by Anna M. Nogar and Enrique R. Lamadrid
A review by Alejandro López
Sisters in Blue, Sor María de Agreda Comes to New Mexico, by Anna M. Nogar and Enrique R. Lamadrid, with illustrations by Amy Córdova, is a recent University of New Mexico Press bilingual production from its Querencia Series. Querencia is a popular term in the Spanish-speaking world that is used to express a deeply rooted love of place and people. The series promotes a transnational, humanistic and creative vision of the U.S.-México borderlands, based on all aspects of expressive culture, both material and intangible.
This 75-page young people’s book presents a poetic account of Sor María de Agreda’s appearances in New Mexico during the tumultuous 16th century, when Pueblo communities were just beginning to feel the effects of Spanish conquest and colonialism. Sor María de Agreda was a Spanish nun who spent her entire life in Agreda, a community in the northeast of Spain, during an equally precarious time characterized by social disorder and out-migrations of people. In 1629, Alonso de Benavides, a Spanish priest living in New Mexico, reported that a young woman who resembled a nun visited a native tribe called the Jumanos and taught them about Christianity. When he traveled to Spain in 1630, he visited the town of Agreda, where he met with Sor María. From their conversations, he was convinced that she was the woman who had visited the Jumanos. From 1630 on, the Lady in Blue became part of the history of New Mexico. Since then, myths and legends revolving around this bi-locating historical figure have taken on a life of their own.
In the present book, the authors have introduced a character known as Paf Sheuri, a young Jumano woman from the no-longer-existing village of Cueloze of the same time period. When she visits a pool to gather water in a clay pot near the summer solstice or, in Spanish, el Día de San Juan, she perceives the presence of the Spanish woman, more through the smell of the dried apples that she brings with her than through her sense of sight. Somehow speaking each other’s languages, they share the travails of women and of the people of that period in time. When Sor María de Agreda gives Paf Sheuri a cross of Lorraine with two bars across the top, she recognizes it as the Pueblo symbol for the dragonfly, which presages the presence of water. When Paf Sheuri gives Sor María Agreda an eagle feather, Sor María recognizes it for what it is: a symbol of the highest-flying bird, who can see both the above and the below.
Significantly, for her, the feather was also an instrument of writing, an activity that she pursued within her cloistered walls. So influential were Sor María de Agreda’s writings, particularly about the respect and proper treatment of the Native peoples, that they were widely read in the New World and influenced official government and church policy toward indigenous peoples. Up to the present, the life and writings of Sor María Agreda serve as a model for the sensitive and humane interaction between people of different cultures.