Higinia Gallegos / Cañones

My name is Higinia Gallegos and I was born and raised in Cañones. I went to school in Gallinas, left at a young age, out to work porque there’s nothing to work here. I went out and worked, it’s not easy to go out and work for somebody else rather than to be able to work for yourself, on your own, have your own business. And part of the traditions of being Hispanic, of being born and raised in New Mexico, that that’s our culture. Planting and living off your land, and cattle raising. My dad did a lot of cattle and we have borregas. And we we planted everything, we lived off the land most of the time and the farm. We were never really able to say I’m a go into town and buy five-hundred dollars worth of meat because for what? We had cattle. We had sheep, whatever we needed, that was healthy for us to eat. Now all we eat is saturated fat. (laughter). You know mantecas from the store and everything else, you know that’s not good.

I lived in Albuquerque for twenty-three years and let me tell you I’ve been back now sixteen-years and I couldn’t of have made the best choice ever. I loved Albuquerque and I miss it, the convenience of it, but I don’t think I can go back. I don’t think I can go back. I guess if I’m at a nursing home I have to go back (laughter). But no, I think this is where we are going to wind up dying and raising our kids, grand-kids. We moved out here when we adopted Justina. Justina was only a couple months old. She’s already a sophomore in High School. And it’s a big difference from our son who graduated in Albuquerque to her being raised here. We didn’t have the problems that there is in Albuquerque out here because everything is so convenient there, and over here they have to haul them off to school.


We had her start in Gallinas and she wasn’t doing good in Gallinas because that school in Gallinas kinda went downhill after all that embezzlement that lady did. So we had to pull her last year and put her in Los Alamos. She is struggling because that school is hard. Yea, it’s very challenging for her because they get you prepared for college, to go straight to college, you don’t have to take courses. Basically all their students graduate with an associates, pretty much. That’s the way they see it, that’s what their focus is. That’s what they want to see. But ours probably won’t get there because she started so late. If she would of started early she probably would of made it. It’s challenging for her. Just the commute itself is rough.

Living out here in a rural area you have to do whatever you have to do. We have to live with every day situations that you face. We don’t get our roads bladed as often as they do in Albuquerque. Or as quick as they do. We have our ups and our downs. Our challenges everyday. But you know, I love it. We first started, I went to pre-school in Cañones, they had their own little pre-school here. Elementary was in Coyote. And then the High School was in Gallinas. To me growing up in a rural community in Cañones was exciting in many ways but challenging because when my dad first bought that house we didn’t have any indoor plumbing or anything. Eventually he did within a few years, but we had to haul water and we had to take a bath in those big tubs. Not like nowadays where you just walk in and turn on the shower. And to me those are memories that you treasure for a long time. I sit the kids down and I tell them, tell my daughter, and they are like “you are so old fashioned.” It’s not old-fashioned but I want them to know that it wasn’t easy and you guys have it made. You guys have a dish washer nowadays. You guys have running water and everything. And you still complain about going outside and raking the yard. Saying, “It’s too hot! I need to be under the air conditioner.” And us, they had a community center when I was about thirteen I think. They had us all that summer, they had us building adobes. That’s how we, the youth in Cañones, we made adobes all that summer and that’s how that community center went up. With all the help from the youth in the village. So that is something we are really proud of. And of course the old school that was there before I was there before I went to pre-school, we kinda had to fight a little bit because they wanted to knock it down and we wanted to keep it as a historic place but they said it was too much of a hassle. If a kid goes in there and it collapses. Finally we were like OK, guess you can knock it down if you want.

But just growing up here was so different, a healthy environment, and a clean environment, smog-free not like in Albuquerque, like that you are breathing in nasty gasses from every vehicle, factories and everything. And don’t tell me anything cuz I lived there (laughter). And I worked in probably one of the biggest factories, I worked at Intel for a long time. So you get to see the difference between breathing that clean air out here and that disgusting air out there. I loved it. I enjoyed it very much. I did a lot of farming with my dad. We had to build a lot of hay. Because back then we had all the properties. After we grew up my dad divided into four because there’s four of us. I was the youngest one so I had to help a lot (laughter). I had to help a lot with all the chores around the house and I enjoyed it.

I really enjoyed it growing up in a small community. We’ll I’m the fifth generation of that Juan Baptista Valdez Land Grant. As a matter of fact I have been the president now for eight years and this will be my last term. Eight years already. My dad worked real hard to save this land. It got to the point that politics got in the way. They were about to swipe it under his feet and start selling it just because they would see that my dad was not educated enough. They thought just because he didn’t have a High School diploma he couldn’t. But Dad was smarter then the average bear. And he had a nephew that was a real conniver. He just wanted to say this is just for family only and you shouldn’t have to share. My Dad always wanted to tell him, “No! This Land Grant is for us to build community. To provide for our communities. And you know that’s what we are going to use it for. We have whatever our ancestors left us and there’s a lot of people who don’t have a place to live. This is what we want to do with it.” So you know they were there in a lot of conflict for a while but thank God everything is settled now. It’s going good now. We don’t have that much acreage, we are fighting, we are fighting for it, for the rest, which is like eighty-eight thousand which is what the forest service has. But even just the small percentage we do have a patent for, which is us against the world. We are still able to make a little money off it, a little bit of revenues come from it. I think we have nine permits for elk, different species of bull, cow, whatever. We sell deer permits all the time also and we don’t make a whole lot with the deer, but elk permits bring us quite a bit of revenue. We probably make a good eighteen thousand off them. With the elk permits. And then we also give the community a chance to come in have one. Our goal is to one day have living quarters for maybe even the elderlies. Like assisted living. Maybe like housing, housing for those that don’t have a place to live. There’s a lot of kids here that their parents didn’t have properties. Or if they did, their ancestors sold it cuz’ they went through that depression or they felt they needed to sale it or they moved out and they just didn’t want to take care of it.

The traditions of the Land Grand Grant, we have tried to stay with what my dad and his ancestors originally tried to work for it you know. Like I said, to give back to their community and use it to form communities. That’s exactly what they wanted to do with it. We have a few members that are kinda like opposing to it yet, but you know I still keep insisting, we need to keep pushing forward. If we don’t push forward it’s never going to happen. You know we need to start applying for grants too, to do this. Last year we did real good. We applied for grants for our water association, so just to complete our loop there. And it’s a project that will get going…well it’s going on now in the spring. So we also tried to get them… We never had an office, so we are working with the county now to get them one. The community center has an office that they never use. They use to use them for storage. So this year we are trying to get those two offices for the Land Grant and the other one for the Water Association, which it looks by next week we should be closing that agreement already, so that’s a big plus. Stuff that we are starting to get back, that with time we had lost. We are trying to get all this stuff back. To self sustain itself, instead of saying, “We have to run Cañones because it can’t even run itself because the people there can’t even run it themselves, they are always fighting and arguing.” So hopefully little by little I think we are starting to become a community once again. A community that was there with our ancestors and all of a sudden it started dissolving. We see it building up again. And it’s a great thing to see it back like that again. It’s great for our kids to see that.

This community is very united now, they can do different things. Our target this year I think is we are going to try to get a fire department, ‘cuz we don’t have a fire department and… actually last night, or the night before, there was a house that burned down in Gallinas. So I was like, we really need to start focusing on… because we have a lot of elderlies in here. All the young ones se van. Because they have to go out and work. And it’s a long commute to even go to Los Alamos. My son goes to work in Los Alamos and it’s an hour and a half. It’s an hour and a half to get there but that’s the only place that you can go with decent money. My daughter in law works in Española, she works at Lowe’s. Pero even to Española it’s an hour. From here it’s probably an hour and fifteen minutes but at least an hour you know.

Rio Arriba County was mostly ran out of Tierra Amarilla, but now they have those branches there in Española which is wonderful because…. So Española is like our closest town for everything you know like shopping.

Well five generations would lead us to the Juan Baptista Valdez no? From what I understand, they were given these properties by the Queen of Spain… with those intentions to go out and form community. Which Juan Baptista was also part of La Polvadera too. The Polvadera got sold somehow, I don’t even have time to look into it but anyways they were husband and wife. So she had part of that Polvadera and he had part of the Juan Baptista. There was a lot going on in that time. There was something going on at El Rito. That they for whatever reason brought people from El Rito that they settled them in between Cañones and Youngsville. And they use to call that place El Rito de las Enscinias. It’s documented in history that they tried to start both communities with what the land was intended. But beyond that… No, I don’t know a lot of history of that. Just what my dad use to tell me.

Well you know, living in Albuquerque if you don’t have money… Because you have to. You go downtown and you need money to park. You get on a commuter bus, you need money. Unless like here in Española where they have that free bus, which is really nice. And in Los Alamos where my daughter goes to school at they have a free bus, where you can go from one school to the next. But I know that in Albuquerque it’s going to cost you. Even if it’s a dollar, but if you don’t have it. If you live from paycheck to paycheck and it’s Thursday and you don’t have that dollar to get in the bus how are you going to get in the bus? So it’s rough. Here it’s probably the same challenge or maybe even a bit more difficult. In a sense you don’t have to spend that much money because you can grow a lot of the stuff that you don’t have to buy. Like you do in Albuquerque. In Albuquerque you have to buy your tomatoes, you have to buy everything, unless you have a nice little yard that you can plant. But in the long run a lot of the things… the cost of living might be a bit tough here because now you are going to have to make sure that you have enough gas to make it in to town where versus over there you are just across the street from everything. Across the Rio Grand, within ten minutes. Aquí living in a rural area where you need your medication you don’t have Wallgreen’s that’s open twenty four hours a day like it’s over there. Those were things that were different from me when I moved back. I was so used to those conveniences when I was going for my milk at the street, or taking my trash bin to the street. Versus here where I have to do my own trash hauling. It’s a little challenging, but it’s a healthier environment to me.

Living here is a lot healthier than living in Albuquerque. Just the everyday lifestyle. Just the everyday lifestyle that I don’t have to see somebody shooting up in the middle of or from the corner of the street you know. I don’t want my kids being raised seeing that you know. I want them to learn what it’s like to live off your land, off the clean air, seeing the sun come up every morning instead of street lights come up at night or whatever you know. I want them to be able to see stars, I want them to be able to see birds sing, just the nature of it. That’s what I would like for my kids to see. But it’s a challenge. It’s a big challenge and the differences from a rural area… I recommend it. I highly recommend it! You can sleep at night and you don’t hear that train, those airplanes.


And the thing that happens is I think we are growing up and we want to see the world. We want to see new adventures and everything. You get there and you need to start thinking, I’m starting to have kids, and I don’t want my kids being raised there. So you start to gradually come back to where your parts where at one point. It’s different yea. You grow up and you starting saying, “Eh how can I live here? How can I have been here for this many years?” That’s what I say now when I go to Albuquerque. When I was there the freeway was four lanes, and now it’s probably six. And it keeps getting bigger, bigger, and before you know it, oh shoot that use to be the exit and now it’s now there no more. So you get off the wrong exit and you have to go all the way to San Antonio and come back.

I think for some of them, there’s that natural urge to leave Cañones, only for the reason that they know they have to go to school. They have to pursue their education, for those that want to continue their education. Which I think Cañones being such a small community, it has a lot of teachers that came out of here. Actually we have a guy that just got his doctorate degree. Coming from this tiny little school que their graduating classes are anywhere from sixteen to twenty-five max. Where as in Albuquerque that you have four hundred and fifty students that are graduating. Hopefully you have a last name with an A so you don’t have to be waiting. (laughter) I see a lot of them have a good head on their shoulders, a lot of teachers como te digo… We have doctors, there’s some of them… I think April got her pharmacist two years ago. So we have a good variety of kids who have came out from Cañones being that it’s such a small little community. I talk to Daniel and he’s like, “I still want to bring back that self-sustained little clinic to Cañones. Because I think the people here need it. The viejitos here need it. I need to come back. This is what I need to bring.” Bring it back to our community. And the oldest brother tambien is off to college but we are coming back, this is our roots, this is where we are going to live forever, where are kids are going to be raised. The sister is the same way, like last year she came and planted a whole bunch of trees. She’s like “this is life!” Having a fresh fruit of the tree.

I think the biggest challenge for Cañones is like I told you not having a near by hospital where like if there was even something close by in Abiqui, that wouldn’t be so bad. Those are challenges for our elderlies. Like emergencies, 9-1-1, fire rescues, stuff like that. Those are concerns for me, for this community. Los emergency services coming in, ambulance having to come in, and our roads are rough. Just every day challenges that you face going up and down these roads. Pero those are concerns that I would really like to address one day, for people to come over and say this is what we… and make it happen. Let’s make it happen. Let’s see if we can at least get one doctor to come in once or twice a week. So that we can have a little clinic here. And our elderlies can go with them instead of having to haul them into Española. Even if they come do home visits. That’s something that I would like to see eventually. A helicopter landing at least if nothing else. Because we get a lot of hikers and stuff, that for you to get them off a hill or from these mountains… yeah, it’s a challenge. Getting clean water is one of the things we are currently working on. The community has not had really good water in a long time and now that we have this new well coming up, I think that’s going to be a lot better for this community. That was a big plus to get clean water for the younger kids and the viejitos tambíen. We lost a lot of viejitos this past year. And then when you loose all those ancestors the community looses because you loose all that information, that knowledge, and you don’t have anybody to go talk to now and ask them questions about how was it and how did you guys do it. My mom still talks a lot of stuff like that and I learned a lot from my dad. They would get their horses and they would go. And now it’s just like throw the saw in the back of the truck and let’s go. But the challenges they had back then just to bring back from the mountain, just to make it through the winter. And in the summer they worked like animals just to try to survive over the winter months.

We don’t have such a big community. Like I tell you, a lot of them leave for whatever reasons, reasons like going off to college, move to Española or Albuquerque or whatever to go work. Mostly what we have now are like more elderlies, more middle-aged getting ready to retire, the younger folks there’s a few that go out to work everyday. I could say there’s a good twenty family members that go out, different families that have to go out and commute to Los Amalos. Some work in El Rito, Española. But those are true lovers of Cañones, those are the ones that are like “I don’t care how long it takes me to get into town. I don’t care how long it’s going to take me to get into work. This is where I’m staying. This is where I’m going to build my community. This is where I’m going to live the rest of my life.” Most of the ones that want to leave out is because they don’t have a place to stay. Some people that have settled but have only had a home for the parents, but no properties. They can’t say, “well I’m going to get an acre of land for my son so he can work.” They just stay in one household, I mean they have no choice to expand, to provide for their families and move on and get married. But eventually the elders die and somebody takes over that house and here they come again to start all over again. And that’s referring to why we wanted to build those communities, we want people to come, and if you give me a piece of land, I’ll come back to Cañones. I want to make it bigger, to be known how beautiful it is in Cañones.


Most of the traditions here are through the Catholic religion. There was a different religion that came in, didn’t last very long, pero the Catholic religion has been here for a long time. And their traditions are like to have the Posadas. Like now during Easter we’ll have, during lent we’ll have the Penitentes, I don’t know if you ever heard of the Penitentes? They will get together in the morning and have rosaries, symbols of the cross and a rosary at night. And during Holly Week they do it all week, every day. During Christmast we have the Posadas and you know the whole community prepares for it, even if you are not Catholic. Like they know on this day they are going to have the Posadas here. And all kinds of people come and they crowd this tiny little church and they have big bonfires afterwards, and they go and share a meal. So even if they are not Catholic, they decorate their houses, they are preparing for this day, it’s not their religion but… everybody comes and sees our house and how pretty they are decorated. It’s like a big event. For Easter, us, we carry all the traditions that my dad had. We have a community Easter egg hunt. We invite everyone from the community and the surrounding communities to come. We don’t charge for nothing, we just ask for people to bring something. And we always have it up here. Every year for Easter we provide games and people just donate stuff like the food, the games, whatever. So we have really good turn outs. We have at least four hundred people here. We hide over a thousand eggs. So that’s something we hold up here the tradition that my dad started, being that he was the president of the grant for a long time. So we just kept it going, kept it going. He always had this thing for kids… he had a thing for kids and he wanted to have special events for them. Always every year. He joined Boy Scouts.






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