This study explains how regional economic changes have slowly undermined the culture of Spanish Americans in the upper Rio Grande Valley, particularly during this century. Based on secondary literature, census data, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management records, and the author’s own field research, the work examines the settlement of the region, its economic survival over four centuries, and the maintenance of its architecture, religion, and “vernacular landscape” through case studies of four villages: Abiquiú, El Rancho, Vadito, and Corrales. The central thesis is that, “despite the allusions of perpetual victimization,” Spanish Americans were not dispossessed of their land by acquisitive Anglos; they clung tenaciously to their small farms despite severe economic hardships.
The work is most convincing in deploying a multitude of census data and other statistical evidence to document the endemic poverty of the region. But the author dismisses evidence and arguments that the U.S. courts and the Forest Service were less than fair to Spanish Americans in adjudicating claims and issuing grazing permits. Carlson argues instead that the creation of the Carson and Santa Fe national forests from rejected land-grant claims, and the Forest Service’s grazing permit program, which limited grazing rights of Spanish Americans, helped sustain the Spanish American “subculture” in the region.
While professing to be “detached from any political or other cause,” Carlson acknowledges that his conclusions tend to “temper the harsh criticism of Anglo Americans” who have been unfairly blamed for the waning of Spanish American culture in the region (p. xv). Unremitting resentment over the loss of communal lands and the rejection of land-grant claims by U.S. courts is, the author argues, an effort by Spanish Americans “to divert attention from other problems that stem from the region’s physical incompatibility with agriculture. . . .” (p. 110). The author concludes that “There will always be those, particularly academicians, who will tendentiously place the burden of accusation and guilt upon the U.S. government and Anglo Americans. . . .” (p. 210).