Actress and former KRQE-TV news anchor Kim Trujillo appears in a new national video advertisement for the genealogy website ancestry.com, announcing with surprise that her DNA revealed she is “26 percent Native American.”
As with many New Mexico Hispanics, Trujillo, born and raised in Belen, had considered herself 100 percent “Spanish.” “I am very proud to find out I’m Native American, though,” Trujillo told The New Mexican. “I’m excited to learn more about that line of my heritage.”
Pride in Native American ancestry (or mestizaje) among Latinos elsewhere in the nation has been a foundation of the Chicano and other movements since the 1960s, but in New Mexico, historians say, many members of the Hispanic population have been slow to accept their Native American roots. There are complex historical and sociological reasons why Hispanics here have clung so fiercely to a “pure” European identity. Science, however, is breaking down that barrier.
Through the Human Genome Project, geneticists are able to identify markers for four major population groups — Native American, European, Asian and African — and many New Mexico Hispanics are discovering and embracing another piece of their past.
“It’s fascinating to see New Mexico Hispanics coming around to facts,” anthropologist and archaeologist Charles M. Carrillo said during a recent academic symposium in Abiquiú about genízaros, or Hispanicized Native Americans. He’s been overseeing a dig in the Northern New Mexico village for the past four years to determine whether early settlers there were linked to genízaros.
“The idea of pure Spanish blood remains unfortunately very important to some,” Carrillo said. “But their numbers grow smaller every year.”
The term genízaro was used by the Spanish from 1692 to the late 19th century to describe Native Americans who had been kidnapped and raised as Spanish but limited by law to a second-class status of servitude and often slavery. Being a genizaro came with some legal benefits — they were allowed to ride horses and own weapons, for example, while other American Indians could not, according to poet and historian Levi Romero, an assistant professor of Chicano studies at The University of New Mexico and a panelist at the Abiquiú symposium.
Many New Mexico communities — including Barrio de Analco in Santa Fe, Abiquiú, Tome, Belen, Carnuel and San Antonio — were founded by freed genizaros, according to Moises Gonzalez, a professor of architecture and Chicano studies at UNM and one of the organizers of the symposium.
These towns have long been resistant to allowing archaeologists to excavate Spanish settlements in search of proof of Native American ancestry. Recently, however, some have begun granting permission for such research to take place. Carrillo spent more than two decades petitioning Abiquiú to allow his dig, and was rejected over and over. Carrillo’s research seeks small clues to indigenous roots in genízaro settlements, including a certain type of glaze that was primarily used on pottery by Native Americans.
He cautions, however, that because so much culture was stripped of the kidnapped children who became genízaros, it is hard to tell from archaeological evidence alone the exact ancestry of the people who inhabited the settlements.
People of mixed heritage began to deny their Native ancestry because of Spanish laws that granted few, if any, rights to American Indians. This process is known in academia as “ethnogenesis,” or identity creation. Carrillo said the Spanish identity for many mixed-heritage New Mexicans began as an imposed identity and evolved over time into a self-identity. What started as a “little white lie to save one’s own life and that of one’s family members eventually became the de rigueur identity,” he said.
New Mexico folkloric singer David Garcia said local lullabies such as “Los Comanchitos,” which tells of a Comanche husband and wife separated when he’s sold into slavery, are musicological proof that Native American slaves tried to retain their ethnic and cultural identity through music, dance and other areas that the Spanish deemed nonthreatening.
In her award-winning children’s book The Firefly Letters, Cuban writer Margarita Engle describes a historical truth about Spanish colonial slavery practices that is often overlooked — that the vast majority of Native Americans and Africans the Spanish conscripted into slavery were very young children.
Spanish expansion policy documents from the 17th to 19th centuries noted that young children, still forming identities and needing parental figures, were the best source of slaves because they proved much easier to manipulate and control for life than those newly bound as adults, according to Engle.
The Spanish conquistadors took notes from their former tormentors, the Ottoman Turks, who during the 14th and 15th centuries had carried out a widespread campaign to forcibly convert Christian boys between the ages of 7 and 10 to Islam. These boys, called janissaries, were trained exclusively for military action against their own people, according to Enrique Lamadrid, a UNM professor of cultural studies, who spoke at the symposium. In New Mexico, the Spaniards referred to Native American child slave-soldiers by a Hispanicized version of the Turkish word — genízaros.
“You had battle scenes where it was sons and nephews on the front lines, too young to remember their personal history, coming into Indian settlements and butchering their own fathers, grandfathers and uncles, many of whom probably recognized them,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a horrific history.”
“We are Spanish, and we are Native American, both,” he added. “To insist otherwise is to disrespect our own ancestors who were enslaved and forcibly converted. We’re better people than that.”