A. Gabriel Meléndez, Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and author of several books including “The Book of Archives and Other Stories from the Mora Valley, New Mexico”, which is his latest humorous book , tragic, everyday vignettes about historical occurrences and improbable happenings, creating a vivid portrait of Mora, both in cultural memory and in current reality.
In the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico’s Mora Valley is home to the ghosts of history: troubadours and soldiers, plains Indians and settlers, families fleeing and returning to their homes.
There, more than a century ago, villagers collected scraps of paper documenting the valley’s history and their identity – military documents, travelers’ diaries, newspaper articles, poetry and more – and bound them in a leather wallet called “The Book of Archives”. “When a bombing during the Mexican-American War scattered the contents of the book to the wind, the memory of the stories lives on in the minds of the people of Mora. Poets and storytellers pass on the traditions of the valley in the 20th century, from generation to generation.
Originally from Mora with el don de la palabra, the divine gift of words, Meléndez draws on historical sources and his own imagination to reconstruct the history of the valley, first in English and then in Spanish. In this groundbreaking volume in two languages, Meléndez joins their ranks, continuing the retelling of tales from the Mora Valley for our times.
Local gossip and family legend mingle with Spanish-language ballads and poetry from New Mexico’s most famous troubadours, Old Man Vilmas and the poet García. Drawing on the tradition of New Mexican storytelling, Meléndez weaves a colorful bilingual depiction of a place whose compelling characters, unforgettable events, and inescapable truths they embody still resonate today.
In an interview with Pastimean award-winning arts and culture magazine published by The New Mexican, Meléndez describes himself in the book as the last chronicler of the valley.
“I always talk to people in Mora, and they always tell me things,” he said. The book is divided into English and Spanish sections, although both languages appear in each section. “Sometimes I start in one language and write as far as I can, then I switch to Spanish and write another version. I try not to translate – the idea is to render another version with the appropriate choices of words and style that somehow make it more evocative. A lot of them start in Spanish because a conversation I was hearing would come back to me, a line, something someone was saying.
He said he started recording the stories from the 1980s, but is grateful he waited three decades to complete them. “It’s sort of the process of this tradition,” he said. “You could just get a little fragment and then someone tells you another part of it and another part and so it grows. You kind of have to go through your life to get some of those stories. “
“The Book of Records and Other Stories of the Mora Valley, New Mexico” can be purchased on Amazon.
Other books Meléndez published include Spanish Language Newspapers in New Mexico, 1834–1958 and Hidden Chicano Cinema: Film Dramas in the Borderlands.
Meléndez, a well-established specialist in southwestern frontier studies who was named director of UNM’s Center for Area Studies in March 2017, earned his doctorate from UNM in 1984 after teaching at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Mills College in Oakland, California. He returned to UNM to complete a Rockefeller Fellowship in the Humanities at the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute in 1991 and joined the American Studies faculty in 1994.