Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hemmingway: The Old Man and the Desert

I recently watched the movie, Hemmingway & Gellhorn, which had been on my to-do list since its debut in 2012. I was reminded of the movie after writing a blog post about my 2009 trip to Cuba where I was fortunate to get a private tour of Ernest Hemmingway’s home in Havana.

I enjoyed the movie and, no surprise, I particularly appreciated the scenes of Hemmingway and Martha Gellhorn at the Havana home they shared.
Ernest Hemmingway's home in Havana 2009
The movie also renewed my curiosity about a rumor I encountered while researching my family history. I never took the rumor seriously because it seemed so incredulous. As the story goes, Ernest Hemmingway once stayed for a period of time in the tiny western New Mexico village of Cubero. Of course, Cubero means something to me because my Grandpa Louie was born and raised in the village near Grants. Generations of my maternal Chavez ancestors were among the original settlers of Cubero.

I figured it was possible that Hemmingway could have stopped over in Cubero in the early 1950s. But I can’t bring myself to believe the claim that Hemmingway wrote his famous short novel, The Old Man and the Sea, from the desert Southwest. When I was in Cuba, it was a thrill to see a copy of the classic book on the shelves of Hemmingway’s bedroom in Havana. I can’t imagine he would have written The Old Man and the Sea any place other than Havana.
Cubero, NM 2011

Over the years, others have explored the rumor about Hemmingway and Cubero. A local blogger went to Cubero on a fact-finding mission in 2009. A resident of Clovis wrote about the rumor in a 1996 edition of the Hemingway Newsletter, a publication of the Hemingway Society. In the footnotes, Kathy Willingham says he couldn’t find any evidence that Hemmingway visited New Mexico, much less stayed in Cubero. “Either the biographers have missed something or New Mexico has some of the best liars,” she wrote.

While I don't claim to have done extensive research on a visit to Cubero, I can say with certainty that he did, indeed, visit New Mexico, thanks to a friend at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives. After a quick search of newspapers, she discovered that Hemmingway visited Santa Fe from Sun Valley, Idaho in February 1948 – four years before he published The Old Man and the Sea, most likely in Havana. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Gifts

There’s no doubt that my family is fully engaged in the commercialization of Christmas, like it or not. But it’s good to see signs that my daughters also embrace the true spirit of giving gifts and showing compassion for friends and family.

We finally made it back to the National Cemetery in Santa Fe to see the new headstone for Grandpa Carlos and Grandma Rise. Despite the cold, wintery weather, it was a nice visit, especially for Isabella. She had been anxiously waiting to leave some special gifts for her great-grandparents.

We looked forward to seeing the headstone during a trip to Santa Fe in September. Bella had planned on leaving a rosary on the headstone, but forgot it at home that day. Following breakfast, we made our way to the Cathedral to get another rosary, but we didn’t want to interrupt mass. So we made a last-ditch effort to find something at the Five-and-Dime on the plaza. Sure enough, Bella found two stones, one with a cross and another with a heart, as well as a rosary. But we chose the wrong day because the annual Fiestas parade blocked traffic and the entrance to the cemetery for hours. Bella was heartbroken and cried on our way back to Albuquerque.
Isabella places mementos on the headstone of her great-grandparents

Carin and Isabella

This past weekend, we went back to Santa Fe to shop for Christmas gifts and grab breakfast at the Pantry. This time, we made it to the National Cemetery, and got a chance to see the headstone. Unfortunately, it was so cold, we couldn’t spend much time there. But Bella was able to get leave the stones and the rosary. After we got back in the car, she sent photos to my Dad, her Papi, and said she was sad and that she missed Grandma Rise. My Dad was touched, and wrote back that he’s sure his parents, Bella’s great-grandparents, were thankful that she thought about them at Christmas.

Friday, November 29, 2013


As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to mention some new family connections I’ve discovered during my genealogy research. No, not “dead ancestors,” as my daughter likes to say, but our primos living across the country.

It’s a little odd to think that I’ve never really known any Gallegos relatives outside of my immediate family. My Dad was the only son to carry on the Gallegos name from his father. He had three uncles whom I never knew.
Luis, Barbara, Gil Sr., Gil Jr. & Isabella Gallegos
Fortunately, I heard from two cousins – the daughters of my Great-Uncle Clemente Gallegos. I first heard from Marissa Curnutte, and later traded e-mails with her sister, Barbara Gallegos. We shared many stories during the past year. This past summer, Barbara came to New Mexico from Arizona and we arranged to meet for lunch, along with my daughter, Isabella, my Dad and Barbara’s brother, Luis Gallegos, who lives in Albuquerque.

My Dad said he remembers visiting his cousins at their Las Vegas home, usually in the summers, when they spent time in their father’s hometown. They lived and attended in school in Pe├▒asco, where their father, Clemente, taught at the high school.
Tina Rizkallah and Gilbert Gallegos
I was also fortunate to meet a more distant cousin, Tina Rizkallah, who lives in California. She determined that we are fourth cousins on my Mom’s side. Our common ancestor is Onofre Duran, who lived in Atrisco. Tina has relatives who live in the East Mountains. We met for lunch earlier this lunch when she was visiting.

More recently, I was surprised to hear from another cousin, Kathie Uribe, who is the daughter of Bennie Gallegos, another of my Grandpa Carlos’ brothers. I’m waiting to hear more from Kathie after the holidays. I’m especially excited because I know the least about her father, Bennie, and his brother, Arthur, other than they both served in the Navy in the Korean War, and they lived in California. Both my Dad and my Grandma Rise were especially fond of Uncle Bennie’s wife, Jeanne.

I also corresponded with a cousin, Adrianna Gallegos, who descends from Ignacio Gallegos, the younger brother of my Great-Grandfather, Luis Gallegos. I need to re-connect with Adrianna, who now lives in Nebraska, to learn more about that side of the family. I know that Ignacio was one of three legitimate children of Manuel Gallegos and Francisca Trujillo. My Great-Grandfather, Luis, and an older brother, Juan, shared Francisca as their mother. They both adopted the Gallegos name.

Of course, I’ve met at least a half-dozen other primos during the past three or so years that I have been researching my family tree. I appreciate hearing from all of my primos and sharing the rich history of our common families.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

70 Years of Discrimination

Before she died, my Grandma Rise told me about the time my Grandpa Carlos encountered discrimination just before heading to Europe in World War II. I was appalled, but not necessarily surprised. That was in 1940s Texas. 
Lt. Carlos Gallegos
My surprise, and shock, came just last week when my own daughter – the great-granddaughter of my Grandpa Carlos -- was on the receiving end of some very nasty name-calling that focused on the color of her skin. Fortunately, I don’t think she understood the significance of the anonymous comments over the Internet. She just knew the language was vulgar and mean. I, however, was livid.

I guess some things haven’t changed in 70 years.

In my Grandpa’s case, his encounter with discrimination was unfortunately commonplace. Probably not so much in Las Vegas, NM, where dark skin and mixed bloodlines were the norm. In fact, the patch he wore on his Army uniform reflected the Spanish and Native American heritage of so many of the National Guardsmen from New Mexico and three neighboring states. But Texas was another story.

The story, as told my Grandma, was that my Grandpa and some Army buddies left the base at Fort Hood to go to see a movie in a nearby town. But they were told that Mexicans were not allowed. They apparently complained and the theater was closed, at least temporarily.

When I heard my Grandma tell the story, my journalistic instincts kicked in, and I was hesitant to write about the incident without trying to verify the facts. I tried to find a newspaper story about the incident, without luck. I went back and recorded an interview with my Grandma. She was sure the incident happened, but she couldn’t remember exactly when or where, which is understandable.

Still, the story was amazing to me, regardless of the details, because I couldn’t believe a soldier – an officer – who was about to put his life on the line for his country, would be treated that way. I’m quite certain that my Grandpa’s ancestors occupied this land for centuries before the racists who tried to deny him a seat at that movie theater.

I recently watched the PBS series called Latino Americans with great interest. The producers devoted an entire segment to the injustices suffered by many war heroes when they returned home from World War II.

Hispanics volunteered and served in record numbers, according to the program, and 10 Hispanics earned the Medal of Honor. Yet, they returned to restaurants in Texas with signs, sponsored by the Lonestar Restaurant Association, that read: “No Dogs, Negroes, Mexicans.” Other establishments had signs that read: “We Serve White’s only, no Spanish or Mexicans.”
Macario Garcia Receives Medal of Honor from President Truman
“Denying Mexican-Americans service in a restaurant wasn’t illegal. And happened so often, it wasn’t even newsworthy,” according to the narrator of the PBS series. One incident in particular featured Macario Garcia, the first Mexican National to earn the Medal of Honor, who was denied service at a local diner. The incident raised this question: “How could a country that felt an enormous debt toward its veterans, treat some as second-class citizens?”

Playwright Luis Valdez told the following story to PBS about his experience in 1940s Delano, CA, where whites sat in the middle section of the local movie house, while Mexican-Americans were delegated to the sides.

“In 1946, there was a young guy by the name of CC, he was a pachuco, he was a zoot suiter, who went off to the Navy, came back, put on his civvies, and he went to the movies,” said Valdez. “And since he was serving his country, he felt that he had a right to sit wherever he wanted. So he came and sat in the middle. He wouldn’t move, so the police arrested him. There was no law that said you couldn’t sit in the middle. So they couldn’t charge him with anything, not even disturbing the peace; he was pretty peaceful. So they grilled him for a couple of hours and then released him. And everybody noticed. They said, hey CC got away with it. He sat in the middle. So the following week, everybody sat in the middle section. And the town movie house was desegregated. And that happened across the entire valley.

“Some 20 years later when I told my mom I was going back to Delano to work with the union, she said, oh, you’re going to work with CC. I said CC? Is that vato still around? And she said, Mijo, don’t you know who CC is? He’s Cesar Chavez.”

Fittingly, I took my daughter with me today to a Downtown church to draw attention to the need for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Isabella and I were with my boss, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, who agreed to fast for 48 hours in solidarity with immigrants who are separated from their families during Thanksgiving. Isabella was touched by the stories and one of the mothers who broke down in tears at the thought of being separated from her family.

During the ceremony, I thought about Cesar Chavez, who was featured during a lengthy segment of the PBS series. The program showed footage of Chavez talking about immigrant farm workers who were being exploited in the agriculture fields of California: “They endure all the sacrifices and all the suffering so you can eat and I can eat. These men and women and children feed all of us, and they don’t have any food for themselves. And we’re going to change it. It’s going to be changed.”

Friday, November 22, 2013


I was born six years after President Kennedy was assassinated. My only “memories” of Kennedy have been shaped by 50 years of media coverage and the memories of others.

It’s been said that many northern New Mexico homes in the 1960s had two photos hanging on the walls: One of the Pope and another of President Kennedy. My Great-Grandparents had both photos on their wall in Las Vegas. My Dad recalled his Grandma Emily referring to President Kennedy as “Juanito.”

To this Day, my Dad has a photo of President Kennedy hanging in his home office. He also has a photo of Marilyn Monroe. Go figure.
NewsWeek Magazine with JFK on the Cover
I do have one unique story about President Kennedy. When I traveled to Cuba for the first time in 2008, I got the opportunity to walk through Ernest Hemmingway’s Havana home, which is now a tourist destination. Among the many fascinating items I saw in the home was a NewsWeek magazine with an illustration of then-candidate John Kennedy on the cover. The headline read: “Can Anybody Stop Kennedy?”
Photo of Ernest Hemmingway at his Havana home

Photos of me posing with the replica of Hemmingway's kitchen phone

Our New Mexico delegation was at the home for a specific reason: we were donating a replica of an old phone that Hemmingway once had in the home. There is a famous photo of Hemmingway talking into the phone in his kitchen. Our Cultural Affairs Secretary, Stuart Ashman, tracked down the replica and worked with officials in Cuba to arrange for the donation. Everyone in our delegation took turns posing with the phone.