On a hill overlooking the community of Abiquiú, roses bloom in the front yard of the modest home of Dexter Trujillo. As he walks to where his chickens, that supply him with fresh eggs, are housed, he crosses a field where he will plant his garden. Normally already filled with peas and other vegetables, this year his garden has not yet been planted because the irrigation ditch that supplies water for his and the other gardens has been under repair. It was not until June 4 that water began to flow through the ditch.
“They told me today that there was water in the ditch,” he said happily. “No more excuses now.”
With majestic, ancient apricot trees growing nearby, Trujillo picks a few of the cherries growing along the ditch that have survived the late spring frosts that wiped out this year’s apricot crop. His closeness to the land comes through as he talks about planting his garden.
“Here, we don’t get a (fall) frost sometimes until the second week in November,” he said. “I think the mesa protects us and the cold air settles down in the valley. It’s not too late to plant corn, beans and chilé.”
Abiquiú is a small community founded in the 1730’s by Hispanic settlers and in 1757 became a settlement for members of several Native American tribes who had been raised in Hispanic households and converted to Christianity. Known as Genizaros, the community clustered around Santo Tomas del Apostol church. Trujillo walks from his home down to the church.
“Different tribes all had member placed here in Abiquiú,” Trujillo said. “Here they were able to start a new life.”
It was a hard life.
“If they didn’t break their backs and work hard, they would never make it through the winter,” he said.
Born in nearby Barranca, Trujillo moved to Abiquiú to live with his grandparents, Benjamin Archuleta and Susana Velasquez, when he was four years old. His present home sits behind the house of his grandparents.
“This land is sacred to us,” he said. It’s been in our family for generations. We would never sell it.”
He remembers his childhood fondly. As a child, Trujillo was educated at a parochial school in Abiquiú and taught by Dominican nuns.
“They taught us about our faith,’ he said. “In the third grade, it was pretty sad. They (the nuns) were asked to leave and we were forced to go to public school.”
Life in Abiquiú still revolved around work.
“We would help my grandfather irrigate and when we were done he’d let us go swimming in the ditch,” Trujillo said. “We would feed the chickens and pigs. You have to struggle for everything here.”
Trujillo learned to swim at nearby Ghost Ranch. He would carry mail to the home of world-famous artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived in Abiquiú.
“She would give us an orange,” he said.
It was as a sophomore at Española Valley High School that Trujillo would learn a craft that would eventually take him to Washington, D.C.
“I had to do a project,” Trujillo said. “I was always intrigued by the hornos I’d see in the village. They were like abandoned and never used. My tia Frankie Salazar, her horno was always cleaned and plastered. She made the best food.”
Hornos are outdoor ovens used for centuries to bake bread, dry corn for the winter and cook other foods. They resemble a beehive-type shape, plastered with mud on the outside and constructed of adobe bricks. They were a common feature in communities and pueblos throughout Northern New Mexico.
The art of building an horno requires a specialized type of mud brick. The pieces have to fit together like a puzzle to lock the bricks in place. Trujillo’s grandfather made him a special mold (adoforma) in which to make the bricks. They are rectangular-shaped with one end wider than the other. The mud to make the bricks comes from the soil around Abiquiú.
“They fit together like a key,” Trujillo said. “That’s what makes the horno bind together and keeps it from falling down.”
Trujillo constructed his horno at Abiquiú and it still stands today near his home. He also learned the techniques of baking that his grandmother and Tia Salazar knew.
Working with adobe would have an added importance to Trujillo’s life when he studied to join the Los Hermanos de Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, also known as the Los Hermanos Penitentes. An important part of the life of small communities throughout Northern New Mexico, the penitentes provide community charity, mutual aid and are dedicated to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The order was founded in Spain and brought to new Mexico by the early Hispanic settlers. In the absence of a priest, they performed religious services. Their meetings were held in buildings called moradas. In Abiquiú, the brotherhood had dwindled until only 98-year-old Agapito Duran remained. Duran died on 1976. The Morada de Alto of the Hermanos had not been cared for and was in a state of disrepair.
“He died thinking that it (the morada) would return back to the earth,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo studied in Coyoté to become a member of the Hermanos. Still in high school, he would practice the prayers and teachings he was learning on the 30-minute bus ride from Abiquiú to school in Española. He remembered the beautiful singing of the brothers when he was just a child.
The Morada was burned in a fire in 1978 believed to have been caused by lighting. Trujillo was determined to rebuild it.
“I made 3,000 adobes by myself that summer,” Trujillo said. “We did not have a mixer, so I did it with my feet. We had to haul water in buckets from the ditch.”
The effort left Trujillo with a bad back and knees, which has limited his ability to work.
“It was worth it— no regrets,” he said.
For Trujillo, the restoration of the morada fulfilled a promise he had made. The bell of the morada lay on the ground after the fire.
“It broke my heart to see it like it was,” Trujillo said. “I just wanted to put that bell back where it goes. Little by little, we have restored it. It is beautiful there now.”
Others have joined the Hermanos since Trujillo and there are now 16 or 17 members, according to Trujillo. In1982 when the morada was burned a second time by vandals who also stole the bultos and santos in the morada. The larger santos were eventually recovered.
“I guess the thieves started to feel some remorse and told people where the larger santos were hidden under a bridge,” Trujillo said. “The smaller ones were lost forever.”
Despite the setbacks, using donations from around the world and a grant from the Santa Fe Community Foundation, the morada was restored.
“I love to go up there,” Trujillo said.
The quality of the restoration led to Trujillo taking a trip to Washington, D. C.
“A lady from the Smithsonian saw how beautiful our morada looked,” Trujillo said. “She invited me to Washington. I didn’t think it was going to happen. Sure enough, in July (1992) I had a ticket.”
Trujillo helped to build a horno on the grounds of the Smithsonian. He remembers the trip most vividly because of a visit to the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
“It was packed with people,” he said. “It was a once in a lifetime experience. They were having a workshop on liturgical music and they did it in Spanish. The whole building just vibrated.”
Trujillo’s skill at horno construction can also be seen along Railroad Avenue in Española at the Española Valley Farmers Market. In 2010, Trujillo and a group of students made adobe bricks from soil at the Market and constructed an horno on the premises.
“Every year he comes back and cooks in the horno,” Sabra Moore, director of the Market, said.
Throughout the Market’s season from June to October, Trujillo periodically cooks food in the horno. Many of the ingredients are from produce for sale at the market. Some of the foods are traditional like tortillas, bread and bizcochitos, but some have more modern origins.
“Pizza is what everybody likes,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo’s life is intertwined inseparably with the community. He is known as the “unofficial mayor of Abiquiú” by many, although he smiles because he never thinks of himself that way.
“I guess that’s because they always see me at different functions,” he said. “There’s always a funeral, a shower or some other social event going on. They see me everywhere.”
When something needs to be done, Trujillo is whom the community seeks. He is the one who people ask to do it. He prepares the Santo Tomas Church for mass and special events. He is often requested to read the recite the rosary at special events. Former residents of Abiquiú have requested he recite the rosary from as far away as Sacramento, Calif.
“Everyone counts on Dexter,” Isabel Trujillo, director of the Pueblo de Abiquiú Public Library said. “Dexter leads the community and we follow. He’s very involved in keeping the traditions alive.”
One of those traditions is the dancing at fiestas and special events held in the community. Because of the Native American ancestry of the Genizaros, they held ceremonial dances in what are now costumes but had their origins in traditional clothing. During the Comanche Dance, the participants dress in traditional Native American clothing they design themselves. Trujillo teaches them the steps to the dance and plays the drum.
“It’s pretty sad the younger generation has so many distractions like cell phones and computers,” he said. “Still, there are some good kids and they want to learn.”
Other dances include the Butterfly Dance, Coyote Dance, Eagle Dance and Redondo Dance. One dance, the Baile de Cemetario (Cemetery) is in danger of dying.
“There are two groups, men and women,” Trujillo said “Men on one side and women on the other. They form a cross. It ends with a prayer and kneeling down. We haven’t done it in six years. We need to get enough people to do the dance before we lose it.”
Trujillo also rings the bell at the church when a member of the community dies. There is a special tone that he knows how to ring. The bell is rung once for every year of the deceased person’s life. There is a special spacing between the rings.
“There are some now who are learning it,” Trujillo said. “A lot of the things we do have disappeared.”
Although he relishes the peace and quiet of Abiquiú, Dexter Trujillo is a busy man. His pickup sits in front of the library June 4, being loaded with chunks of concrete that are the result of an archaeological excavation taking place there. The concrete will be taken to a landfill. The Library is seeking to expand and wants to find the original foundation, as well as the location of the well that was part of the original building that now houses the library. The excavation is being led by Jun Sunseri, assistant professor of archaeology for the University of California-Berkeley. In addition to graduate students from Berkeley, four local high school students are involved with the project.
“Dexter is an important asset for us to have about where we should be looking,” Sunseri said. “As archaeologists, we sometimes take a lot for granted and think we know what’s important. Dexter gives us a sense of why it matters.”
Later that day, Trujillo offers to return a jack hammer that was rented to break through the concrete to Española. He thought he might do some shopping while he was there, but encountered a situation that reminded him why he treasures the quiet pace in Abiquiú.
“The power was out and the traffic was backed up,” he said, putting off his shopping plans. “It was chaotic.”
Returning to Abiquiú, Trujillo enjoyed a cool evening breeze outside his home. He would be busy the following two days as part of his obligations as a member of the Hermanos and as Abiquiú’s unofficial mayor.
The morning of June 5 Trujillo, Palmita Osegueda, Robert Martinez and his wife Norma Jo Martinez were busy preparing burritos and bizcochitos in the kitchen of the Santo Tomas Parish Hall for a group of pilgrims (peregrinos) who were participating in the 100-mile walk.
The annual pilgrimage is held the first week of June. The pilgrims consist of four groups who walk to the Santuario de Chimayó in Chimayó. They stop at churches and communities along the way. One group starts in Costilla, another in Wagon Mound and another in Estancia. The group that was stopping in Abiquiú started in Chama. It had stopped in Tierra Amarilla, Canjilon and Ghost Ranch before reaching Abiquiú. They actually walked to the ruins of the first church founded in Abiquiú in 1744, Santa Rosa de Lima, before returning to Abiquiú.
The peregrinos were led by Trujillo up the hill from Santo Tomas church to the Morada de Alto of the Hermanos, where a service was held. They then attended mass at Santo Tomas and would spend the night in Abiquiú at Joesph Ferran Gym before leaving the following morning. Trujillo would arise a 3 a.m. to plug in the coffee pots for the group, which would leave at 4:30 a.m.
“We make them feel at home,” Trujillo said.
The group stopped at San Juan (Ohkay Owingeh) June 6 before continuing to the final destination, the same day, of the Santuario de Chimayó, where they would converge and form a cross. A mass was then held by Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe.
“It’s a beautiful mass,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo would spend June 6 at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living, historical museum south of Santa Fe, to demonstrate Alabados, songs of praise and prayer from Spain that had a Moorish influence. The next day would be Sunday, where Trujillo would prepare for the days mass for the priest and the people.
Throughout the year, Trujillo attends to the needs of those Abiquiú residents who cannot take care of themselves. He takes them to doctor’s appointments and checks on their welfare. An elderly resident asked Trujillo to check on her husband as they made burritos for the peregrinos.
“We take care of the elderly,” he said. “Through them we have what we have.”
What Trujillo has is a sense of place that seems unique in this day and age. As he looks out over Abiquiú from his house, he is grateful that he can always return here.
“I think back to our ancestors,” he said. “Here I feel like I’m walking with them and they’re still walking with you.”