"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," Joan Didion wrote. And in the midst of the long, hot summer of 2020, it's tales of resistance that are giving us life—from the protests sparked by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to the dismantling of misogyny executed by US Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez on the House floor in late July.
Next week, the Pueblo Revolt, New Mexico's homegrown revolution, turns 340 years old. The story is simple, and yet its details are as complex and astonishing as those of any other protest movement: From Aug. 10 to 21, 1680, most of the Pueblo people, spurred by the Tewa religious leader Po'pay, rose up and drove out Spanish colonial oppressors from the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México.
A new epilogue to the Pueblo Revolt was written on June 15 in Alcalde and Albuquerque, where protesters successfully demanded the removal of statues of 16th-century governor Juan de Oñate y Salazar. (Oñate went above and beyond the use of excessive force in the 1599 Acoma Massacre, when he ordered the killings of close to 1,000 Acoma Puebloans. He infamously mandated that every surviving male over 25 have his right foot amputated and be enslaved for 20 years.)
To honor the legacy of Indigenous resistance, we present a Pueblo Revolt reading list.
Po’pay: Leader of the First American Revolution
Edited by Joe S. Sando and Herman Agoyo (Clear Light Publishing, 2005)
Say their names: Nicolas Catua and Pedro Omtua. These young runners from Tesuque Pueblo, among several other messengers, carried knotted deer-hide strips more than 50 miles to co-conspiring villages just before the rebellion. The number of knots signaled the days remaining before the orchestrated uprising. But this ingenious plan was cut short—and the revolt began early—when Catua and Omtua were captured and hanged, becoming the first to give their lives to the cause.
In essays written by Pueblo elders and scholars, these kinds of vivid details—Paul Revere who?—make this collection an essential Revolt read. Sando, a Jemez historian, and Agoyo, a San Juan tribal leader, draw heavily on oral histories in addition to early Spanish records and 20th-century scholarship. The perspectives here bring the Ohkay Owingeh-born Po'pay (the man, more than the myth or the legend) to life.
Archaeologies of the Pueblo Revolt
Edited by Robert W. Preucel (University of New Mexico Press, 2002)
In the preface, Herman Agoyo calls this oversized volume "the kind of book I wish had been available when I was growing up…distinctive because of its use of archaeology, in conjunction with history and oral history, as a way of approaching the events and meanings of our Holy War."
Lovers of narrative might be initially intimidated by the academic perspectives gathered herein, but the details captivate: Peter Whiteley explores the possibility that Po'pay's inspirational visions were peyote-inspired and Jeannette Mobley-Tanaka digs into the Pueblo people's "feigned acceptance" of Spanish missionaries, along with the collusion of Diné and Apache people that bolstered the revolt. Two chapters get into symbols and motifs in Zuni and Kotyiti ceramics, that point to artistic traditions of resistance.
There are a ton of pictures to help you along, too, from petroglyph and pottery photos to diagrams and maps that illustrate military strategies.
The Language of Blood: The Making of Spanish-American Identity in New Mexico, 1880s-1930s
By John M. Nieto-Phillips (University of New Mexico Press, 2004)
It is impossible to understand the cultural reverb of the Pueblo Revolt without delving into New Mexico's Hispanic heritage. In this accessible but far-ranging history, Nieto-Phillips is spurred by his own Chicano family history to examine the notion of "blood purity" that drove Spanish identity—and America's own Hispanophilia—from the colonial period into the 20th century.
Of the Oñate monument controversy (specifically, the 1998 nighttime amputation of the Highway 68 statue's foot by Native activists), Nieto-Phillips writes, "When spaces and landmarks are contested, so are the histories they consecrate and the community values or identities they symbolize."
The debate over the statue of the conquistador, he says, "is rooted in Nuevomexicanos' longing for legitimacy."
By Oliver Galvan-De La Cruz and Jaima Chevalier, illustrations by Israel Francisco Haros Lopez (2019)
Someone needs to make a Pueblo Revolt movie or TV series, like, yesterday, right? That's the idea behind Nativo, a collaboration between screenwriter De La Cruz, filmmaker Chevalier and artist Haros Lopez. It's written as a pilot episode to a series with this log line: "Multiple tribes of Indigenous people battle parasitic colonizers allied with supernatural creatures in an epic story spanning multiple continents and spanning five centuries of time."
Press play already! The main character is Butterfly, whose pueblo is invaded by Spaniards, but the story swoops from the conquest of the Aztec empire to the arrival of Diego de Vargas in Nuevo México to the 1680 expelling of the colonizers.
This contemporary reimagining is part of a new wave of artistic interpretations of the Pueblo Revolt. These include artworks by Virgil Ortiz and Diego Romero, both of Cochití Pueblo, as well as Santa Clara Pueblo artist Jason Garcia's comic book-influenced series Tewa Tales of Suspense.
By Simon J. Ortiz (University of Arizona Press, 1992)
Mine the Pueblo tradition of resistance with Simon Ortiz's textured poems. This collection brings together three of the Acoma storyteller's books published between 1976 and 1980, including Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land. Those poems tell the story of Ortiz's formative time spent in the uranium-mining industry.
Ortiz, who is 79, writes of spiritual survival with an eye toward the continuing Indigenous fight against environmental exploitation. In Fight Back, he strips it down to this: "We have been told many things/but we know this to be true:/the land and the people."