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.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Atrisco Land Grant

Much of what I knew about the Atrisco Land Grant over the years was limited to news accounts of heirs to the grant who fought amongst each other about the past and the future of the grant. More specifically, the news focused on the different corporations that managed the grant, which included thousands of acres of land to the southwest of Albuquerque. The question was whether and how that land would be developed. Perhaps just as important was whether the heirs to the land grand would be fairly compensated.

The centuries-old controversy surrounding the grant became more real to me as I discovered my own family connections to the land.

For starters, I descend on both my paternal and maternal sides to Pedro Duran y Chaves who was one of the original settlers of the land in the 1600s, along with his hacienda in Angostura to the north, which I’ve written about before. Don Pedro’s son, Don Fernando Duran y Chaves was the only member of the Chaves clan to return to New Mexico following the Pueblo Revolt. He asked for possession of the land in Atrisco and Angostura in 1692. According to an account of Atrisco Land Grant on the web site of the State Historian, Don Diego de Vargas granted the request, requiring that “his heirs, children and successors may possess them with the condition that when it shall be the will of the king our Master that this Kingdom shall be settled, the said Don Fernando Duran y Chaves shall be one of the settlers and if he does not do this then the grant shall be void…” The formal grant was awarded in 1703, three years before the Villa of Alburquerque was recognized. Don Fernando and his descendants mostly kept the land in Atrisco among the original 12 families for nearly century.

A 2nd land grant was granted in 1768 that expanded the land to about 85,000 acres -- from the Rio Grande on the east to the Rio Puerco on the west. Litigation in the late 1800s, would focus on whether the original land grant was intended solely for Fernando Duran y Chaves, or rather, a community land grant owned by all who would eventually inherit or purchase land there.

I recently attended a lecture about Atrisco that was part of a larger series of talks about the old Spanish villages along the middle Rio Grande. I was initially disappointed when I learned that the focus of the lecture would be on the history of the land grant, rather than the community and the people. But since the land grant was such a major part of the history, I would be open-minded.

Peter Sanchez, the CEO of the latest iteration of the land grant, the Atrisco Companies, explained that in the early years of the grant, settlers relied on farming to sustain them, growing corn, beans, chile, squash and wheat. They also raised livestock and did well trading along El Camino Real. The grasslands to the west allowed for grazing for livestock and sheep.

The original church in the early 1700s was La Capina de San Jose El Ranchos de Atrisco, which still exists as a morada on La Vega, S.W. It is reportedly the oldest existing structure in Bernalillo County, and legend has it that Don Pedro Duran y Chaves is among the original settlers buried in the church.

About 200 years after the first land grant was established – a period during which governance shifted from Spain to Mexico and finally to the United States – residents of Atrisco turned to American courts to incorporate the community. That legal step to incorporate the land grant was significant for many reasons. But for me, it represents another family connection to the Atrisco Land Grant.
List of Atrisco Families
Onofre Duran
Jose Maximo Duran
After the lecture last month, I went to the offices of the Atrisco Companies to see what genealogy records they have. My third-Great Grandfather Onofre Duran spent most, if not, all of his life in Ranchos de Atrisco. I was curious if there were any records that mention him. Sure enough, I easily found him in a binder of Atrisco families. I also noticed his wife, Placida Sanchez, and children, including my Great-Great Grandmother, Telesfora Duran. But what caught my attention was the highlighted number 81 next to Onofre’s son, Jose Maximo Duran. An employee at the Atrisco Company explained to me that the number meant that Maximo Duran was one of the 225 residents, presumably an heir to one of the original families, who filed the incorporation records.
Copy of 1905 U.S. Patent for Atrisco Land Grant

Patent Signed by President Theodore Roosevelt

Interestingly, the reason I recently returned to my research of Onofre Duran was because I had heard from a cousin, Tina Rizkallah, who also descends from Onofre. Actually, she descends from Maximo, and I descend from Maximo’s sister, Telesfora – making us fourth cousins. I told Tina about the reference I found to Maximo as one of the Atrisco incorporators. She said her mother had records that also show him as the 81st person on the list of incorporators. She said the records also mention Telesfora Duran.

That information further convinces me that we are most likely one of the thousands of legal heirs to the Atrisco Land Grant, even though I have tried successfully to locate original records that list the incorporators. Like the history of the land grant itself, many of those records have disappeared or continue to be embroiled in controversy.

In any case, it’s nice to know that I have family ties to Atrisco and its rich, if controversial, history. I will always consider myself a native of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. That’s where I grew up, and I’m part of the North Valley. But I appreciate my roots in Ranchos de Atrisco.