Chautauqua to focus on state's Hispanic women

Mike Easterling
Albuquerque actress Rosalia de Aragon will perform her Chautauqua "Hispanic New Mexico Women: 1528-Present"  this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

FARMINGTON — Growing up in Las Vegas, N.M., as the daughter of a historian and a visual artist, Rosalia de Aragon recalls that she was raised in an environment in which people from the community regularly visited her home and shared their family stories, some stretching back hundreds of years.

Those sessions had a strong impact on de Aragon, who would grow up to become an actress, singer and storyteller in Albuquerque. She was particularly moved by the tales involving women, realizing as she got older that in the “official” history of her home state — the historical documents, textbooks and other materials she encountered — the contributions of females were rarely recognized or cited.

“The big thing to me that was surprising was that women were so much a part of it, but when I was reading the (history) books, they were left out,” de Aragon said from Albuquerque during a phone interview last week as she was preparing to present her Chautauqua “Hispanic New Mexico Women: 1528-Present” this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

Those contributions by women weren’t exactly lost to the past, de Aragon said, explaining that some historians and people who live in the state’s smaller communities remain well versed in those tales. But de Aragon decided to take it on herself to share those stories with a wider audience, so in 2000, she began researching a Chautauqua presentation on the subject. It took her years to pull together the material she needed, but de Aragon finally succeeded in crafting a presentation that focuses on a half dozen women and their stories.

She’s been performing the Chautauqua around the state since approximately 2010, often tailoring her presentation to focus on two women who were influential in the area where she is performing.

“In the beginning, I was doing more than two (women), but with a one-hour run time, I realized there isn’t enough time to do that,” she said. “I begin by talking about their influence in general, then I bring to life their characters. A Chautauqua is a living history performance where the audience gets to meet these characters.”

Rosalia de Aragon works to bring some of the state's most influential but largely unknown female Hispanic characters to life in her Chautauqua.

De Aragon described her presentation as part concert, part theater performance, and she is joined onstage by her daughter Rosalinda Pacheco, who dances, and her son Estevan Pacheco, who accompanies her on guitar.

“My program is not a lecture,” she said.

De Aragon said she relies heavily in her Chautauqua on the work of Aurora Lucero-White Lea, an author and folklorist from northern New Mexico who was born in 1894 and who is best known for her volume “Literary Folklore of the Hispanic Southwest.” Lea grew up in the Las Vegas area in the late 1800s, and de Aragon said it was her historian father who introduced her to Lea’s works. Lea traveled extensively throughout the small Hispanic villages of northern New Mexico, cataloging the cultural traditions, songs and stories she encountered, eventually compiling them for her book.

She also credited University of New Mexico folklore, literature and cultural history professor Enrique R. Lamadrid with steering her in the right direction, namely toward the archives at the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections at UNM.

De Aragon said the material she mined for her Chautauqua often took the form of songs or dramas, and she was surprised at how much she was able to uncover.

“There was a lot to be explored,” she said.

Rosalia de Aragon is pictured during a presentation of one of her other Chautauquas, "La Llorona, The Wailing Woman."

De Aragon is no stranger to Farmington, having performed here several times in the past, though never this particular Chautauqua. She has another presentation she delivers under the auspices of the New Mexico Humanities Council’s Chautauqua program, “La Llorona, the Wailing Woman,” as well as others that she books appearances for herself. But “La Llorona” – a famous ghost from Spanish folklore who wanders through the afterlife crying as she mourns her two lost children — might be her favorite, she said.

“It’s a different type of character,” de Aragon said, noting that La Llorona went from being an acknowledged mythical character during her Spanish origin to someone who was reputed to have actually existed when she was imported to the New World.

“People who have lived in the past have taken her character from stories and brought her to life,” she said.

De Aragon is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood and has acted in several films, but she finds a great deal of satisfaction in her Chautauquas, largely because of their interactive nature and the response she gets from performing before a live audience.

She said it isn’t uncommon for older audience members to react strongly to a particular story or song from her presentation because it’s often something they recognize from their childhood and had forgotten.

“They say, ‘When are you going to be back so I can bring my kids? I want them to hear this,’” de Aragon said.

Eliciting such emotional responses is a gratifying experience, she said, and that’s a message de Aragon said she recently tried to convey to a group of students when she participated in a career enrichment program in the southern part of the state. De Aragon was telling the students about how she made her living as an actor, staying busy by creating work for herself doing Chautauqua performances when she wasn’t working on film or stage productions.

“What I was trying to bring out is that there are other ways of using your skills as an actor,” she said. “It’s a good way to share your own culture because these things are of great value. By sharing these stories, you’re keeping them alive so these traditions aren’t lost.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Performance by Rosalia de Aragon of her Chautauqua “Hispanic New Mexico Women: 1528-Present”

When: 3 p.m. Saturday, June 18

Where: The Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St.

Admission: Free

For more information: Call 505-599-1174 or visit