Albuquerque Old and New

Albuquerque Old and New
Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque, NM

I arrived in Albuquerque a few hours early on Sunday and made the first of several trips to Old Town, the 300-year-old original settlement. Old Town was a short walk from our hotel, though it seems longer at this altitude (a little higher than Denver!). The city is having an early spring and everything seems to be in bloom.

The hotel had some eye-catching art works in the hallways…historic black and white photos that had been enhanced with color by a local artist.

After walking to Old town I rested for a moment in the civic plaza, across from the Cathedral. Notice on the cathedral interior, in keeping with the Jewish theme for our tour, there is a Star of David in each corner above the altar. Our first speaker, Rabbi Min Kantrowitz, explained a lot of the history of how the Conversos came to New Mexico from Spain in the last 500 years. It was unusual to see this overt Jewish symbol, considering that part of that history involves hiding your customs and traditions.

We all remember 1492 as the year of Columbus’ first voyage, but it was also the year that Spain expelled the Jews. Sefardi Jews had lived in Spain for centuries–the word Sefardi comes from Sefarad, the ancient Hebrew name for Spain. Many had already converted to Catholicism under pressure from the Inquisition, but continued to practice their religion and traditions as much as they could in secret. Many went to Spanish colonies in the New World, where they thought they would be safe from the Inquisition, but it followed them to Mexico in the 1600s. At that point many of the Conversos traveled north to what is now New Mexico, to get as far away from Mexico City as they could. Even there, they kept their true religion a secret.

After some great New Mexico style lunch we headed to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. There we got some basic information about the 19 Pueblos (what we would call reservations in most other states). One aspect of New Mexico’s history that I was unaware of is the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Under the leadership of PoPe’, who managed to communicate with all the pueblos by a code based on tying knots in rope, the Spanish were defeated and turned back to El Paso. Pueblo independence lasted for 12 years until the Spanish returned in 1692. Why don’t they teach this kind of stuff in “American History?”

Tuesday was our day to visit Acoma Pueblo, which I describe in the next blog entry. Wednesday we explored some other areas of Albuquerque, including the National Hispanic Cultural Center downtown. This place includes art galleries, museums, theaters, libraries etc. The complex includes the beautifully renovated school building that was originally built to educate the children of migrant workers who came to build the Santa Fe railroad.

Our guide at NHCC was one of many people who told us their personal stories of discovering their Jewish roots. Those who embrace this history often find conflict about it within their families. It’s amazing that 500 years after the Expulsion from Spain, there is still a lot of fear and confusion about this issue.

We entered the NHCC through the Torreon, which is like a military guard tower. The Torreon is decorated inside with a huge mural by Federico Vigil that depicts Hispanic culture from the Iberian Peninsula to the New World. I would have loved to take more photos but we were only allowed to shoot what we could see from outside. From the Torreon we strolled through the theater building and the art museum with its current exhibit of portraiture.

We ate lunch at the Standard Diner, an Albuquerque landmark in a building that was originally a Route 66 gas station. Across the street was the old Albuquerque high school, now renovated into condos. After a drive through the historic downtown we visited the Holocaust Museum and Museum of Intolerance.

It’s always difficult to see this kind of museum but they had some excellent displays, not only about the Holocaust but also about the Armenian genocides in the early 20th century, among others. We also visited the Civic Plaza in the center of the city, where there is a Holocaust Memorial as well as lots of other public art.

On the way home we saw some interesting neighborhoods where Karen, our tour leader, pointed out some of the typical Pueblo architecture, as well as the other types that don’t always blend in. We also saw a local synagogue, which was designed to look like a tent in the desert, but some people think it looks more like a seashell. Then we had a free evening–which I spent enjoying dinner and refreshments at a local winery with my new friends, Lynda and Mindi.


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