Category Archives: Albuquerque

The Piñata Exhibit – Sure to be a Smash Hit!

The piñata exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Visiting the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque is always high on my list when I’m in New Mexico.  We were in town for our Zuniga Family Reunion over the Fourth of July holiday weekend and the family always builds in time for everyone to do a little exploring.  My cousin, Boogie (real name Ophelia),  my mother and I set out to check out the Center and found out there was a Piñata exhibit!

An entire exhibit devoted to piñatas???  We were intrigued!  I mean, we all know what piñatas are…. papier-mache figures, typically of donkeys that are filled with candy.  You are blindfolded, you hit them with a stick until they bust and then everyone scatters for the treats!  I still remember a birthday party I went to when I was around 8 years old in Puerto Rico.  All the kids were in a circle surrounding the hanging piñata waiting our turn to hit the donkey.  We were also close enough to dart for the candy if it got busted!  I guess I may have been a little too close, or maybe the stick was just that long.  I was standing in just the right spot for the little boy taking his turn to bring that long stick down, miss the donkey, and hit me squarely in the head!  I don’t remember if I got any candy after that or not!

While walking through the exhibit, we got a great history of piñatas as we admired the display.  The first ones were rather old, including one said to be a vintage China Poblana piñata from the 1930s.  This particular piñata was the inspiration to create this exhibit.  It’s faded from age and looks so fragile!  I guess I didn’t think of these objects of art as being very old but in truth, it’s thought that they originated in China and that Marco Polo was so fascinated by them in the late 1200’s that he took some back to Europe.  At the time, piñatas were made by using a clay jar (an “olla”) as the base.  They were then covered with paper or reeds and ultimately decorated with things like tissue paper, foil and other festive items.

Something I didn’t know was that piñatas were a religious custom in Spain during Lent in the 14th century.  In particular, they were broken on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday which was called “Piñata Sunday!”  They were seen as a symbol of temptation and represented evil.  Covering the person’s eyes while attempting to hit the piñata represented blind faith and the ability to conquer evil.  When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico during the 16th century they discovered piñatas already existed in the Indigenous culture to honor Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and the sun.  This festivity took place in December which was the god’s birth month.

In current Mexican culture, piñatas are very popular during Christmastime as part of Las Posadas.  These are the festivities that happen the nine days before Christmas when people gather to reenact  the Virgin Mary and Joseph in a procession, searching for a place to have the birth of Jesus.  During the procession, a piñata is carried from house to house and when the last house is reached, there is a piñata party.  The traditional style piñata used for the procession is a multi-pointed star representing the Star of Bethlehem that guided the three wise men.

The vintage Zozobra piñatas were rather interesting!  This one is extremely popular in northern New Mexico and Santa Fe.  The Zozobra is part piñata and part marionette – an effigy – that is burned every year during the Santa Fe Fiestas in September.  He’s referred to as Old Man Gloom (OMG) and was introduced in 1926.  His burning is done to dispel the hardships and troubles of the past year.

Who knew there was such a rich history surrounding piñatas?!  Mom, Boogie and I had a lot of fun exploring the rest of museum afterward, but not before stopping for a photo shoot of us posing with a stick in front of a piñata!  If you are in Albuquerque between now and March 31, 2018, stop by the Hispanic National Cultural Center and check out this really unique exhibit.

 

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La Virgen de Guadalupe

Ann Seeley pewter bracelet with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe that I bought in Albuquerque, New Mexico several years ago.

Ann Seeley pewter bracelet with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe that I bought in Albuquerque, New Mexico several years ago.

A few years ago, I found this beautiful and unusual Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet on my way back from a Zuniga family reunion in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was made by artist Alice Seeley, the same artist who made the petroglyph pins I wrote about a few posts back.  I didn’t buy the bracelet at the same time I bought the pins and so I was surprised that it was made by the same artist.  It’s a heavy bracelet, made of pewter, and some might say its a little chunky.  However, every time I wear it, it doesn’t weigh me down…it brings me comfort.

La Virgen de Guadalupe/ Virgen of Guadalupe has brought comfort to so many people for so many centuries.  The story of how she came to be the Patron Saint of Mexico begins in the year 1531 – on Dec 12th to be exact – in northern Mexico City.  An indigenous Indian boy by the name of Juan Diego was walking toward the Hill of Tepeyac when the Virgin Mary appeared to him.  She told Juan to go to the Archbishop and request a church be built at the Hill of Tepeyac.  Of course, when Juan went to the Archbishop, he didn’t believe the boy.  Instead, he told Juan to return to the hill and ask for a miracle to prove the lady he was seeing was indeed the Virgin Mary.

So, Juan went back to the hill and Mary appeared to him again.  She told him to gather flowers from the top of the hill.  Now, this was December and this hill was rocky and no flowers ever grew there.  But when Juan reached the top, he found beautiful flowers!  Actually, he found Castilian roses which are not native to Mexico.  He gathered the flowers in his “tilma” (a cloak) and promptly ran to the Archbishop.  Juan gave the cloak of flowers to the Archbishop and as they tumbled to the ground, the cloak revealed a miracle – the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted on the fabric.

The image of the Virgin Mary that was on the "tilma" or cloak that Juan Diego wore. The actual tilma hangs at the altar at La Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is over 500 years old. (photo from Catholictradition.org.)

The image of the Virgin Mary that was on the “tilma” or cloak that Juan Diego wore. The actual tilma hangs at the altar at La Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is over 500 years old. (photo from Catholictradition.org.)

There is quite a bit of history about this Marian appearance that involves Spain, the indigenous people of Mexico and the Catholic Church, if you care to read more about it.  There is even doubt that Juan Diego existed by some.  But like many things we don’t understand or don’t have faith in, we doubt.  We want proof of existence.  I was raised Catholic and we talked a lot about the Virgin Mary when I was growing up.  Attending Catholic school helped!  In my case, it was Sagrado Corazon catholic school in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.  I remember the Benedictine nuns talking about prayer and one even said “you should pray to Mary for intercession because after all, she is Jesus’ mother and how could He say no to her!”  Hummm…that was an interesting concept to all of us little 4th graders at the time!

I choose to believe and to honor the Mother of Jesus.  Her image is exquisite in the renderings and art I’ve seen over the years.  I also am fascinated by the other stories of the Virgin Mary’s appearances around the world.  When I think back to biblical times, miracles were written about and discussed quite a bit!  There are plenty of miracles that happen today too, but sometimes we just don’t believe the impossible is possible.  It may not be the Virgin Mary appearing before you on a rocky hill, but miracles DO happen in present day.

Juan Diego’s miraculous tilma hangs protected above the altar at the Basilica of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City for all to see.  If you read more about the tilma, it has been the subject of much investigation, experimentation and scrutiny to see how it has survived for over 500 years, even when ammonia was spilled on it and a bomb damaged the altar in 1921.  In fact, the tilma seems to repair itself when damage occurs!  It’s rather fascinating!  In 1936, a biochemist analyzed the fabric and stated that the pigments used on the tilma were of no known source – meaning they weren’t of animal, mineral or vegetable.

Pope John Paul II was very devoted to the Virgin Mary.  In 1999, he named Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patron of the Americas.  She has long been revered in Mexico.  Her image is everywhere and I have seen it more and more over the past 15 years in Alabama.  She is particularly present at the local Birmingham Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos event. It’s always so beautiful to see her image surrounded by marigold on altars remembering lost loved ones.

El Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe became a national holiday in Mexico in 1859.  It is a day of much celebration and pilgrimage to the Basilica.  It isn’t unusual to see people walking on their knees all the way up to the altar while praying in order to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary.  When I visited Mexico City and the Basilica as a senior in high school, I witnessed this.  It left quite an impression on me and I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be to walk on your knees all that way.  I walked into the Basilica with my tour group and made my way up to the altar where the tilma hangs.  I remember thinking how beautiful it was and I stood there amazed along with so many other people.  I hope one day I can go back and experience this again.

A look at the clasp on my Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet. Such a unique piece and I'm so glad it found me!

A look at the clasp on my Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet. Such a unique piece and I’m so glad it found me!

 

Feliz Cumpleaños Dad…(Part Three)

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The Zuniga cousins – right before heading to the airport – at the end of our New Mexico journey.

This is Part Three of my pilgrimage to New Mexico after losing my dad in 2001.

Sunday morning, Oct 28, had us at the 8:30 Spanish Mass at San Jose Catholic Church.  It had been awhile since I had heard mass said in Spanish and it’s so beautiful.  We grabbed breakfast at Pete’s – again great green chile to top our eggs and tortillas!  On to Wal-Mart to pick up a birthday cake for Uncle Mando, flowers, and film for my camera.  (This was before I got into digital!)

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Running into Rachel Fernandez at the cemetery – here with Lisa.

We made another trip by the cemetery for more photos and a little more exploration.  And who do we run into?  Rachel Fernandez!  She invited us over for drinks that evening along with her two brothers, Jerry and Dan.

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Aunt Yoya singing Las Mañanitas to Uncle Mando as their son Orlando looks on…

We enjoyed spending more time visiting with Aunt Yoya and Uncle Mando and listening to more family stories.  She looked really good that day.  We brought out the cake for Uncle Mando, lit the candles, and Yoya held Uncle Mando’s hand and sang “Las Mañanitas” to him – a traditional Mexican birthday song – and as she sang to him, she began to cry….which made us all cry.  So touching and so beautiful.  Later, Yoya showed us the “Our Town” newspaper with a picture of my dad and his brother Lorenzo (“Lencho”) as altar boys.  Such a treasure!  We left after sharing cake and promised to come by again before returning to Albuquerque.  Then it was on to  Vone and Raymond’s house for a feast of carne asado, tortillas de maiz (corn tortillas), beans, rice, potatoes and a great salsa.  And always the conversation turned to food and family!  Then it was on to Olivia’s for a short visit with her and her girls.

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A quick visit and good-bye to Olivia and her girls…

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Lisa posing with Rachel in her chili pepper kitchen!

The last stop on our whirlwind day was to Rachel’s apartment for drinks where we met her brothers Jerry and Dan.  More cousins!  We talked a LOT about food, especially tamales and Rachel remarked about how she was late in getting the tamale making started for the holidays.  Her entire apartment was decorated in red and black, thanks to her brother Bobby.  He definitely had an eye for décor and celebrating and would always help her with her Christmas decorating every year.  Upon leaving, Dan and Jerry invited us to their house for breakfast.  An offer we couldn’t refuse!

 

 

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Tia Maria’s house – now the home of her grandsons – Dan and Jerry Fernandez.

Monday morning, Oct 29, Kanista and I went to Argus to pick up some Carlsbad historic papers – one of the papers included the altar boy photo of my dad and his brother.  Then we headed to Dan and Jerry’s house.  We later learned it had been their grandmother Maria’s house.  Maria was my grandfather, Tata Polo’s sister.  Rachel came by too and we got to hear about their family reunions.  Maria had 10 children so you can imagine the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren she had!  I love hearing family stories and all the connections.  We were able to really fill in the gaps of our Zuniga family tree during this trip!  Before heading back to Albuquerque, we went by to say good-bye to Aunt Yoya and Uncle Mando.  More crying…

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One last visit with Aunt Yoya and Cousin Rosie in Carlsbad.

IMG_7076Back in Albuquerque, we had to go by Old Town for a little shopping before heading back to Danda’s house for yet another fabulous meal – tortilla soup and stir fry vegetables!  More stories and we especially loved hearing about how Danda learned to cook from our grandfather, Tata Polo!  She learned by watching him and so many of her incredible recipes are from our grandfather.  At the end of the evening, Danda gave us each a recipe book from Albuquerque with a sweet inscription.  We finished out the evening looking through a box of old photos with Danda promising to make copies and send to us.IMG_7095IMG_7096

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Danda in her kitchen.

Tuesday, Oct 30, was our last day.  Danda prepared a breakfast of scrambled eggs mixed with tortilla chips.  I haven’t tried this at home but my sister has and cannot get the same result!  She also prepared caldio – a mixture of ground beef, onion and chiles.  What a treat!We were also thrilled to have a little more time to visit with Bobby Fernandez…he stopped by to say good-bye and we took the opportunity to get a few photos with him.  On our way to the airport, we stopped by Danda’s school to visit and see her in action.

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So glad we got to see Bobby one last time before we left…

We ended our trip together – cousins – at the airport – chatting and enjoying food – a cup of posole…and then heading to our separate planes and back to our lives.  This trip gave us the opportunity to walk where our father’s had actually walked, visit the places they had known as children growing up and reconnect with family we hadn’t seen in years or didn’t know at all.  I know we all felt closer to our dads as we boarded our planes.

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Danda’s front porch – I loved this bench when I saw it and a few years later my husband found one in Birmingham and bought it for me!

And I know our dads were walking alongside us throughout this incredible week…IMG_6908IMG_6907IMG_6906IMG_6903IMG_6902phonto (6)

 

Feliz Cumpleaños, Dad… (Part 1)

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Every year I take a new Virgen de Guadalupe candle to the memorial garden where my dad rests…

This will be a three-part story about my 2001 visit to New Mexico.

My dad, Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga, died on June 1, 2001.  He was 79 years old.  An accomplished man, he was a husband, father, friend, army pilot, civil engineer, and spoke several languages, with Spanish being his first.

After his death, I had this urge to travel to Carlsbad, New Mexico – where he was born and raised – to visit and explore.  I talked to my youngest sister Kanista about this and she told me she had been having the same urge.  So, we decided to make the trip to Carlsbad together.    We were so excited!  We made our flight plans and were set to fly out September 14, 2001 – the week of 9/11.  Of course, our plans changed with the events of that week and aftermath.  I still have my sister’s email to me that morning that said simply…”what is happening???”

We regrouped and decided to fly out on October 25th – our dad’s birthday.  Meanwhile, our youngest first cousin on the Zuniga side, Lisa Ramirez – who lives in Colorado, contacted me and asked if she could come along.  Kanista and I were ecstatic!  Lisa grew up in Carlsbad and it was the icing on our dad’s birthday cake to have her join us in this journey.  She is the youngest daughter of my dad’s younger brother – Felix and his wife Manuela (Aunt Mela).  Another plus is that we flew into Albuquerque where Lisa’s oldest sister, Nelinda (nicknamed Danda) lives and we were invited to stay with her before our road trip to Carlsbad!

I arrived first.  While waiting for Kanista, I started writing in my travel journal.  It was good to have a little bit of time before she got there to reflect and collect my thoughts.  Dad has suffered a series of stokes in his later years and shortly before he passed, he was unable to speak.  There were so many things I wanted to ask him too and I missed my chance to hear them in his own words, with his own voice.  This trip was pulling me and I know Dad was behind it, setting the stage for me and Kanista.

Kanista arrived and we headed to the rental car place and got the last car!  We drove through Albuquerque and decided to find our cousin Cecilia and visit with her before heading to Danda’s house where Cecilia joined us later.  Cecilia is the daughter of my dad’s baby sister, Gloria, who was still living in Carlsbad at the time with her husband, Armando (Uncle Mando).

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The outside of my cousin Danda’s house. I love her style!

Arriving at Danda’s we were excited to meet Bobby Fernandez, a cousin on our grandfather’s side (Tata Polo)!  He and Danda seemed more like brother and sister as we watched their exchanges throughout that night.  We both loved Bobby from the start  He was in charge of making our drinks that night – micheladas!  And tequila, of course!  When Lisa arrived,  we settled into a fabulous meal that Danda has prepared for us…carne asado, tortillas, enchiladas…goodness!  The food from my cousin is always incredible and you find yourself going back for seconds and thirds!  No shame here!  I remember the night as being full of laughter…we laughed so hard at Danda’s stories and listening to her explain all the family nicknames like Googs, Boogie, Lala, etc.   (I’ll have to share all that in a later post.)  When we finally went to bed we realized it was morning – 2:30 a.m.

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Cousin Lisa arrived from Denver with her video camera. She captured so much of our trip this way…

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Kanista and cousin Cecilia fill their plates at my cousin Danda’s house…we couldn’t get enough!

This first day of our trip was incredible.  It was the best way I can think of to celebrate my dad’s birthday – with family – in New Mexico and sharing stories about our fathers – Felix and Praxedis .  So many similarities.  So much connection.  Our bellies were full that night and so were our hearts.

Stay tuned for Part Two…our road trip continues…

Meanwhile…Happy birthday, Dad…miss you…

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