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Getting a grasp on the English language can be difficult, especially for those who were not brought up learning it. After all, there are so many things to consider, especially when words like cool have double meanings. Of course, there’s also words like their, there and they’re, to consider.
Northern New Mexicans don’t make the task any easier. They seem to have a language all their own. It’s a fusion of American English and Castilian Spanish and produces terms such as acequia, mijo and patrón, which are mixed in with everyday English. It’s not uncommon to hear a native New Mexican speak Spanglish, a mix of English sprinkled with Spanish words here and there.
While using Spanish terms is commonplace for most New Mexicans, it’s not so easy for tourists and those who have moved to New Mexico to understand the lingo. Until now.
Mark H. Cross, a proofreader for the New Mexico Legislature, has written “Encyclopedia of Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico,” to help people understand the language and history of New Mexico.
Cross’ tale of moving to New Mexico is not unique. Like many who fall in love with the Land of Enchantment, he came to visit a friend here and decided to make New Mexico his home. So in 1996, he made the move to Santa Fe and has lived there ever since.
As a new resident of New Mexico, he quickly realized that the language spoken was different than any he’d heard. There were terms he heard that he did not understand and so he began taking notes and making lists and categories, following his curiosity.
Cross said the project took him approximately 16 years of compiling information.
“I followed my curiosity, wherever it led me,” he said. “ … if a tourist was sitting in a restaurant, listening to locals, what references would they not understand,” he said, referring to his method for choosing which entries to include in the book.
It took Cross countless hours of research and reading, but he also got help from some of his friends in the legislature. He did note, however, that not all Spanish is the same.
“A friend of mine from El Paso spoke Mexican Spanish, not Northern New Mexico Spanish,” he said.
Indeed, there are terms that are unique to Northern New Mexico, but there are also references such as the Aamodt case, that non-locals would not be familiar with. Cross includes such terms and references in his book. He defines the Aamodt case as a “lengthy court case that illustrates the dizzying complexity of New Mexico water law …”
One can also find terms such as broomstick skirt, adobe, Frito pie, guacamole and fry bread. But there are also references to prominent New Mexico people, like Oliver La Farge, Billy the Kid, Mabel Dodge Luhan and Tom and Stuart Udall. Places like Grants, Cuyamungue and Los Alamos are listed. Newspapers like the Los Alamos Monitor, the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal have their place in the book, as well.
Readers can learn what a lowrider is and can learn about Española jokes. They can also look up artists like R.C. Gorman and politicians like Ben Ray Luján. Information about universities and colleges in New Mexico is listed, as is information about Indian pueblos.
There are some entries that might teach native Northern New Mexicans a few things. For example, an entry for Doña Tules, a woman that ran a brothel in Santa Fe’s Mexican days, paid Bishop Lamy $2,000 in 1852, to be buried where the St. Francis Cathedral now stands. Lamy presided over the funeral service.
Cross said he tried to make the book human and was careful with his research.
“It was printed in the Santa Fe New Mexican, I feel like I have the right to put it in here,” he said, referring to the R.C. Gorman entry, that states the artist was investigated by the FBI for engaging in improper sexual relations with children.
The book, spanning 359 pages, contains some illustrations to go along with certain entries. For example, readers can see a picture of Zozobra next to the explanation, giving them a visual of the huge puppet. It also contains pronunciations for all entries.
Cross has done book signings in Las Vegas, N.M. and Española and will come to Los Alamos at 2 p.m. Sunday. He’ll be at Otowi Station Book Store, signing copies of the book.
For more information, visit encyclopediaofsantafe.com/.