Category Archives: Carlsbad

The Fabulous Zuniga Men

Photos of my dad (center) and his two brothers - Lorenzo and Felix - from my Day of the Dead altar.

Photos of my dad (center) and his two brothers – Lorenzo and Felix – from my Day of the Dead altar.

Today is Veterans Day.

It’s a work holiday for my office.  I decided to stay at home today and take down my Day of the Dead altars.   While I was dismantling and gathering all the photos, I put aside the ones of my dad and his brothers in their military uniforms.

The Zuniga Brothers…Praxedis, Lorenzo and Felix….

All the Zuniga men were Veterans.  All so handsome.  All so ready to serve in some capacity.  Today I reflected on these photos and those that my extended Zuniga family posted on social media.  Today I took some time to reflect upon their sacrifice for our freedom.

Thank you dad, Uncle Lencho and Uncle Felix…so proud of you all.


My dad…Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga


Uncle Lorenzo Zuniga


Uncle Felix Zuniga


Uncle Lencho and my dad – Praxedis Zuniga


The Footprints We Leave Behind…Remembering My Cousin Chila

With my cousin Chila at the Zuniga Family reunion in Denver, Colorado - July 2013

With my cousin Chila at the Zuniga Family reunion in Denver, Colorado – July 2013

My cousin, Orcilia “Chila” Zuniga Forbes, passed away on Friday, August 28, 2015.  Here are some of my memories of this remarkable woman. 

My cousin Chila passed away two weeks ago.  It came as a shock to our family and we still can’t believe it most days.  She was truly remarkable.  Quite a number of stories have been published about her over the past two weeks, discussing her education, career, non-profit work and accomplishments.  I’m sure more will be shared over time and I look forward to hearing them.  She leaves quite a legacy and quite a few footprints…

Cousin Chila at the 2013 Zuniga Family Reunion - wearing her running shoes...

Cousin Chila at the 2013 Zuniga Family Reunion – wearing her running shoes…

One story I particularly love tells of how Chila was always so “neatly coifed, perfectly made up, stylishly and professionally dressed, stockings, running shoes.  Yes, running shoes.” The story goes on to say that she was always quite literally “on the move.”  Those shoes probably helped in some small way, but I know there was more her success than the shoes.  

I’ve been considering all the footprints Chila left behind with those running shoes.  At 77 years of age – that is just too young.  I remember her as the picture of health…calm, collected, striking in appearance and always having marvelous experiences with her sister – Wiro – and brother-in-law, Chuck.  It was always a joy to spend time with her at family reunions – she was so interesting and I loved the conversations we had together.

Chila - the oldest of 8 children of Lorenzo and Anita Zuniga - here with her brother Lorenzo Jr. (Boy), sisters Boogie and Wiro (Hortencia) and sister-in-law, Maria Varela.

Chila – the oldest of 8 children of Lorenzo and Anita Zuniga – here with her brother Lorenzo Jr. (Boy), sisters Boogie (Ophelia) and Wiro (Hortencia) and sister-in-law, Maria Varela.

One very inspiring conversation we had goes back to 2002 when I went to Portland, Oregon for a conference.  This was the year after my dad died.  A few days before I flew out, my mother reminded me I had a cousin in Portland.  I quickly typed an email to Chila and hoped for a reply.   To my delight, Chila immediately contacted me and outlined times she was available to meet and offered to include me in plans she already had in the works if I was available.  I was thrilled!  Spending time with a Zuniga cousin was so important to me since my dad had died.  I needed that connection to my Mexican family. 

Chila and her husband Richard picked me up at my hotel.  I had never met Richard so this was an added bonus.  I loved watching Chila and Richard together during that trip.  They were like two pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together. They seemed so happy together.

Chila said she was taking me to a wine dinner that night and we would be sitting with the winemaker who was a friend of hers.  What a treat!  Richard dropped us off downtown and would return to pick us up afterward.  We were early so we decided to walk around the block and found a bench where we sat and talked.  The conversation quickly turned to my dad.  He has passed away June 1, 2001 and Chila began telling me a story I had never heard before.  She said after my dad – her Tio Chito –  left Carlsbad, New Mexico and got out of the Air Force, he went to Catholic University in Washington DC.  This part I knew, of course.  What she said next has stayed with me all this time.  She told me “your dad was the reason I went to college.”  She added that until the time my dad left Carlsbad, they (she and her siblings) didn’t know they could also leave or get an education.  Chila definitely took this encouragement to heart, first getting a nursing degree followed by two masters degrees and a doctorate.  Landing at both the University of New Mexico and Oregon State University, I can only image the footprints she left in both places.  She didn’t keep this story about my dad to herself either.  She shared it with so many people and even spoke about this encouragement in a video I found called Destination Success (in Spanish). Such a treasure to find this video and hear her words! 

Chila and Boogie sing with the Mariachi at our Zuniga family reunion dinner in 2013.

Chila and Boogie sing with the Mariachi at our Zuniga family reunion dinner in 2013. This is one of my favorite photos from that reunion…

Last year, I was doing some research on Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos and I bookmarked a website that spoke of “footprints” and the passing of a loved one.  The author writes, “the Mexican definition of soul, is the footprint we leave behind for others to connect to, in that we are present, still after death, in how others remember us. Even the person who passed away can change and grow within the stories we hold of them.” 

I know I was lead to rediscover this bookmark last week.  I had already been going through pictures from past Zuniga family reunions when I found one of Chila from 2013.  She was  neatly coifed (as the story goes) from her head down to her running shoes.  That photo made me stop in my tracks and smile.   Chila left 77 years of footprints and they have taught me quite a few things.  They have propelled me closer to my Zuniga family roots beginning with that story about my father.  They have encouraged me to see what changes I can make to do more to help others.  They have inspired me to continue to educate myself and encourage others to seek education….just like my dad encouraged his niece so many years ago.  

Some people come into our lives and quickly go.  Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts.  And we are never, ever the same. – Unknown

Chila and her sister Wiro sing with the mariachi at our family reunion - Denver, CO - 2015.

Chila and her sister Wiro sing with the mariachi at our family reunion – Denver, CO – 2015.

With Chila, her brother Nino (Orlando), son-in-law Hal and daughter Eryn - at our family reunion in Albuquerque, NM 2011.

With Chila, her brother Nino (Orlando), son-in-law Hal and daughter Eryn – at our family reunion in Albuquerque, NM 2011.

La Familia Zuniga at our 2003 family reunion in Albuquerque, NM...

La Familia Zuniga at our 2003 family reunion in Albuquerque, NM…

While singing with her sister Wiro with the mariachi, Chila stops to give me a smile... Wiro's husband Chuck stands by to take photos - Zuniga Reunion 2013.

While singing with her sister Wiro with the mariachi, Chila stops to give me a smile… Wiro’s husband Chuck stands by to take photos – Zuniga Reunion 2013.

Me with Chila at our reunion in 2003.

Me with Chila at our reunion in 2003.

Chila chats with my little sister, Kanista at our family reunion in 2003.

Chila chats with my little sister, Kanista at our family reunion in 2003. Cousin Chuck is on the laptop.

Chila with her little brother, Ricardo Zuniga.

Chila with her little brother, Ricardo (Googs) Zuniga. (2003)

My mother, Barbara Zuniga with her niece, Chila. Zuniga family reunion 2013 in Denver, CO.

My mother, Barbara Zuniga with her niece, Chila. Zuniga family reunion 2013 in Denver, CO.

Chila with her brothers and sisters...

Chila with her brothers and sisters…from left to right – Googs (Ricardo), Wiro (Hortencia), Boogie (Ophelia), Chila (Orcelia), Lala (Oralia) and Boy (Lorenzo, Jr.) – missing from this picture – Eddie and Nino (Orlando).- Family Reunion 2003 – Albuquerque, NM

Feliz Cumpleaños Dad…(Part Three)


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!)


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.


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…


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!




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…


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


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.


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.


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 Two

Part Two of Feliz Cumpleaños Dad…my pilgrimage trip to New Mexico in honor of my dad.

IMG_6983We awoke on Friday, Oct 26, to the heavenly smell of coffee!!!  Thank you Danda!  Much needed after the wonderful and late night of reconnecting, food and drink.  After Danda headed to work, we got ourselves ready, packed up the car and headed to El Patio Restaurant for a breakfast of huevos rancheros and green chiles!  I think it goes without saying that the food on this trip was fabulous!

IMG_6982After dropping Cecilia off at her house, we were on the road to Carlsbad!  It’s about a four and a half hour drive and we enjoyed every minute of it, catching up and sharing even more stories.  We made a brief stop in Roswell to check out the extraterrestrials and arrived in Carlsbad late in the afternoon, checked into the Holiday Inn and headed directly over to Aunt Gloria’s house (also called Aunt Yoya).  We didn’t stay too long because she needed rest but we were able to sit with her in her bedroom for a while.  We then spent a little time with Uncle Mando and two of their children, Orlando and Rosie.


Sweet photo of Aunt Yoya and Uncle Mando on our second day in Carlsbad.

On Saturday (Oct 27), we went back to Aunt Yoya’s house for a longer visit and she was able to stay up a lot longer!  Maybe it was the excitement of having us there and all the stories she wanted to share that helped.  It was certainly a thrill for us as we looked through her wedding album.  We also got to meet Alfonso and Mary Noriega.  Mary, Aunt Yoya and Lisa’s mom, Mela were all friends…Mary remarked how much she saw of Mela in Lisa’s face.

After our visit we took a tour of Carlsbad with our fearless guide, Lisa!  She drove us by the Main Street house where our grandparents used to live, drove by an area they called the beach, and Lisa pointed out other interesting sights to us as she recalled Carlsbad as a little girl.  She even took us on the “weee” – a small hill in the road that always made them want to say “weee.!  That was such a sweet memory and now Kanista and I were in on it too!

We lunched at a little place called Lucy’s and where a woman walked by and recognized Lisa.  It was Rachel, cousin Bobby Fernandez’s sister!  Bobby had called to tell her we would be in Carlsbad so she must have been on the lookout for us.  From there we went by to see Olivia, Lisa’s late brother Ruby’s wife.  Her daughter Sylvia – “Syba” –  was getting ready for her birthday Halloween party and invited us to come back that evening.


Our grandparent’s headstone in the older Carlsbad cemetery…Apolonio Guerrero and Norberta Sotelo aka Tata Polo and Nana Beta.

Meanwhile, we decided to head over to the cemetery to find our grandparents headstone.  After much searching, we realized we were in the wrong cemetery!  Turns out, our family is in the older cemetery and as we drove by we saw the Zuniga headstone.  Now let me explain something…we had been walking around the newer cemetery – all green grass and open – and could not find our grandparents.  But when we got to the older cemetery – brown dirt and no grass – it was chain-locked!  Really???  We couldn’t believe it.  But, I would not be deterred!  I told Kanista and Lisa I had come too far not to get in…so…I broke in!  Actually…I just pushed the gates and they opened.  So, we took a little time and walked around, explored and found some of our family headstones.


Cutting a rug with Lisa at Syba’s Halloween/Birthday party! Not sure if this was before or AFTER the jello shooters!

After freshening up at the hotel, we headed over to Syba’s birthday/Halloween party and met a few more cousins – Danny and Johnny, grandson’s of Maria Fernandez – Maria was my grandfather’s sister.  We had a ball at the party – trying jello shooters, dancing, and laughing about being called “guera” by some of the guests.  Guera is slang for a white girl or light-haired girl, which didn’t really seem to fit me or Kanista at ALL!  At any rate, we ended day three of our trip exhausted but exhilarated by the people who seemed to be put in our path on our journey.  Kanista, Lisa and I all agreed our fathers seemed to have a hand in what was happening to us in Carlsbad.

Part Three concludes our Carlsbad Adventure/Pilgrimage to Carlsbad…stay tuned…




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).


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.


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


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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