Speaking Spanish in New Mexico — NOT!

As I described in an earlier post, when we lived in New Mexico I used to enjoy chatting in Spanish with our neighbors from Argentina. Remarkably, despite my passion for the Spanish language, this was practically the only opportunity I had to speak Spanish during our ten years living in this substantially Spanish-speaking area. Why?

It wasn’t for lack of trying. Especially in the first few years, I would occasionally try to engage Spanish speakers in conversation. The inevitable response: English.

It wasn’t for lack of skill. My Spanish was a bit rusty at the time, but still proficient.

The problem was, rather, culture. New Mexico bills itself as a land of three cultures: Hispanic, Native American, and “Anglo”. The local Hispanics call themselves norteños, meaning “people of the North” (as opposed to the South, i.e. Mexico), and are proud that many can trace their ancestry directly to Spain. A substantial minority have Basque roots, which makes sense if you keep in mind the importance of sheep farming in both areas.

The Native American population of New Mexico belongs either to the various Pueblo tribes or to the Navajo Nation. And “Anglo”? Well, that basically means “none of the above”, whether you’re a white Jewish girl from New York, a graduate student from France, or an African American.

For the most part, this three-culture mix was a positive aspect of our life in New Mexico. We enjoyed visiting pueblos and exploring ancient Anasazi ruins (especially Tsankawi), eating northern New Mexican food, especially breakfast burritos and blue corn chicken enchiladas with green chile, and just living in a part of the country that, like San Antonio or New Orleans, didn’t feel like the garden-variety American melting pot.

Tsankawi (the non-touristy part of Bandelier Natl. Monument)

Blue corn enchiladas with green chile and a sopaipilla on the side. I order mine without the cheese.

But culture was also a barrier. Nobody would speak Spanish with me simply because I was an Anglo (or angla, I guess). Every time I tried, I was crossing a forbidden line.

The only time I managed to speak Spanish with actual norteños was when a colleague who had married into a local Hispanic family invited us to his annual Christmas party. His entire extended family of in-laws was there, and we feasted on dishes like posole (fortunately, this was before I was trying to live as a strict vegan):

Thanks to my colleague’s imprimatur I was allowed to storm the cultural barriers for that one night, and happily chatted in Spanish with several of his in-laws. Qué gusto — y ¡qué feliz Navidad!


72 thoughts on “Speaking Spanish in New Mexico — NOT!

  1. Tracy López / Latinaish.com

    It’s hard to break through that barrier in certain circumstances although I’ve been lucky enough that the native Spanish speakers I know are more than willing to speak to me in Spanish, (though often times it’s because they don’t speak English.) … When people are fully bilingual, it gets trickier.

    The photo of the enchilada and the mention of the posole have made me really hungry! … My older sister used to live in New Mexico and I had the opportunity to visit. It’s an amazing place, so completely unique from the rest of the United States – I hope I can go back and visit some day.

  2. Pingback: Forgotten Spanish | Spanish Linguist

  3. Heather

    “Speaking Spanish in New Mexico – NOT! | Spanish Linguist” really enables me imagine a small bit further.
    I personally loved each and every individual component of this post.
    I appreciate it -Erica

  4. CCC

    My family was born in New Mexico and the Spanish there is not your typical Spanish. It is old colonial Spanish that was left nearly untouched for centuries as the are true Spanish not Mexicans. So it is not what you would learn in school or in Mexico or So America. Much studying is now being done to preserve our culture. I ma in Utah and I am proud to be Spanish American not Mexican. It is a very unique culture due to the isolation it enjoyed til the last century.

    1. Jo Izay

      Actually, we speak Ladino in New Mexico –Sephardic origin. Our Spanish roots in the New World date back to 1492 when the Spanish crown: queen Isabela and Fernando expelled the Jews from Spain because our ancestors did NOT accept Catholicism. Thousands of Jews were killed for decades before and when they got tired of killing, they kicked our ancestors out. The twist: In the New World, they forgot who they were and accepted Catholicism. Go figure! In our family, our grandfather was out rabbi.

      1. jhochberg Post author

        While living in New Mexico we of course heard a lot about this possible origin story for the norteños, but my recollection is that it was pretty well debunked by Judith S. Neulander, who now teaches at Case Western University. Her research was first published in Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review in 1994, and summarized in 2000 in an article in The Atlantic.

        I’m no expert on this topic, but Neulander’s points seem sensible. For example, Stanley Hordes (the main proponent of the “crypto-Jew” hypothesis) cites instances of norteños playing with dreidels — but Neulander points out that these toys were never part of Sephardic Jewish culture. Here’s a quote from her 2007 review (in Shofar) of Hordes’s book To the End of the Earth:

        “The book’s first two chapters reflect the author’s doctoral research on the well documented settlement of Portuguese crypto-Jews in colonial Old Mexico. But the balance of the book is a procrustean effort to identify Old Mexico’s indisputably Portuguese crypto-Jews as modern New Mexico’s indisputably Spanish founding fathers. In this way Stanley M. Hordes attempts to justify his own well documented history of misrepresenting the region’s modern, and largely Protestant, folkways, as colonial and “crypto-Jewish.” Hordes’ claims were disconfirmed in my article in Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review in 1996 and thus remain noteworthy for their ongoing popularity, rather than their scholarly accuracy. To a significant extent, local Hispano acceptance reflects the traditional mode of asserting overvalued, white ancestral descent in the multiracial Spanish-Americas, where, as Raphael Patai wrote in his article “The Jewish Indians of Mexico,” “Spanish [white] descent, even Spanish Jewish descent, means a step up on the social scale.” At the same time, widespread Jewish acceptance seems to reflect a beleaguered peoples’ need to believe itself indomitable, as evidenced by a miraculous crypto-Jewish survival. However, despite acceptance at the popular level, it is ultimately Hordes who must go “to the end of the earth” to defend a thesis that scholarship can only refute. Not surprisingly, he does it the only way it can be done: by abandoning scholarly method and relying, instead, on serious violations of scholarship norms.”

        Again, this is not my specialty, but you should check out the other side of the story.

        Finally, even Hordes does not claim that Ladino is the basis of New Mexican Spanish. (There is no mention of it in his book cited above.) I recommend that you read Chapter Two, “New Mexican Spanish: Myths and Realities”, in Bills and Vigil’s authoritative The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: A Linguistic Atlas, and also the chapter on New Mexican Spanish in John Lipski’s Varieties of Spanish in the United States.

        1. Scout Caztigo

          My wife is a Sephardic jew from Morocco, and grew up speaking Ladino (after the reconquista, her family fled to the Muslim world rather than convert). She was actually born in Israel on a kibbutz in 70 but her parents went back to Morocco, then to France, then here). We moved from NYC to Santa Fe. She speaks Ladino, French, and English, fluently.

          New Mexican Spanish (I speak it fluently, as well as modern Spanish) is medieval, yes, BUT IT IS NOT LADINO. The assertion is laughable. What is so strange is that a certain element here in NM has grasped on to this silly notion. I was born in Ojo Caliente, completed my Ph.D. in Latin American studies at Columbia, and spent a good amount of time at the Viceroyalty Archives over the years. The notion that “secret jews” came over and became remote encomenderos in the North of the Viceroyalty of New Spain is LAUGHABLE. THESE PEOPLE ALL KNEW EACH OTHER AND WERE RELATED. Unless you were Hidalgo class or above, could PROVE Christian patrimony way back, and, (obviously) a peninsulare, you had pretty much close to ZERO chance of even EMIGRATING to New Spain for the first two centuries (they had all the slave class they needed here already amongst the Amerinds) much less owning/administering land for the Crown. Cortes himself could trace his family lineage back through six generations of moor-slayers, probably further if pressed.

          New Mexicans like myself would do better to look at their ACTUAL hidden history (I live here in Santa Fe on land used by hundreds of Nahuatl-speaking- and a few chichimec- and Tlaxcalan- assimilated Aztec warriors for syncretized rituals and cornfields, and locals have FAAAAR more Nahua blood than Jewish). Also, DNA has blown this notion of secret jewry out of the water as well.

          The only reason NM has a measurable population of jews NOW is the combo of Santa Fe arts and tourism and the National Labs/Los Alamos. This “we were jews” stuff is just bizarre, to one who knows the history of these migrations, and weirdly like afrocentric assertions that the civilization of ancient Egypt was created and sustained by Sub-Saharan Africans… it smacks of wishful thinking driven by some weird inferiority complex.

          1. Alejo

            Hi Scout,

            This is a strange phenomenon happening all over Latin America. It’s as if our Spanish, Amerindian, African, Italian, French, etc… heritage weren’t interesting enough. There’s people out there that want to believe fanciful stories about their ancestors or who think that because their great-grandmother’s name was Esther that they must be Sephardic.

    2. Alex

      Hey spaniard, just so you know it’s Castellano.

      [Note from moderator/blog owner: I accepted this comment because it’s an interesting echo of one I received more than three years ago in response to my post “Multilingualism in Latin America.” I will not accept further comments on the topic of Spanish vs. Castellano here because I don’t want a flame war. – JH]

    3. Possum

      My mother is from northern New Mexico although I grew up in the southern part of the state. There is difference in cultures between the two. Northern New Mexicans were taken over by the Americans and colonized as a territory for generations before were we even allowed to become a state because of racism. Because of this hispanics in smaller towns might be wary of strangers. Hispanics in the United States adopted aspects of American culture including being able to speak English because of the American conquest.
      When driving through northern New Mexico we stopped at a gas station and needed to ask directions. We saw a Hispanic woman and she tried to avoid us taking us for Anglo tourists. My mother is very fair and could pass for Anglo. I told my mother to speak to her in Spanish to get her attention which she did. We got the information and continued on. Afterwards my mother explained that it’s considered rude if somebody speaks to you in Spanish that you don’t know. Especially if you look like a tourist. These are small towns where everyone knows each other. It can be taken as an assumption that a northern New Mexican won’t speak English because they are an illegal immigrant (even if it was not meant that way). Speaking Spanish also might be taken as patronizing. Sometimes Mexicans even criticize the unique Spanish spoken in Northern New Mexico. These people have been there for centuries, fought in American wars and speak English, often with an accent but are still Proud Americans and its best to start with English if you are unfamiliar with who you are conversing with.

  5. Southern New Mexican

    The Northern New Mexicans think they are Europeans. They think they are better than you. That’s why they didn’t speak Spanish. And also, they probably couldn’t speak spanish to begin with… their idea of Spanish is Spanglish…

    Silly northerners….

    1. jhochberg Post author

      I really can’t speak to the quality of the Spanish actually spoken there, but I can say that the one time I managed to participate I got a lot of compliments for speaking un buen castellano!

      1. Southern New Mexican

        The quality Spanish spoken in New Mexico are by those who embrace the ‘Mexican’ in the words New Mexican. The Spanish i hear spoken is by the Mexicans. I have never heard a ‘Spaniard’ even speak Spanish. Norteños have a bad prejudice towards Mexicans and want nothing to do with them. They forget that their decedents were at one time Mexicans when the state was part of Mexico. The border just happened to move, making them American. Also, they call their food ‘Spanish’ food. I’ve been to Spain and there is no chile to be found, red or green. And a tortilla there is made of egg and not flour. Guess they are trying to hold on to an identity that was lost hundreds of years ago.

        1. PinkFreeways

          No, they correctly note that they have a distinct culture. It is not European Spanish, but neither is it Mexican. NM was Mexico territory for less than two decades. Prior to that it was Spanish Colonial territory, along with present day Mexico and much of the western USA.

          However, NM was isolated, and they did not feel a connection to Mexico. That’s why when the US invaded, they surrendered without a fight. They never shared a cultural identity with Mexico. Why do Mexicans insist on denying them their cultural identity and pushing a Mexican one on them? Mexicans are the ones with the inferiority complex. New Mexico Spanish people don’t claim being better, just different.

          Spanish New Mexicans have their own culture, which is a mix of their Spanish ancestry, local American Indian influence, and whatever evolved over the hundreds of years of being a Spanish colony. They also strongly identify as American, since their families have been US citizens for many generations, with some being war veterans.

          For them to identify as Spanish-American makes sense…they can trace their history back to Spain and otherwise they are American. They were either a part of Spain or the US for most of history, not Mexico. They also have had influence of other European immigrants, such as French, Italian and Irish. Many old NM families are not just Spanish and New Mexico Indians, but may have a heritage including other European lineage.

          The reason they won’t speak Spanish with you is unlike more recent hispanic immigrants, they have been here so long that English is their first language. They may prefer English, even if they speak it with an accent. Many of the younger generations do not even speak Spanish at all. I don’t, my mom doesn’t, and my grandparents consider it a second language. You may have to go back to the 1800s to find people from Spanish New Mexico families who speak Spanish as their primary language. We are pretty much Americans with a southwest hispanic culture, not recent Mexican immigrants.

          Also, when they do speak Spanish, it is a New Mexico dialect that is a very old Spanish mixed with some local Native American words. Many who speak Mexican-Spanish will try to correct them, and it irritates them. They get sick of Mexicans and other people trying to erase their identity, culture and dialect.

          Also, Anglo means non-Latin and especially not Catholic. Southern Europeans are generally not considered Anglo, especially if Catholic. A Catholic Italian would be considered latin, not anglo.

          1. Chenta

            I was born in Belen, New Mexico.

            I am Roman Catholic.

            I am a citizen of the United States of America.

            I am not a Mexican.

            I am of Spanish-Navajo Indian decent.

            I speak English ( with a New Mexico accent) and

            I speak New Mexico Spanish but I am not fluent.

            I do not speak nor understand the Navajo Language,

            though my paternal grandfather was raised on the

            reservation. Many family members do not converse

            in Spanish on a regular basis. In the 50’s and 60’s we

            were not allowed to speak Spanish in private or public school.

            My Grandfather only spoke New Mexico Spanish but he

            was fluent in English. Spanish was always spoken at home

            but we understood English was our first language as

            USA Citizens. We are not immigrants from the Country of Mexico.

            Some Mexicans have said I am ashamed of being Mexican. Why

            are Mexicans ashamed of being Spanish? The Americas were

            colonized by many European countries. I have a brother and sister

            that had Anglo fathers (German and Irish). I have never referred to

            them as my Anglo family. German Is Good. Irish Is Good. Mexican is

            Good. Spanish is Good. Navajo is Good. And the list goes on.

            God Has Blessed The United States of America with ALL OF US.

            We Should Not Be Divided

            by alleviating one culture over another. I do firmly believe we should cherish

            and preserve diversity in culture and language. New Mexico Spanish and

            our culture is becoming extinct as my generation is passing away. I do not see

            my own children taking any interest in Culture, Country, Family or God.

            So Sad!


          2. Jessica

            Many do not understand the very distinct Northern New Mexican culture and have a hard time understanding why we don’t identify as Mexican and why many of us were not taught Spanish at a young age. I was told by my grandparents that they were not allowed to speak Spanish in schools and were even punished if they did so. This is why they did not pass on the Spanish language to later generations. My parents do not speak Spanish nor do I, other than what I learned in school. It is sad, but it is what happened. You did a really good job summarizing Spanish New Mexican culture. Well said PinkFreeways.

          3. Maryann Lopez

            Thank You Very Much! You are very informed and I would like to say I feel the same way! My family has lived in New Mexico since the late 1600’s and No I don’t feel I am a Mexican. I am a Proud Norte Americana! Because I say this some people seem to feel that I discriminate against Mexicans I don’t. Our Language is Beautiful I learned it from my parents who learned it from theirs and I proudly speak it as often as i can to as many people as I can. The sad thing is not many children being born these days speak it anymore. Again Thank You Very Much ! for speaking up!

          4. Scout Caztigo

            THANK YOU. See my comment above. As someone whose family roots go back 400 years on the Spanish side (and thousands on the Native side), having some jerk who arrived from Sinaloa last month tell me the Spanish my family and our community speaks is “not Spanish”, is IDIOTIC. I just tell them “No. Solamento no habla Mexicano yo”.

    2. Scout Caztigo

      Yeah, we identify as Americans, not Mexicans living in the US. I KNOW you hate that. What I can’t understand is why.

  6. david alba

    Saludos a todos. Soy español y me he topado con vuestra página. Me ha parecido interesante y la he leído.
    Quisiera puntualizar algo. Aquí en Europa tanto españoles como franceses e italianos nos consideramos latinos ya que hablamos lenguas que derivan del latín.
    De todas formas, no creo que meter al resto en el mismo saco esté bien. Irlandeses por ejemplo no son anglos y seguro que hay muchos en Nuevo México.
    saludos a todos desde Granada, Andalucía en el sur de España.

    P.D: Visitar mi ciudad que es muy bonita.

    1. jhochberg Post author


      Gracias por visitar mi página y por comentar. Ese uso de anglo me pareció algo específico a esa región de los EE. UU. Vivo ahora en Nueva York y nunca me describiría así.
      Visité Granada hace décadas y tengo ganas de regresar. Sobre todo recuerdo una tarde bonita que pasé sola en los jardines de la Alhambra leyendo un libro de poesía española. Algún día…

  7. Alicia Gómez

    The use of “Anglo” puzzles people here in New Mexico as well. I am old enough to remember forms that gave ethnic choices as “Anglo”, “Spanish”, and “Indian”. The African-American population was so small that it was years before there was a fourth option. In this way, Blacks were Anglos because they weren’t Hispanic or Native American, so obviously they were White. All those forms now list numerous ethnic choices, including Chicano/a, Latino/a, Pacific Islander, several Athabascan choices, and the regular White, Hispanic, Native American and African-American.
    Many people, including me, object to the term “White” – meaning some sort of Northern European – and cling passionately to “Anglo”. WE know what we mean: not Hispanic, not Native American, not African-American. To me “White” carries its own stigma.
    Oddly enough, my children who are half Anglo (me) and half Hispanic (their dad) have their own ideas. My daughter fills in the “White” box while my son considers himself Hispanic.
    A note on Granada: I want my very own Generalife, and actually made a list of all the flowers and trees while visiting there to put on a wishlist. For a class project I am presenting a program on the ‘romance frontera’ Abenámar, a “moro de la morería”, a magnificent poem written by an anonymous author around the year 1000. And of course how can you think of Granada and not remember Federico García Lorca?

  8. Alicia Gómez

    One more comment. Here in Albuquerque, I am described as an “Hispanic-surnamed Anglo”. The other way round is an “Anglo-surnamed Hispanic”, Hispanic women with Anglo (non-Hispanic) surnames. The non-Hispanic, Anglo surname can be Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American, whatever, it’s still an Anglo surname.

  9. jhochberg Post author

    This reminds me of a Japanese-American friend of mine. He was annoyed that when he went to Japan, people insisted on spelling his (Japanese) last name with katakana (the set of characters normally used for foreign words) instead of hiragana (the set used for Japanese words). This labeled him as a foreigner, like your “Hispanic-surnamed Anglo”.

  10. Alejandro

    I stumbled upon your site while researching about Spanish in NM. For whatever reason there isn’t as much info out there as I expected. I had the belief that NM is a bilingual state but so far it seems like that’s more of a myth. Unfortunately the homogenizing power of American culture (every main thoroughfare in suburban America is the same…McDonald’s, Starbucks, Bank of America, Olive Garden, and then some regional chain) has eradicated French from Louisiana and Spanish from NM (at least among the descendants of the original settlers who apparently, I’ve read, don’t like being identified with the rest of the Latin American world). I your experience living in NM, was Spanish commonly spoken among the old families or was it mainly the new arrivals that still spoke it?

    ¡Un saludo desde la Florida!

    1. jhochberg Post author

      Alejandro, have you read the relevant chapter in John Lipski’s Varieties of Spanish in the United States? As he describes there, the old families are still speaking old-fashioned New Mexican Spanish, but there are also newcomers speaking more modern varieties, just as in other parts of the U.S.

  11. Mike Plantz

    Some of you may be interested in a book, “Accidental Anthropologists”-Claudia Clavel. It is the story of an Anglo couple who move to a small Northern New Mexico village and live there for 30 years. The stories are great. The introduction is brilliant in its observation of the changes in the names given to children, and the disappearance of the old Spanish names. I found my copy at, Tome on the Range bookstore in Las Vegas, New Mexico. My friend found his at, op.sit bookstore in Santa Fe. I think it is also available on Amazon. If you love N. New Mexico culture, you will love this book! It was a finalist in the 2015 New Mexico/Arizona book awards.

  12. Stephanie G

    Yes unfortunately a lot of us don’t speak Spanish. My grandfather, from a very small town in Northern New Mexico called Cebolla, spoke exclusively Spanish growing up. When he was going to school he was not allowed to speak Spanish; when he joined the Army he was fiercely ridiculed for his accent. This was the reason why he didn’t teach my mom Spanish and that is mostly why most here don’t speak it. It is very sad to think about! This is why I go out of my way to really learn the Spanish that is spoken here.

    1. Maria Lu ARCHIBEQUE Rivera

      So very true..me and my siblings ..and the rest of the students at school were not aloud to speak Spanish. And since I speak New Mexico Spanish.. Mexican people often try..to correct my way of talking.
      I usually tell them that ..we..New Mexico folks…understand each other very well. In New Mexico..

      1. Jo Izay

        Maria Lu Archibeque Rivera, we in northern New Mexico DO NOT speak Spanish. Instead, we speak Ladino, a Sephardic dialect. Years ago when as a young girl I lived back east. I went to school with a student from Spain who called me a “worthless Jew.” I took it for a long time until one day my blood boiled and I kicked her out of a very slow running car and left her there. The good news: she never spoke to me again.

        1. Maria Lu ARCHIBEQUE Rivera

          When I speak of NM Spanish..I’m aware of regional as well as timeline differences. My older family ancestors lived in Santa Fe.. And Rio Arriba area…that is the language I grew up speaking.
          I wa born and raised in the very rural country East of Abq..we spoke the same language as my parents and Grand parents …not the slang contaminated one that is spoken in the city these days… By some…You most likely know what I mean..I’ve lived a while..82 years..so Eventho I’m still learning ..I’ve seen the changes. Spanglish to me is the norm..we bounce from English to Spanish all the time ..me and my husband at home as well as with family..our children?………English only..go figure.
          Thank you for your information..I’m no longer sure we spoke Ladino..but I do know it is different than the Mexican language. Gods blessings on you.

    2. Scout Caztigo

      Cebolla (and area) is beautiful. My wife and I left NYC for Santa Fe after I retired from academia, I’m very VERY happy to be back in Northern (well, North Central, anyway) New Mexico. I grew up around Espanola. There is no place like it on Earth, and we have to fight to preserve what remains of our culture- and that means against both the Anglo homogenizer Californicators and the Reconquista La Raza “make NM Mexico again” (even though it was only “Mexican” for half a generation, and totally ignored by the Federal District) types.

      Some of us still remember our grandparents stories about the terrors of Comancheria and the Apache and Navajo slave raids, and how OVERJOYED their parents were to welcome the Americans- the only ones who saved our communities by swiftly defeating the raiders- after being abandoned by Mexico after Spain withdrew. Mexico did NOTHING for our communities up here, which were on the verge of extinction prior to Anglo arrival. No one likes to talk about that. (“We love the New Mexicans. They raise our sheep and slaves”- Mangas Coloradas, Apache war chief). Of course there was plenty of peaceful interaction and intermarriage between us and the indios- bit also unremitting brutality on both sides. Of course, the Anglos also robbed us. The Battle of Santa Fe/Canoncito comes to mind. The history of land grants in NM and the corruption surrounding them (that still lingers!) is fascinating.

      It seems to me that most Mexican nationals (or second generation children of Mexican illegal immigrants) who admonish us for our ties to the US are motivated more by anti-Anglo, anti-European racist sentiment than any actual knowledge of our complex, intertwined history. NORTHERN NEW MEXICO IS NOT MEXICO (“NEW MEXICO. NOT NEW, AND NOT MEXICO”). I am offended by those who claim that it should be, and that those of us with tracable European (and of course, indigenous ancestry, making us Mestizo, just like them) family history here are somehow traitors or alien. Tired of hearing it, from all sides. This is a land where we all get along, because we HAD to to survive. If you want to promote an agenda by defining us other than how we define ourselves- you can go back to the Upper West Side of NYC or the tarpaper shacks in the Sierras above Sinaloan Cartel-run Guanajuato. Neither one of those places is us. Come, as you are welcome, but stop telling us who and what we are or should be. That’s like walking into someone’s house and urinating on the floor. As trite as it sounds, we are indeed of three (minimum) syncretized cultures, and we are very aware of it. Being told to “pick one” and that if we don’t, we are traitors somehow to someone is beyond offensive. Can I pick my genetics and family history?

      No wonder the smaller communities of Northern NM are becoming EVEN MORE insular and suspicious of outsiders (and we’ve already got a bad rep on that front) as time goes by.

  13. Maria Lu ARCHIBEQUE Rivera

    Very interesting comments .
    If I may..I am New Mexico born..decedent of the very early colonists..since 1598-1800. Yes we do speak a “different Spanish” than do the Mexicans..Its called. Ladino..a dialect spoken by Jewish Spaniards exupulsed from Spain in 1492—1500— Those that came to Amerca…by way of Mexico..settled mostly in Northern NM. At that time, “La Nueva Espana.. New Spain”..The language Ladino is to the Spanish as Jewish Yidish is to Germans. It is not “incorrect Mexican” as some claim…we are very proud of our unique culture and language. Yes, we are 100 percent American, Therfore we also are very proficient in “Spanglish” English is our main language..our ethnic background is Spanish, French, and German, Native American, etc. But totally unique. New Mexicans.
    I have lived among Mexican people for the most part of my adult life..and can not..nor do I want to loose my NM way of talking or my NM culture.
    A proud New Mexican.

    1. jhochberg Post author

      Maria Lu, please see my earlier reply (dated 9 April 2016) to Jo Izay regarding the Ladino hypothesis — which, while appealing, appears not to be credible.

      1. Maria Lu ARCHIBEQUE Rivera

        Thank you I will. I stand to be corrected when needed. Always open to really understanding our history..and connecting the dots,
        missing links etc. Thank you again.
        Kind Regards,
        Maria Lu

      2. Maria Lu ARCHIBEQUE Rivera

        Thank you I will. I stand to be corrected when needed. Always open to really understanding our history..and connecting the dots,
        missing links etc. Thank you again.
        Kind Regards,
        Maria Lu
        New Mexico History Museum ..posted on FB.
        Opening today, Sunday, May 22nd
        Be among the first to see the ground-breaking exhibition, Fractured Faiths: Spanish Judaism, The Inquisition, and New World Identities.For the first time, a major institution tells the comprehensive story of Spanish Jewry’s 1492 diaspora and how it led to a tenuous foothold in North America. Despite continued persecution, its people persisted—sometimes as upright Catholic conversos, sometimes as self-identifying “crypto-Jews.” Sundays are free to NM residents.
        (Juan de Coloma, Secretary of the King.Decree of Expulsion of the Jews. Granada, Spain, 31 March 1492. Ink on paper. España. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. Archivo General de Simancas (PR 28-6)

    2. Scout Caztigo

      Sorry, but you are wrong. The only similarities between Ladino and New Mexican Spanish is that there are late-medieval Spanish holdovers in both. My wife is a Moroccan Jew, a fluent speaker of Ladino, Arabic, English and French. I was born in a small town near Espanola in 60 and speak fluent NM Spanish. IT IS NOT LADINO. We are GENETICALLY not Jews, up here. Sorry, but this is just a silly uban legend that people are pushing that has NO historical grounding. See my post further above.

  14. Nuevo Espana

    Kudos to PinkFreeways!! Couldn’t have said it better myself!
    I identify as an American of Spanish and Mexican descent, my familia on dad’s side, has been traced to 1750 back in New Mexico and Colorado, we were from the Saiz and Montoyas, on mom’s side, those families came to this country from Mexico in 1907 and left no one there, I came to understand it was during the revolution and settled in Los Angeles.
    They assimilated, became Americans, served in the armed forces just like the Jews, Russians and Italians did before there was any public assiatance. Those of us born and raised here are called derogatory terms like “pochos” and are looked down upon by mexican immigrants! Mexico has it’s distinct beautiful culture but sorry to say, many like me, didn’t grow up with things like, quiencieneras nor did we know of some of the dishes that popped up back in the 50’s & 60’s.
    I was once told at a party by a mexican immigrant and his sister that, we’re even looked aupon as gringos because we’ve lost our mexican culture! To that I countered with, I’m proud to be a pocho and perhaps I would have a tee shirt made with, Pocho Pride printed on it. I have no problem with anyone wanting to claim their roots but be proud to be an American first! Viva Nuevo!

  15. Marthe Raymond

    I did not speak much Spanish during the 10 years I lived in northern New Mexico, however during a visit after 6 years in Mexico I spoke more than adequately. People did speak Spanish with me, but they also told me they were embarrassed because I spoke better than they did. That’s probably true, given that I almost exclusively spoke Spanish–and still do–in Mexico and at that time I had just finished writing and producing a long theater piece about the life of Emiliano Zapata in the village where he was born.

    1. jhochberg Post author

      When I did manage to speak Spanish in NM I got the same reaction (that my Spanish was “better” or “more correct”). The Zapata project sounds fascinating!

  16. Mike

    I am a half Jewish non-Hispanic New Mexican, living in the east side of the state, that is semi fluent in New Mexico Spanish. I always had an easy time making friends with my “manito (New Mexican)” classmates and later on in college, I got along well with Northern New Mexico Hispanics and felt very comfortable with them. After I learned about the Crypto-Jewish origin of many norteno families I realized why. Maybe blood knows blood. For those that say there is no Ibero-Jewish tradition in New Mexico, and Northern Mexico for that matter, DNA results say different. Many that have been tested show a set of genetic markers on the Y-chromosome that is also found in about 30 percent of Jewish men. This is the cohanim marker. This is scientific proof, not folklore nor speculation.

    As to whether New Mexico Spanish is Ladino or Judeo-Spanish I can say there may be influences but I don’t think it is. Ladino has many hebraicisms the same way Yiddish does. The one sure connection is that both New Mexico Spanish and Ladino share older forms of Castellano from the 16th century. I think that many converso, Jewish origin families, that emigrated to the New World to escape persecution at the hands of the Inquisition had to be able to speak a very correct form of Castellano, at least in public, so as to be able to pass as old Catholics. This continued in New Mexico even up to the early 20th Century, so many features of Ladino were thus lost.

    By the way, as to the original topic, New Mexico Spanish is still spoken in New Mexico. I use it all the time as well as Spanglish. Kudos to the website owner for bringing up this fascinating topic!

    1. jhochberg Post author

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Mike! Can you recommend a reference about the DNA results?

        1. jhochberg Post author

          Thanks, Mike. I would have to reserve judgment until I saw something published in a refereed scientific journal. The first two articles refer to the same study, which has a fairly small sample size, although the results are impressive, and don’t mention a scientific publication. The third article, which does refer to a paper in the prestigious journal Science, is about Cohanim genetics in general and doesn’t mention New Mexico.

          I’m rooting for this to be real but it doesn’t look like the jury is yet in.

  17. Pingback: Book review from former local paper | Spanish Linguist

  18. Jason

    I’m in a class on Latin American Jewish Literature and we’re doing a unit on Ladino, so I ran across this looking for the answer to this question: Do those New Mexican Ladino-speaking communities I always hear about really exist? My professor says basically what Mike says, that yes, there were definitely Jews in that area very early, the first conquistador to cross the Rio Bravo was in fact a Jewish converso, Luis Carvajal y de La Cueva. His nephew, a devout crypto-Jew, wrote an autobiography in 1592 and was burned at the stake by the inquisition. The story of how Luis got an exception from the king of Spain to what jhochberg talks about (that Jews were not allowed to colonize New Spain during a certain time frame) is very interesting. He got an exception from having to have his crew’s background checked, so he ended up loading around 60 crypto-Jewish families onto his boat and sailing for New Spain. Did any of them (or any of the other Jews already in New Spain) make it to New Mexico? Not too hard to imagine. Did any of them speak Ladino? No, because Ladino didn’t exist yet. They just spoke the same Spanish that everybody spoke back then in New Spain and so their language evolved right along with their fellow New Spaniards. Ladino only developed when Spanish Jews went to non-Spanish speaking places and developed insular communities with their own Spanish-speaking schools and neighborhoods (most notably in Istanbul, which speaks a notably different Ladino than the Morocco community). This type of Spanish followed its own evolution different from the Mexican or Spain evolution and became what is now called Ladino, a language that is no longer spoken by children as their main form of communication anywhere in the world (please prove me wrong on that). Interestingly, in the 1920’s many Ladino-speaking Jewish families from Turkey immigrated to Mexico and their Mexican-born children grew up listening to Ladino at home, but since it is so similar to Spanish, none of those kids ended up holding on to Ladino, it was easier to just speak Mexican Spanish. An excellent novel about this is Novia Que Te Vea, it includes a lot of Ladino conversations: https://www.amazon.com/Novia-que-Coleccion-Fabula-Spanish/dp/9684060432/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1496704358&sr=8-4&keywords=novia+que+te+vea

  19. Lucas Vicente Vidal Climent


    Soy Español, y he encontrado el blog de casualidad, interesado en mi redescubrimiento de la magnífica historia de España y la influencia hispana en el mundo.
    He pasado un buen rato leyendo el blog, aunque mi inglés no es muy bueno, lo entiendo bien.
    Tengo que decir, con respecto a la gastronomía, que en España no se les llama chiles a los pimientos, ya que nos gusta muy poco el picante, aunque hay algunas variedades que si lo son.
    Realmente me ha sorprendido el uso de la palabra “sopaipilla”, si mal no me acuerdo es lo mismo que en ciertas zonas de España ( no en la
    Ia mia) son las sopaipas, una mezcla de harina de trigo, agua y sal (si me acuerdo bien) que se frien en aceite y aquí se toman tanto en dulce como en salado y en epocas especiales.
    Realmente, cuando leo cosas sobre Lo hispánico y España me sorprende leerlo en inglés.

    Realmente el mundo anglo y el hispánico ( que no latino, aunque sea transmisor de la herencia romana) chocaron durante siglos hasta que el Imperio Español sucumbió.

    Una de las cosas que mas me ha alegrado no hace mucho tiempo, fue descubrir la importancia capital que tuvo el Imperio Español en la independencia de los EE.UU y que se ha escondido a sabiendas y que está empezando ahora a redescubrirse. (Tengo en mente el libro de Isaac Asimov sobre el nacimiento de los EUA y en el que no aparece nada al respecto)

    Parece que al final las cosas acaban poniéndose en su sitio.

    Por cierto, que no le he comentado, saludos desde Alcoy en la provincia de Alicante, Valencia, al Este de España.

    1. jhochberg Post author

      Estimado Lucas,

      Fue un placer recibir tu mensaje. Debes saber que algunas entradas en mi blog son bilingües, por lo tanto las puedes leer en tu idioma nativo. Solo hay que buscar “Spanish Friday”.
      No había oído de las sopaipas pero al recibir tu mensaje las busqué en Google Images. Las sopaipillas de mi restaurant favorito en Nuevo México son más hinchadas, pero según Wikipedia los dos panes son hermanos o al menos primos.

      Algún día me gustaría visitar tu provincia. Conozco bastante bien Barcelona, y un poco la Costa Brava, pero en absoluto la costa más sureña ni el interior del este (además de Girona). Soy gran amante del arte por lo tanto IVAM y los otros museos de Valencia están en mi “bucket list”, como decimos.

      ¿Me puedes recomendar un libro que trate del tema histórico que mencionaste?

      Saludos desde NY,

      1. Lucas Vicente Vidal Climent


        Disculpa que no haya contestado antes, acabo de ver que me contestaste y creo que no vi bien el correo con la contestación.

        Cuando quieras venir a mi tierra bienvenida seas, que creo que podremos enseñarte muchas cosas.

        Del tema del Imperio Español hay muchos libros.
        Aunque realmente estoy escuchando un podcast muy bueno al respecto.

        Memorias de un tambor

        Le encantará. Si le interesa el tema americano hay, desde Hernán Cortés, a la Luisiana Española y la expedición a Alaska entre otros.

        Hay desde personajes de la historia de España a periodos históricos concretos.

        Un placer y si quiere contactar conmigo le puedo pasar mi contacto.


    2. Mike

      Hola Lucas,

      Aqui en Nuevo Mexico sopapillas son de la forma de una almohada muy chiquita. Hay otro pan mas grande y redondo que se llama el bunuelo. Los dos son una mezcla de harina de trigo, agua, sal y levadura en polvo. (polvo de hornear).

  20. Steve

    I have a long story to tell you about and the stories here make me want to tell them. I just do not want to bore people. Latinos son los primeros en mi vida.

  21. Lorraine

    I am 70 years old and I was born and raised en El Norte de Nuevo Mexico in a small village, El Valle and Chamisal in southern Taos County. When and who labeled us norteños is unknown to me. Spanish was my primary language when I was growing up; however I also learned to read English before I went to school.

    My mother was an elementary school teacher so I had access to books and learned to read before I went to school; however my memories of community and home life are all in Spanish. My grandmother, who was born in 1885, did not speak English. My maternal grandfather, who was burn in 1870, spoke a very broken English but he could read English. (He was self-taught because he had no formal schooling)

    For whatever reasons we were taught that we were Spanish Americans and not Mexicans. Culturally we had different customs. Ethnically we are the same as Mexicans, with varying percentages of European, Native American, Middle Eastern, and Sephardic Jewish. (Yes, we have some have Jewish DNA, matching other Jews who are not New Mexican Hispanics)
    My language was the one I grew up with. We norteños understand each other and I can even identify a norteno who speaks only English by their accent.

    Unfortunately our dialect and Spanish language are getting lost. Many people my age speak very little Spanish and the younger generations are not speaking it anymore.

    1. jhochberg Post author

      Hi Lorraine, I don’t know how to give you this access, but when I received this message I took the liberty of copy-editing your original comment. I made some punctuation changes and fixed the typing problems (like misspelling of “English”). If I missed anything, please let me know!

      What you say about the disappearance of New Mexican Spanish matches what I read about the dialect in John Lipski’s book “Varieties of Spanish in the United States”.

  22. Viola Vigil Holley

    Born & raised in Northern NM, parents from Taos. Same story, not taught Spanish as 1st. language as to not “hold us back” as in their education. I consider that the worst decision ever made. We were transplanted in the South LC for college. I was NOT prepared for the cultural & language differences & quickly learned Spanish at NMSU. I was made to feel inferior in my new home (by most) for not sharing the Mexican language & ways; I was not welcomed and didn’t “fit in”. During the “Chicano” movement, I realized that we were of the same family but with unique backgrounds, ideas, education and language & I imposed myself on locals; and finally made friends. I LOVE & EMBRACE all our cultures in NM. Bottom line, I am PROUD to be of Northern NM Spanish American heritage! That is where my heart is.

    1. jhochberg Post author

      I personally feel blessed to have spent ten years in northern NM although I regret that it was so hard to find people who would speak Spanish with me!

  23. Juan Rangel Acevedo

    My mom’s family, who has been living in New Mexico for at least 8 generations (documented) have some of the same reactions as some of the other New Mexicans who posted above when differentiating between Mexican and New Mexican. My father’s family comes from Northern Mexico three generations back and largely has Tarahumara background, but now lives in California so it’s fun to compare the similarities and differences between the two cultures. Honestly, as a “mestizo” it can be pretty annoying hearing my grandma praising her Spanish “purity” even though she knows she has Navajo and other “foreign elements” in her DNA after reviewing some tests. Although the average Hispanic-New Mexican appears to be lighter-skinned than the average Mexican, it’s quite obvious that they can have indigenous facial features. After all there had to be some fornicating between Criollos and Mestizos on that long trip from Mexico City to Santa Fe, right? I also noticed similarities when I lived in Spain for a year, taking note of the Arabic facial features a lot of ACTUAL Spaniards had despite a lot claiming to be of strictly a Germanic/Ibero-Roman mix. But going back to New Mexicans, I would now think this claim of Spanish roots as more of an symbolic identity than a genealogical one.

    But one thing is for certain, the Spanish in New Mexico (for the few who still speak it natively) is very colonial. It’s always fun to chat up with my grandma and listen to her funky old vocabulary when I throw my mess of Californian-Chicano, Mexican, and Castellano Spanish in the mix. I’m sure when native Spanish speakers from Latin America pass by, they are intrigued to say the least…

    As far as being responded back to English by Native Spanish speakers in New Mexico, don’t sweat it! I look Mexican, but sometimes when I speak Spanish to actual Mexican immigrants here in California they may respond back to me in English after hearing my “gringo” accent. So in a way, that’s kind of a bigger blow to my pride as an individual descended from various Spanish-speaking cultures, but I don’t let it get to me. I just respond back in Spanish until they do the same. Persistence is key my friend 😉

    1. jhochberg Post author

      Persistence is now moot since I moved from NM back to my native NY 17 years ago…and now have conversations with miscellaneous people in Spanish all the time. It really was a specific cultural barrier.

    2. Mike

      Juan, interesting comments on this interesting thread. I too, when in Spain in 2003 noticed the Arabic or at least North African-Berber facial features on many Spaniards, more in Andalusia than elsewhere. I also saw many that looked like Northern New Mexicans. Some in fact could have been siblings or cousins of friends of mine the resemblence was so strong. Language was a different deal. I had difficulty in Andalucia but was most comfortable speaking with people in Extremadura and the rural areas of La Mancha.


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