Saturday, May 16, 2015

Who Invented The Taco Shell? Fabiola Cabeza de Baca

If you have followed my blog, you know that I have spent a lot of time researching my ancestry. One of the major objectives was to discover the strong, influential women in my Hispanic heritage because they seemed to be overlooked in the history books. 

I was trying to get this blog published yesterday, May 16th because it was the birthday of one of the most accomplished women of her generation in the Hispanic, New Mexican culture - The First Lady of New Mexico Cuisine - Fabiola Cabeza de Baca. Born in Las Vegas, New Mexico just 4 days after my birthdate, on May 16, 1894. 



Fabiola was immensely intelligent and curious. She was a teacher, nutritionist, organizer and an author. She is known for making tremendous advancements in food safety and most of her time was dedicated to helping people in New Mexico learn how to properly can, dry and preserve food with a decreased risk of food borne illnesses. She is also known for organizing markets where Native American women could sell their homemade goods for profit. Yet of ALL of her accomplishments, I would have to say that I am most impressed with the fact that she invented the u-shaped fried taco shell and she is reputed to have introduced New Mexico’s green chile into Anglo-American cooking. That is a HUGE claim to fame considering a hundred years later, my son is serving the u-shaped fried taco shell in his Mexican food restaurant Taco Circus located in St. Louis, MO.



Fabiola's parents were Graciano Cabeza de Baca and Indalecia Delgado. The Cabeza de Baca family ancestry is traced back to Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Baca, my 9th great-grandfather. He was a Spanish explorer, one of four survivors of the 1527 Narvaez Expedition. He became a trader and faith healer to various Native American tribes. After returning to Spain he wrote an account of his journey, La Relación ("The Account") which in later editions was retitled Naufragios ("Shipwrecks") He has been considered notable as a proto-anthropologist for his detailed accounts of the many tribes of Native Americans that he encountered. Fabiola went to Spain to study her genealogy and translated his journals from Spanish into English. There was a movie made about him in 1991. You can s the trailer here.


Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca - Spanish explorer
My 9th Great-Grandfather




Fabiola’s paternal great-grandfather, Don Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca held title to the Las Vegas Grandes land grant awarded him by the Mexican government in 1823. Her uncle Ezequial Cabeza de Baca was elected the first Lieutenant Governor for the State of New Mexico in 1912, and the second Governor of the state in 1917. I discovered Fabiola when I was researching my ancestry and found some of her research on our ancestor, Manuel Francisco Delgado, her 4th great grandfather. In the year 1790 he was the 1st Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico.

When Fabiola was four, her mother Indalecia Delgado Cabeza de Baca, died and left behind her husband and four children. Fabiola's father and paternal grandmother Estafana, raised Fabiola and her siblings. Fabiola's early life was spent on the family ranch near Las Vegas, NM. The Cabeza de Baca family belonged to a wealthy Spanish elite ranching family. Women did not perform manual labor, instead her grandmother Estefana spent her time doing charity work. Fabiola tells us in her memoir, "We Fed Them Cactus" (1954), she refused to take on her “proper” role as a Spanish lady. Her father allowed her to spend time with him the ranch, riding with the men and the tending of fields, orchards, and animals. She also accompanied her grandmother, a healer (curandera) on her herb-gathering expeditions and learned to become an accomplished storyteller. Fabiola also collected Hispano folklore and the history of her people that she worried was fast disappearing from the modern world.

Her family moved to Las Vegas after her mother’s death. She attended the Sisters of Loretto school, where she was expelled in her first year for slapping a nun. She then attended the New Mexico Normal College, (Now Highlands University) and in 1906 she spent a year in Madrid, Spain where she studied Spanish, art, literature, and history. (a woman after my own heart!) Fabiola receive an elementary school teaching certificate from New Mexico Normal, in 1912; a BA in pedagogy from New Mexico Normal College, in 1921; and a BS in home economics from New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, in 1927.

Built in 1873 the Loretto Chapel at the Loretto Academy
was where Fabiola went to school.
It was influenced by the French clergy
in Santa Fe, the Gothic Revival-style chapel
was patterned after King Louis IX's
Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.
A striking contrast to the adobe churches already in the area.
The staircase in the Loretto Chapel
has two 360 degree turns
and no visible means of support
and was built without nails—only wooden pegs. 
Fabiola's life is a wonderment to me. She lived the life I dreamed of. I had always wished I had known my grandmother before she grew old and blind. I wished that I had grown up in a time when speaking my native tongue was not looked down upon. I dreamed of going to college at Highlands University after graduating high school and studying music. That almost happened! My senior year in high school I worked half day and went to school half day and after graduation I rented a little adobe house in New Mexico with plans of attending Highlands University. I had been playing guitar and I wanted to major in music. My parents had other plans. They went and fetched me and brought me to Austin where I was to babysit for my sister's then 2 year old son. It was 14 years before I made it back to college in Amarillo to acquire an art degree. Now, at the age of 60 my dream is to go to Spain and see all the castles and cathedrals that bear the Fajardo coat of arms, to discover my Spanish heritage. I still have high hopes that dream will come true.

In 1916, the year after my father was born in Santa Rosa, Fabiola was sixteen and took her first job as a school teacher in a one-room school in rural Guadalupe County six miles from the family ranch. Fabiola's father opposed her working but Fabiola insisted. The young teacher stayed with the families of her students because it was too far to travel back and forth each day. Teaching in the rural community was a challenge. Her students, in addition to being frequently absent, came from very mixed backgrounds. She recalled her students as “the children of homesteaders, children of Spanish extraction and children of Indian blood but of Spanish tongue.” As teachers do, even now in poor communities, Fabiola often used her own money to purchase school materials and she created her own bilingual curriculum. When teaching music she had the students teach each other their traditional songs such as Spanish folk songs and cowboy ballads.

In her book "We Fed Them Cactus," her description of her experience teaching in a rural schoolhouse reads like a laboratory for creating civic democracy: “I learned the customs, food habits, religions, languages, and folkways of different national groups. They were all simple, wholesome people living from the soil. . . . My education was from books; theirs came the hard way. It was superior to mine.”


Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert in front of rural New Mexico schoolhouse
Fabiola continue teaching school for the next ten years although never again in such rural and poor circumstances. She taught in Santa Rosa and at a Spanish-language school. I sometimes wonder if she taught my mother and father in Santa Rosa. She began taking summer classes at New Mexico Normal and between school and work, managed to get her Bachelor's degree in 1921 with a major in Pedagogy and a minor in Romance languages. After graduation she spent a couple of years in Madrid, Spain researching her genealogy at the "El Centro de Estudios Historicos." (Center for Historical Studies) When she returned, she again resumed teaching home economics and became intrigued with this new field of study. Home Economics applied progressive goals of efficiency and science to the kitchen and family. She began taking classes at New Mexico Normal in foods, clothing and chemistry. In 1927, she moved to Las Cruces and attended New Mexico State University where she earned a degree in Home Economics from New Mexico State University in 1929.

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca

The Extension Service eagerly offered Fabiola a job after she obtained her degree and she began a thirty-year career as an extension agent. Her ethnicity and her reverence for the old ways lent to her success as an extension agent. Fabiola was the only extension agent in the state of New Mexico who spoke Spanish. Her job kept her on the road often from dawn until midnight. Rural areas were sparsely populated and many miles separated farms and homesteads.

In 1931 Fabiola eloped with Carlos Gilbert. She was thirty-five. Gilbert was a successful insurance agent and active member of the League for United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the most prominent Hispanic civil rights organization of the mid-twentieth century, founded in 1929. (The Carlos Gilbert Elementary School in Santa Fe is named after him.) Fabiola’s father disapproved of the marriage because Gilbert was divorced and he didn't like LULAC’s emphasis on Mexican American, rather than Spanish American identity. Fabiola was an officer in the organization, but as a woman, she could not hold a leadership position. She would be so proud of my friend Christine Albert who lived in Santa Fe when I lived in Santa Rosa during the early 70's. Christine is now the Chair of the GRAMMYS. It has been a slow uphill battle but both of these women have done more than their share to nudge our society into believing that women are true leaders of our communities.

Fabiola's sister, Guadalupe Cabeza de Baca Gallegos on the far left
and Fabiola third from right.
As an agricultural agent, Carlos taught farmers more efficient crop and livestock practices and extension agents like Fabiola, taught farmer’s wives lessons in nutrition, food preservation, food preparation, and home technology. She taught rural women vital skills such as gardening, fruit and vegetable preservation and basic home repairs. By introducing the local rural women to sewing machines, they were able to make quilts faster. She also translated government documents into Spanish for the rural population. But above all, she was an innovator. She challenged conventional rural ways and tried to integrate modern advancements with traditional ones. Rural reforms in New Mexico attempted to alleviate some of the worst effects of poverty by bringing them modern home economics and agricultural practices because 82% of the New Mexican population was rural and were living in a depressed economic situation even before the Depression hit in 1929.

Fabiola's Home

In 1932, a serious accident interrupted Fabiola's career as an extension agent. Her car was hit by a train, injuring her leg which was eventually amputated. Even while recuperating, she worked writing extension circulars on canning and food preparation. After returning to work she continued to visit thousands of homes throughout rural New Mexico. During the 1930s, she also began to compile copious notes about village traditions. She collected recipes, folklore, herbal remedies, religious rituals, and planting practices. She sent these and other recipes to the Santa Fe paper "Neuvo Mexicana" and held a bilingual weekly radio program on KVSF on homemaking.

Fabiola was the author of two New Mexico cookbooks and several bilingual food pamphlets and newsletters. She wrote a weekly food column for the Spanish newspaper "El Nuevo Mexicano" in Santa Fe. She had a bilingual weekly radio program on station KVSF on homemaking. And I must say again, she was a woman after my own heart, she believed writing to be one of the most potent forms of social action. In 1939, she published a compilation of old and new recipes she had collected from Spanish Anglo, Indian and Mexican families. "Historic Cookery" was originally published as an extension circular and was republished several times. Governor Mabry sent hundreds of copies to other state governors and officials as publicity for the state of New Mexico. She wrote articles for the New Mexico Agricultural Extension Service bulletins portraying traditional New Mexican village cultural practices. One of her first efforts “Noche Buena” carefully documented traditional Christmas cooking within its historical context. These articles culminated in a book length tribute to Hispanic traditions entitled "The Good Life," Published in 1949. It was a fictional story of the Turrieta family and life in their village accompanied with recipes of their favorite food. Fabiola intended to share some of her experiences with her rural clients. She felt that their way of life was rapidly vanishing and this was her attempt to preserve it in a book.

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca
At work in the kitchen
Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives
In the collection of the Fray Angélico Chávez Library
New Mexico History Museum
Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert's cookbook
"Historic Cookery" has been credited with the popularization
of cooking with chile that led directly to America's love of
native New Mexican foods. 
When "Historic Cookery"
first appeared in 1931 it may have been the earliest cookbook
of New Mexican foods to be published, with heirloom recipes
from the Fabiola's family
and others collected from villagers in New Mexico.

Fabiola was proud of her noble heritage, in which she included women’s work that was vital to creating civilization on the plains—particularly their vital knowledge of herbs and midwifery. Her goal in all of her writing was to preserve the best of the past and honor her Hispanic traditions. She praised her grandmother for her knowledge of herbs. She published traditional chile recipes in her first cookbook, "Historic Cookery" (1931, 1939), but she also suggested the use of an “electric blender” for getting the meat out of green chiles in the most expeditious way.

Here's one of her recipes from "Historic Cookery":



She introduced the pressure cooker and new methods of canning, but she preserved the “old ways” that were quite good enough, and that meshed with both the cultural desires and the nutritional needs of her clients. In order to better serve the Pueblo and Hispano communities spread over hundreds of miles of northern New Mexico that she traversed,

She published her next book "We Fed Them Cactus" in 1954. It chronicled four generations of her family history on the Llano Estacado gleaned from stories or cuentos that her uncle had told her and her brother. The opening line stated, “This is the story of the struggle of New Mexican Hispanos for existence on the Llano, the Staked Plains.” Fabiola’s poignantly recounts her families decline from wealthy land grant holders to struggling ranchers as the United States increasingly encroached on their title to the land. Although nostalgic it also presents a critical view of progress as it affected the Hispanic people of the Southwest.



An excerpt from "Historic Cookery" by Fabiola Cabeza de Baca

 



 In the 1950s, Cabeza de Baca’s extension work branched out into the international arena. Under the
auspices of the United Nations, she began to develop home economic programs in Mexico. She traveled to remote Mexican villages and trained workers in the techniques she had acquired working in Pueblo and Hispanic villages.  In her later years, she became an active member of "La Sociedad Folklorica" of Santa Fe, an organization dedicated to preserving Spanish culture, traditions, and folklore. Fabiola Cabeza de Baca died in Albuquerque on October 14, 1991.


Food + Folklore Festival
November 8-10, 2013
International Museum of Folk Arts
Santa Fe, New Mexico

1 comment:

  1. http://www.lorettochapel.com/staircase.html Stairway may have been built by St. Joseph...

    ReplyDelete