Speak­ing Chi­mayó

Don J. Us­ner cap­tures the sounds and look of the town

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Casey Sanchez I For The New Mex­i­can

Chi­mayó, a sprawl­ing vil­lage set in the foothills of the San­gre de Cristo Moun­tians, is a place like no other. Since the 1980s, Don J. Us­ner has been pre­serv­ing the sto­ries and folk­ways of the Chi­mayosos, as well as the re­gional North­ern New Mex­ico Span­ish ex­pressed through the di­chos — th e say­ings and max­ims — that dom­i­nate their speech. In his lat­est book, Chas­ing Di­chos Through Chi­mayó , Us­ner cap­tures in words and pho­to­graphs the sin­gu­lar world of Chi­mayó’s res­i­dents. On the cover is Capilla de San An­to­nio, Potrero , which the au­thor shot in 2009; cour­tesy Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico Press.

Some towns are so small and old they’ve be­come worlds unto them­selves. For writer and pho­tog­ra­pher Don J. Us­ner, that town is Chi­mayó. With its santuario, Good Fri­day pil­grim­age, her­itage weavers, fa­ther-and-son lowrid­ers, dark beauty, and en­trenched poverty, Chi­mayó is a place­like no other. Over the cen­turies, many of its in­hab­i­tants have pre­served as well as adapted a mix of Span­ish colo­nial and in­dige­nous faiths and artis­tic tra­di­tions.

Since the 1980s, Us­ner has been pre­serv­ing the sto­ries and folk­ways of this sprawl­ing vil­lage, home to some 3,000 peo­ple who live in the foothills of the San­gre de Cristo Moun­tains, about 30 miles north­east of Santa Fe. The au­thor has deep roots in this land. His fam­ily has lived in the vil­lage con­tin­u­ously since its found­ing in 1701. For his lat­est project, Chas­ing Di­chos Through Chi­mayó , Us­ner sought to cap­ture the in­tensely re­gional North­ern New Mex­ico Span­ish as ex­pressed through the say­ings and max­ims that still dom­i­nate the speech of the Chi­mayosos, an af­fec­tion­ate name for the town’s res­i­dents. With an ob­ser­vant ear for ev­ery­day speech, Us­ner re-cre­ates the con­ver­sa­tions of the town’s vieji­tos , or el­ders, pep­pered with the di­chos that pro­lif­er­ate in the res­i­dents’ sin­gu­lar di­alect of Span­ish. Con­sider th­ese:

Vale más ami­gos que dinero en el banco. Friends are worth more than money in the bank.

Le falta un real para el peso y la mi­tad de la se­m­ana . He is a quar­ter short of a dollar and half of the week. (He is daft.)

Él que nace pa’ tra­ba­jos, desde la cuna los pasa . One who is born for mis­for­tune starts hav­ing it from the cra­dle.

Dios re­siste a los sober­bios y da gra­cia a los hu­mildes. God de­nies the wise and gives grace to the hum­ble.

Al que va a la bodega por vez se le cuenta, beba o sno beba . Peo­ple will talk when some­one goes into a bar, whether he drinks or not.

Si no es santo es porque no la cuel­gan . If she is not a saint, it’s only be­cause they don’t hang her on the wall.

“Peo­ple of­ten think this book is go­ing to be a list of di­chos. It’s not. It’s about chas­ing the di­chos, pur­su­ing th­ese con­ver­sa­tions, and hear­ing them in living time,” Us­ner said in an in­ter­view with Pasatiempo . “It’s about the peo­ple who say and use them.”

Both a Chi­mayó in­sider and out­sider, Us­ner was raised in Los Alamos, where his fa­ther worked at the lab. But grow­ing up, Us­ner and his sib­lings spent most of their sum­mers at their grand­mother’s Chi­mayó house, ram­bling through hills and woods, pick­ing fruit off trees, as­sist­ing farm­ers with ace­quia ir­ri­ga­tion, and living off chiles, beans, and pa­pas fritas at a time when few in Chi­mayó’s pop­u­la­tion had regular ac­cess to a gro­cery store. As a child and teen he was goaded by rel­a­tives to mem­o­rize the names of an­ces­tors long gone, and he also soaked up the in­tensely id­iomatic and re­gional Span­ish of the vil­lage. “I was nursed on di­chos for so long they be­came a deep part of my mem­ory. A lot of them come to mind all the time. There are some I al­ways get a kick out of.”

For the record, Us­ner’s fa­vorite di­cho is Bus­cando trabajo y ro­gando al Dios no hal­lar /I’m look­ing for work and pray­ing to God I don’t find any. “It was a di­cho that got used back in the day to ex­plain how des­per­ately they needed em­ploy­ment in Es­pañola. For many of the men, their op­tions were to go to work in the mine, or they had to leave the state for work. Hence they were pray­ing to God for work, but at the same time they didn’t want to have to work any of the in­cred­i­bly hard la­bor they had to en­dure.”

The writer cur­rently makes his home in Santa Fe but lived in Chi­mayó full-time for 15 years and re­turns there fre­quently. “I would like to con­sider my­self Chi­mayó in my blood and bones and sen­si­bil­ity. But in some weird way, it’s not my pre­rog­a­tive to de­cide that. It’s up to the peo­ple to de­cide if I’m not of their ilk be­cause I haven’t spent enough time there. I cer­tainly al­ways feel to­tally wel­come, but there are some peo­ple there who con­sider me some­thing of an in­ter­loper.”

Through the pho­tos and sto­ries in his new book, it is clear that Us­ner ranges widely through Chi­mayó. He make note of moth­ers deal­ing with hasty young sons: Está como dos en un za­p­ato/ He is like two in one shoe (He’s anx­ious to get go­ing); a grand­mother cast­ing as­per­sions on neigh­bor­hood riffraff: No vale ni un cero a la izquierda/ He’s not worth even a zero to the left side; and an el­derly man of few words who demon­strates the say­ing Ha­cen más unos callando que otros gri­tando/ There are those who ac­com­plish more by be­ing quiet than oth­ers who are shout­ing.

Al que va a la bodega por vez se le cuenta, beba o no beba.

Peo­ple will talk when some­one goes into a bar, whether he drinks or not.

Us­ner’s other works on the vil­lage in­clude Sabino’s Map: Life in

Chi­mayó’s Old Plaza and Benigna’s Chi­mayó: Cuen­tos From the Old Plaza , which gath­ers tra­di­tional sto­ries from Us­ner’s grand­mother, born at the tail end of the 19th cen­tury. The au­thor said his idea and re­search for the cur­rent book took sev­eral years to bear fruit. “A long time ago I re­al­ized I had this col­lec­tion of di­chos that was re­ally valu­able and in­ter­est­ing. But, from the be­gin­ning, I thought I wanted to do some­thing that was dif­fer­ent with them. My first im­pulse was to just take pic­tures and have the images al­ter­nate with the di­chos. Well into the process, though, I be­came fas­ci­nated with th­ese en­coun­ters. I started writ­ing down the in­ter­views with the Chi­mayosos and record­ing their con­ver­sa­tions on my iPhone.”

Years in the mak­ing, the new book is both a joy and a sor­row to read. Many of the el­derly women and men who grace its pages with their vi­brant con­ver­sa­tions and deep sense of sur­vival and his­tory are al­ready in ill health as the chap­ters progress; oth­ers have moved on to one of the town’s cam­posan­tos , or ceme­ter­ies.

Through­out the book and from the rolling list of di­chos, the reader gets a sense of the in­hab­i­tants’ wry sense of hu­mor. The au­thor shares this mem­ory of his late cousin Modesto Vigil: Irked by the no­tion that the town’s flock of Good Fri­day tourists mis­tak­enly be­lieved the santuario is also the town’s pri­mary church, Modesto would walk through the throngs of thou­sands, yelling, “You’re go­ing the wrong way!” The lonely cru­sader urged the pil­grims to take their sacra­ments at the Holy Fam­ily Church: “The sacra­ments are in the other church, not the santuario.”

Even with three books un­der his belt, Us­ner says he is by no means done with Chi­mayó. “There are about 3,000 peo­ple who live here, bro­ken up into tiny lit­tle sub­com­mu­ni­ties and plazas [old neigh­bor­hood cen­ters]. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the sur­face of what there is to write about there.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.