Dr. José Griego, Ph.D.
I have learned to open my heart to a wisdom that does not flee from suffering, breakdown, or error. Rather, the wisdom of this place knows these aspects of life as inseparable from job, triumph, and communion.
—Chellis Glendinning, Chimayó resident and author of Chiva, a Village takes on the Global Heroin Trade
Linda Pedro called me, one day in 1998, to a meeting. She was serious about addressing the issues of violence and drug abuse in Chimayó and Española. Linda was living between two notorious heroin dealers. There had been incidents of gunshots near and through her property for months. A rock had come sailing through her kitchen window, knocking over a large plaster statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe that looked out over the property. One night, her neighbor awakened Linda and her assistant, yelling that someone was shooting into his home, and please call the cops. The Río Arriba County sheriff patrolled past Linda’s house on a regular basis, and she knew she could call him anytime, day or night. Linda wouldn’t accept the conditions of living next to a drug lord and had been pondering a strategy for herself and the community for months. Recent drug-related deaths of three young people from Chimayó and another young man from Española had everyone on edge.
One of Linda’s neighbors from the village, Melaquias Trujillo, had been training Linda’s Cheyenne nephew, Craig Magpie, for the Matachines dance. He gave her some advice. “In the old days,” Melaquias said, “a person in the community could approach the Penitente brotherhood for assistance in troubled times.” Linda took this to heart and began her efforts by putting up the tipi for a prayer meeting at her home. Later, we shared a prayer smoke and decided to proceed with her plan to invite the Penitentes, as well as the local Catholic church and various other congregations from the Valley, to participate in what she saw as an old-fashioned “limpia,” a cleansing of the community. I assisted by reaching out to the Hermanos.
The Penitentes take an oath of secrecy about the inner workings of the Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús, their formal name. With a long history in New Mexico, dating back to 1598, and before that to Spain going back to the Middle Ages, the Penitentes of New Mexico have preserved their traditions, especially the literary customs, better than the Penitentes of any other Latin American country in the world. Hundreds of alabados and prayers, written in the romance form of the Spanish medieval period, as well as décimas, have been carefully preserved in New Mexico. The matter of secrecy kept some Penitentes from participating in the prayer meeting. However, after much discussion, the president of the organization decided it would be OK. The Penitentes responded with enthusiasm. Even though there was some hesitation about coming out in public, the Hermanos came out in force to support this important cause.
On that Saturday in May of 1999, the march departed Santa Cruz de la Cañada plaza in a drizzle of rain. Linda Pedro led the procession in her wheelchair, assisted by various friends and helpers. She was followed by a host of approximately 40 Penitentes from four different moradas. Members of the community joined us, as well. Despite the weather, no one was deterred from our resolve to make a statement that day. The ancient alabados that the Hermanos sang along State Road 76 rose through the air and hung there. Along the route, we took note that all the known drug-dealers’ gates were closed and locked.
The Aztec dancers of Taos greeted us at the entrance to the Santuario de Chimayó with burning copal and chanting. Blessing ourselves with the incense, we marched down to the Río Santa Cruz, where members of the community gathered. Native Americans, Sikhs, Anglos, Chicanos, elders and youth rose up to challenge the epidemic of drug abuse and violence in their midst. Most unforgettable was the invocation by a member of the local Pentecostal church. As she wound up an emotional appeal to stop the violence and drugs, lightning and a loud thunderclap underscored her call to the community.
Afterword by Camilla Trujillo
Four months later, I opened the morning paper to see that a major drug raid had occurred in Chimayó. When I examined the map of the area most affected by the raid, I saw Linda’s property smack-dab in the middle of all the action. I learned that in the early morning hours of the previous day, Sept. 29, multiple helicopters had descended upon the village, targeting five families who were major players. One- hundred-and-fifty law-enforcement officers were involved. Local, state, DEA and FBI agents had arrived in the predawn hours. Pens full of pit bulls were destroyed, and drug dealers still in their pajamas were dragged out of bed and handcuffed. I called Linda to see how she was doing. She described the tense moments when she and her assistant were roused from sleep by the first helicopters. SWAT teams had surrounded two neighboring homes. Linda could glimpse people kneeling in their yards, awaiting arrest. “It was like the archangels, coming down from Heaven,” she said. “Oh, my God,” I realized. “September 29 is the Feast Day of Michael and all the Archangels!”
José Griego Maestas, Ph.D., is president emeritus of Northern New Mexico College.
Camilla Trujillo is from the Española Valley. She is a potter, herb-crafter and author of the book, Española.