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The Fantasy Image of the Southwest - Pedro Bautista Pino
Digital History ID 532

Author:   Pedro Bautista Pino

Annotation: From film and television the images are deeply imprinted in our imagination: of haciendas with red tile roofs and pastel-tinted walls; of romantic, moss-covered missions. Of the Old Spanish Southwest--we think of dons, senioritas, friars, and mission Indians.

These images are a relatively recent invention. In the 1880s, a group of California novelists, journalists, and business boosters began a movement to revive interest in California's Spanish and Mexican past. The best known of these popularizers was Charles Fletcher Lummis, the city editor of The Los Angeles Times. In order to sell southern California to prospective homeowners, he created an evocative mythology designed to lend romance to the land. He celebrated the days of the don and provided California with a distinctive architectural style. In the twentieth century, much of California's Spanish colonial heritage was reinvented through architecture, place names, food and other cultural elements that had never existed in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

At the time, California's missions were falling into ruins. Anglo settlers had carried off the roof tiles and scraped the gold leaf from the altars. Missions became taverns, stables, hog barns. Lummis helped restore the missions in a way that was historically inaccurate but has appealed to future generations. The missions became associated not with dusty agricultural tedium, religious asceticism, or sick Indians, but with a slower, more spiritual and sensuous pace of life--a Mediterranean way more in harmony with the climate and geography than were the traditions the Anglos brought with them from the east.

In the selection here, Pedro Bautista Pino, New Mexico's representative in the Spanish parliament, offers a vivid description of the province in 1812--a portrait that clashes sharply with later romanticized images of the past.

Document: Ecclesiastical government.--The twenty-six Indian pueblos and the 102 settlements of Spaniards, which constitute the population of the province of New Mexico, are...served by twenty?two missionaries of the order of Saint Francis from the province of Mexico....

For more than fifty years no one has known that there was a bishop.... The misfortunes suffered by those settlers are infinite because of the lack of a primate. The people who wish, by means of a dispensation, to get married to relatives cannot do so because of the great cost of traveling a_distance of more than 400 leagues to Durango. Consequently, many people, compelled by love, live and rear families in adultery...

General means of making the provinces prosper.--Agriculture, industry, and commerce are the three bases of all prosperity. The province of New Mexico has none of these because of its location, because of the neglect with which the government has looked upon it up to the present time, and because of the annual withdrawal of the small income that it is able to derive from its products and manufactures. It has already been stated that the annual importation into the province of products for its consumption amounts to 112,000 pesos, and that its annual income is only 60,000 pesos. Therefore, there is an annual deficit of 52,000 pesos. The salaries paid by the treasury to the governor of the province, to his assistants, and to the 121 soldiers may be said to be the only income that keeps money in circulation. This income is so small, as we have previously stated, that until recently the majority of its inhabitants had never seen money.

One can resort to those resources that nature has placed at the province's disposal: the great abundance of furs and their low cost is undeniable. There are, however, no present means of exporting them without great freighting costs.

The scarcity of professional men.--The province of New Mexico does not have among its public institutions any of those found in other provinces of Spain.... The benefit of primary letters [a basic education] is given only to the children of those who are able to contribute to the salary of the school teacher. Even in the capital it has been impossible to engage a teacher and to furnish education for everyone. Of course there are no colleges of any kind.... For a period of more than two hundred years since the conquest, the province has made no provision for any of the literary careers, or as a priest, something which is ordinarily done in other provinces of America.

There are no physicians, no surgeons, and no pharmacies....

Source: H. Bailey Carrol and J. Villansana Haggard, Three New Mexico Chronicles (Albuquerque, 1942).

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