Family of singer slain in Santa Fe launches charity

Ernestine Romero, a recording artist from Pojoaque who police say was slain this summer by her estranged husband, is seen in 2009. Her family has founded a charitable fund in her memory. New Mexican file photo

Jennifer Romero wants people to know her little sister is still giving back to New Mexico.

Romero, the older sister of Ernestine Saucedo, a popular local singer killed in a stunning murder-suicide outside the Public Education Department building in July, said family, friends and fans continue to mourn her death.

“I miss her every day and the community is really feeling her loss,” Romero said. “It’s surprising to see how big she really was and how much she did.”

But Romero said Saucedo’s survivors have found something of a salve for their grief in establishing the Ernestine Romero Memorial Fund, which will provide scholarships to graduating seniors in the area and donations for local organizations that work to prevent domestic and intimate partner violence.

The family is asking for donations and all proceeds from Saucedo’s music and merchandise sales — the Tejano singer performed under her maiden name, Ernestine Romero, nearly every weekend across the Southwest — are being donated to the memorial fund held at the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

Saucedo’s death shook Northern New Mexico. Police said she was fatally shot by her husband, 34-year-old Jessie Saucedo, in an SUV parked downtown July 11, four days after their two-year wedding anniversary. Jessie Saucedo then took his own life. The Saucedos had a decadelong relationship, but police said they had been legally separated since mid-June.

Jennifer Romero said her sister was passionate in supporting children, whether that was helping coach young Tejano performers or attending every event for her many nieces. She said the fund is a way cultivate her sister’s legacy.

“Her main goal was to make sure New Mexico Tejano music didn’t die,” said Romero, a research technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “When our father stopped doing music, she put her foot down and said, ‘No, I want to keep singing.’ ”

Ernestine Saucedo, who was 32, started her career in state government with the Public Education Department and later moved to the Human Services Department. She returned to the PED in 2015 and was promoted to executive budget analyst supervisor prior to her death. She also worked part-time at J.C. Penney.

Saucedo started her singing career at an early age, with her first gig at a Valentine’s Day dance at Pojoaque Elementary School. Her first album was released when she was just 11.

“We have pictures of her dancing on the coffee table in a yellow tutu — that was her passion, ever since she was little,” Romero said.

Saucedo’s brother-in-law, Pete Montoya, described the performances as “family gatherings,” as Saucedo’s father, Willie Romero, provided sound support and her mother, Olivia, ran the merchandise booth. Romero designed her sister’s first website and album covers.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Montoya said with a chuckle. “I became part of the family and suddenly you’re unloading and loading speakers and helping set up. Ernestine, she’d come up, she’d flash that smile — and that was it, you’d want to help her.”

Romero and Montoya said the Tejano music community has been a huge source of support.

“Ever since it happened, we’ve been going to memorials at each event she was scheduled to sing,” Montoya said.

The Tejano style — dance music that combines Mexican folk, German polka and American country genres — has a large following in the Southwest. Saucedo had just released her 10th CD earlier this year for her 20th anniversary of performing.

She recently teamed up with popular singer-songwriter Shelly Lares for the bouncy Ranchera song “Estupida,” which she had been scheduled to perform Aug. 24 in Las Vegas, Nev., for the Tejano Music National Convention.

Instead, Romero said, she and her parents attended a memorial for her sister, which included Lares’ tribute song, a collaboration with Stefani Montiel and Jimencio.

“Shelly [Lares] raffled off her timbales, the small drums they use, for a good amount of money and donated to the fund,” Romero said.

The most recent memorial was Saturday at the Lordsburg Tejano Festival. Organizer Robert Gonzalez said the show played Saucedo’s music and invited performers to speak Saturday evening.

Romero, 38, said she still listens to her sister’s music. Her favorite song is “Un Rinconcito.”

“Voy a buscar/Un rinconcito en el cielo/Para llevar a mi amor.”

“I’m going to search for a little corner of heaven to take you, my love.”

Romero said that song has a different meaning to her now. The song was a favorite of their father’s that Saucedo recorded for both her first and last albums.

“If you listen to the words, it has a very different meaning now for us,” she said. “Finding a little piece of heaven.”