If you want to connect with 100 interesting New Mexicans, Frank Graziano can help.
He has just completed personal interviews with an unusually wide range of state residents, and the tapes of the interviews, along with photographs of the subjects, are now housed at the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico. .
They will eventually become part of the centre’s digital collection; at this time, they are available for in-person listening and viewing. The Oral Biography Archives is a project of Nuevo Mexico Profundo, a non-profit organization run by Graziano.
The effort, he said, is due in part to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Profundo started as a project to help support historic churches,” he said. “We started out by offering tours of certain churches and producing concerts there, donating the proceeds to the churches to help with their upkeep.
“As the pandemic continued, we had to cancel tours and concerts, and I started to think more broadly about cultural heritage. This led to the interview project. Many of the subjects are involved with historic churches across the state. There are Franciscans, mayordomos, hermanos penitentes, pilgrims, santeros and conservationists.
Additionally, respondents span the gamut from undocumented immigrants to ex-hippies to the owner of Teresa’s Tamales in Cleveland (pop. 462). There’s a Chicago Cubs Draft Pick, Distillery Owner, Former Saudi Royal Family Employee, Hot Air Balloon Pilot, Lesbian Rabbi / Activist, and Pie Town Baker.
They are between the ages of 20 and 90 and live in communities across the state.
How did Graziano find them all?
“I wanted a random sample of lives and all kinds of diversity,” he said. “Age, region, religion, race and ethnicity, lifestyle, occupation, urban and rural. A few that I knew personally, and the majority that I located through online research. Once you’ve found the right people, you sort of know it. “
Some had been interviewed by Graziano for his book Historic churches in New Mexico today. Similar books focus on the history, architecture and interior furnishings of churches. Graziano adds an important aspect that most others miss: people in communities whose lives are tied to churches in important and often complex ways.
Even as a child, Graziano said he wanted to see parts of the world beyond his house in Long Island, NY. He remembers cutting ads in Popular mechanics magazine and return the forms for free Australia land brochures that were available to anyone wishing to settle there.
His first attempt to travel beyond the east coast did not go well. “I bought a Volkswagen camper van, the open-top type, and headed north to Canada. I read a lot of Walt Whitman’s poems – “Loud and happy, I walk the open road,” things like that.
“The motorhome was not very strong, however, and it threw a piston rod somewhere in Ontario. I sold the van, sent my things back to Long Island, and hitchhiked home.
The second attempt was much more successful, however, and it set Graziano on the path that led to his career in Hispanic Studies. With the proceeds from the sale of the pickup truck, he bought a plane ticket to Tucson. (“I didn’t know much about it, but it sounded interesting. Maybe that was the name.”)
He found a place to live by going to the University of Arizona campus and checking the student union’s wanted roommates chart and choosing the cheapest option, then backing himself up with a job. bellboy at an upscale downtown hotel. After taking a poetry workshop, he enrolled in college as a full-time student.
“My hero back then was the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda,” Graziano recalls, “and I spent a lot of time traveling through Mexico and Central America. Back then you could take a run down train from Nogales to Mexico City for $ 21. It was a trip of about three days, and I’ve done it twice.
Graziano majored in poetry and was fortunate enough to find an unusual way to support himself while a student, in a poetry program at the schools of the National Endowment for the Arts.
“Usually they didn’t accept undergraduates,” he said, “but Rollo the clown fell ill at the last minute and the arts council was desperate to find a replacement for a position in a Phoenix public library.
“About 50 children were happily awaiting Rollo, and instead they got me with poetry. The salary was $ 100, which was my monthly rent and it seemed like a fortune.”
After graduation, he got a six-month job as a writer-in-residence with the South Carolina Arts Commission, hosting poetry writing workshops in juvenile detention centers. , halfway houses and prisons.
“I had excellent students in three of the four prisons I worked in,” Graziano recalls. The fourth was the state’s maximum security prison. “Once, when I arrived, the guards were carrying a dead inmate on a stretcher, with blood on the sheet. “
His poetry workshop took place in two adjacent cells, with four handcuffed inmates locked in one and Graziano locked in the other. “It didn’t do much,” he said.
A master’s degree in poetry from the University of Iowa followed, as well as a scholarship for a year of graduate study in Peru. A later job as an assistant director of the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities convinced Graziano that a 9-5 day job was not a viable career choice, so he enrolled at the University of New Mexico. , obtaining a doctorate in Latin. American studies.
He began his academic career in 1991 as an assistant professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at the American University in Washington, DC Graziano moved to Connecticut College in 1999 as department chair and John D. MacArthur professor Hispanic studies.
In addition to Historic churches in New Mexico today, his books include Cultures of devotion: the folkloric saints of Spanish America, Plagues of love: The mystical marriage of Saint Rose of Lima, and Miraculous images and votive offerings in Mexico, all published by Oxford University Press.
Graziano recently retired from teaching and moved to a small valley near Chamisal, which is on the High Taos Route, not far from Peñasco.
“It took me two years to find the type of property I was looking for,” he said. “I wanted something beautiful and private, but on a budget.
“I almost bought a house near Silver City and another near the Colorado border. But when I saw the scenery here, I knew this was the place. It is on the Rio de las Trampas and borders the national forest on two sides. Everything clicked.
When asked if the oral history archive would continue to grow, Graziano laughed and replied, “Not exactly. No more interviews, but we’ll use them as raw materials for future projects. When I collected them, I noticed that there were certain themes that repeated in everyone’s life.
“So in the new year, I want to go back and extract some snippets to use in podcasts organized by topic. Ten different people from different backgrounds talking about the same thing, linked by a narrative across the line.
Graziano also hopes to develop a technique to help with the renovation of historic properties he learned while researching for his book on churches in New Mexico.
“In 1985, a large part of a wall in the Picuris Pueblo church collapsed,” he said. “It was the fifth church in the pueblo and was built in 1776. When repair work began, further structural damage was discovered and the pueblo decided to rebuild the church from scratch.”
To generate enough energy for the big task, the pueblo elders contacted several groups to help with the project, including summer vacation students and members of area motorcycle clubs. It’s a pattern that Graziano says can be replicated to help restore other churches in New Mexico.
“Partnering with service learning programs in schools and universities is a great model,” Graziano said. “There are already programs where students do similar projects in Central and South America, and I would love to have something similar here in New Mexico.