judiciary, witnesses have the right to testify in either of the two languages, and monolingual speakers of Spanish have the same right to be considered for jury-duty as do speakers of English.[12][14] In public education, the state has the constitutional obligation to provide for bilingual education and Spanish-speaking instructors in school districts where the majority of students are hispanophone.[12]

In 1995, the state adopted a State Bilingual Song, New Mexico – Mi Lindo Nuevo México.[15]:75,81

New Mexico is commonly thought to have Spanish as an official language alongside English because of its wide usage and legal promotion of Spanish in the state; however, the state has no official language. New Mexico's laws are promulgated bilingually in Spanish and English. Although English is the state government's paper working language, government business is often conducted in Spanish, particularly at the local level.

Because of its relative isolation from other Spanish speaking areas over most of its 400-year existence, New Mexico Spanish, and in particular the Spanish of northern New Mexico and Colorado has retained many elements of 16th- and 17th-century Spanish and has developed its own vocabulary.[2] In addition, it contains many words from Nahuatl, the language spoken by the ancient Aztecs of Mexico. New Mexican Spanish also contains loan words from the Pueblo languages of the upper Rio Grande Valley, Mexican-Spanish words (mexicanismos), and borrowings from English.[2] Grammatical changes include the loss of the second person verb form, changes in verb endings, particularly in the preterite, and partial merging of the second and third conjugations.[16]

Notable Hispanos of New Mexico[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2000/12/mistaken-identity-the-case-of-new-mexicos-hidden-jews/378454/
  2. ^ a b c d Cobos, Rubén (2003) "Introduction" A Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish (2nd ed.) Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, N.M., p. ix, ISBN 0-89013-452-9
  3. ^ Simmons, Marc, The Last Conquistador Norman: U of OK Press, 1992, pp.96, 111
  4. ^ Carroll, H. Bailey. "Texan Santa Fe Expedition". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  6. ^ Rosales, F. Arturo Chicano: The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 1997) p. 7-9
  7. ^ a b Phillip Gonzales and Ann Massmann, "Loyalty Questioned: Neomexicanos in the Great War." Pacific Historical Review, Nov 2006, Vol. 75 Issue 4, pp 629–666
  8. ^ a b Phillip B. Gonzales, "Spanish Heritage and Ethnic Protest in New Mexico: The Anti-Fraternity Bill of 1933," New Mexico Historical Review, Fall 1986, Vol. 61 Issue 4, pp 281–299
  9. ^ Charles Montgomery, "Becoming 'Spanish-American': Race and Rhetoric in New Mexico Politics, 1880-1928," Journal of American Ethnic History, Summer 2001, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p59-84
  10. ^ Crawford, John (1992). Language loyalties: a source book on the official English controversy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 62. 
  11. ^ a b Cobarrubias, Juan; Fishman, Joshua A (1983). Progress in Language Planning: International Perspectives. Walter de Gruyter. p. 195. 
  12. ^ a b c Constitution of the State of New Mexico. Adopted January 21, 1911.
  13. ^ Perea, Juan F. Los Olvidados: On the Making of Invisible People. New York University Law Review, 70(4), 965-990. 
  14. ^ Roberts, Calvin A. (2006). Our New Mexico: A Twentieth Century History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. p. 23. 
  15. ^ "State Symbols" (PDF). New Mexico Blue Book 2007–2008. New Mexico Secretary of State. Retrieved January 3, 2009. [dead link]
  16. ^ Cobos, Rubén, op. cit., pp. x-xi.
  17. ^ Conservative and Hispanic, Linda Chavez Carves Out Leadership Niche