These are some of the last sentences Rudolfo Anaya, a native son of New Mexico, published before he died on June 28:
"Querencia is love of home, love of place," he writes in an essay called "Querencia, Mi patria chica."
"We live in a big country, but we also live in the smaller patria chica that contains the villages of the vicinity, los vecinos. Every village or town is a city-state, a patria chica. Love for our querencia spreads out to the larger country. Our love is strong because it has its center at home, in our casita, en los solares, our neighbors, the land, the river, and the llano."
The essay is the foreword to the new anthology Querencia: Reflections on the New Mexico Homeland, published by University of New Mexico Press and edited by Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, Levi Romero and Spencer R. Herrera. But Anaya's explanation of querencia is also a summary of his career-long preoccupations as New Mexico's godfather of Chicano literature and emissary of la cultura.
Anaya sowed the gospel of his querencia far and wide with the 1972 publication of his novel Bless Me, Ultima. That bestseller helped to articulate a New Mexican identity even for native nuevomexicanos who were born here all their lives, as the dicho goes.
The story's protagonist is a young boy, as Anaya once was, growing up on the eastern plains near Santa Rosa just after World War II. He is shaped by the spiritual worldview of an elderly curandera who comes to live with his family.
According to Anaya's friend and University of New Mexico colleague Romero, who currently serves as the state poet laureate, "He always wrote from that spiritual place."
Romero says his intention was for Querencia: Reflections on the New Mexico Homeland—which brings together perspectives and experiences from Chicanx and Indigenous writers all over the state—to serve in part as a tribute to another valuable exploration of identity. The book he refers to is Ceremony of Brotherhood, a commemorative anthology on the Pueblo Revolt that was published in 1981 and edited by Acoma poet Simon J. Ortiz—and Anaya.
Anaya was the first mainstream author to delve into a uniquely New Mexican dual cultural identity. Santa Fe writer Carmella Padilla, a former UNM student of his, had a four-hour conversation with Anaya a few years ago for a New Mexico Magazine profile. She remembers, "He called himself Indo-Hispano. It's interesting, that term 'Indo' comes first. It's a recognition of your Indigenous history with a blend of European culture, which you can't deny here."
Romero marvels at the full-circle timing of Anaya's death. The author passed on the same day Romero and his two co-editors took part in a Zoom panel hosted by the National Hispanic Cultural Center to launch Querencia. One of those editors, Fonseca-Chávez, focuses in her essay "Contested Querencia" on the continuing cultural conflict surrounding the legacy of Juan de Oñate y Salazar, the 16th-century Spanish colonizer whose statues were removed in Albuquerque and Alcalde on June 15.
Over the phone, Romero reads me another passage from Anaya's foreword that fits the current moment. It's about the Hispano relationship to Pueblo people:
"Their love of querencia is centuries old. From them, we learned a deep, enduring love for the sacredness of the earth, for the unity of life, for a harmony that brings peace and happiness. Querencia means vecinos."
"It's so beautiful to read that now," Romero reflects, "at a time when there's so much turmoil."
Influenced by the '70s activists of the Chicano movement, Anaya firmly believed in the unifying, cross-cultural power of storytelling. "He didn't like to use italics for the Spanish language," Romero says. "He felt it shouldn't be considered a foreign language. He didn't like translation. He spoke and wrote in the colloquial language of New Mexico, the manito language."
"And he trusted his reader," he adds, to make up the bilingual difference—to read full Spanish phrases and glean their meaning within the rich textures and folds of Anaya's storytelling. "He trusted his reader more than he trusted the editors and the publishers."
When authors trust their readers, they are awarded with full devotion. I first read Bless Me, Ultima, as a güera high-school sophomore taking Spanish III in Corona, California. It taught me the combined power of two languages in conflict and conversation with each other.
Both Romero and Padilla remember Anaya's careful, quiet mentorship of younger writers—who he often invited to lunch at his Albuquerque home—as well as his abiding regard for his elders. "He always made his way back to that community, to those people," Romero says of the vecinos, uncles, abuelas and other everyday New Mexicans who populate Anaya's novels, stories and children's books. "In other words, you could say that he always made his way back to his querencia."
"He is somebody who is of this place," Padilla muses about the essential relationship of Anaya to New Mexico. "There are a lot of people who are from this place. He is of this place."