I recently arrived at El Zaguán in Santa Fe due to extraordinary circumstances. 

After a long journey I was excited to finally return to New Mexico, with the intention to assist with a project of indigenous language revitalization in one of the villages. 

On the evening I landed, it was announced that the country was to be closed to all foreign travelers as a consequence of and prevent the spread of the corona virus. Plans were in place for total lockdown, and the Pueblo swiftly took action to protect its people. Even though the work I came here to do could still continue, I was left without a place to stay. 

Fortunately, a fantastic solution was offered through the Historic Santa Fe foundation, via an old archaeology friend. A vacant apartment at El Zaguán that I could call my residence for the duration of my stay. A wonderful place and little did I know how closely the history of this place and its former owners are connected to the current events.

The house on Canyon road was purchased and named El Zaguán by Margrette Dietrich and her sister Dorothy Stewart in 1928. Dietrich relocated to Santa Fe from Nebraska and bought El Zaguán and two other houses to restore and save them from redevelopment. The house is a combination of Spanish Pueblo style with later, territorial style features. Part of the restoration involved setting up apartments for artists. The same apartments in one of which I  am now residing.

Dietrich arrived in Santa Fe from Nebraska, where she served as the President of the Nebraska Women’s Suffrage Association from 1918-1920 and regional director of the National League of Women Voters 1920-1929. This was an extraordinary time when women finally gained the right vote. It happened amidst of, and possibly moved forward by another extraordinary phenomenon, namely the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

Despite the fact that the women were not allowed to organize public protest, likely undermining their efforts, the course of the pandemic was such that many of the women performed much of the work, essential work, to contain the disease and care for those who fell ill. Sounds familiar? The important role of women in this time was recognized and became manifested in the 19th amendment to the US Constitution (1920), granting women the right to vote.

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Entrance at El Zaguán 

Upon arrival in New Mexico, Dietrich continued her advocacy work. She lobbied on behalf of Indigenous groups against the development of dams and exploration in the villages. She became President of the New Mexico Association of Indian Affairs from 1932-1955.

Even though the early twenties also resulted in some changes in the position of Native Americans, such as US citizenship (1924, but not voting rights), the practice of removing children from their homes to be placed in remote boarding schools was in place until the 1970’s, affecting language proficiency and cultural sovereignty. The impending loss of many languages has fortunately led to many language revitalization efforts in recent time.

Some things improve, some things we need to keep fighting for.

When the Black Death swept over Europe during the 14th century and wiped out a third of its population, it also destroyed feudalism in its wake. A good thing. Peasants were free to leave the lands of the lords to try to find higher wages because of the huge labor shortages.

But like women’s rights, indigenous rights, rights of land laborers are still not widely upheld.

Hopefully, our current predicament will result in a similar positive effect in recognizing the value of people who have too long been undervalued and ignored. We need however be aware of another type of threat amongst us, Homo rapacitas*, the seed of which also lurks within and around us…

To be continued…

  • rapacitas [Latin] : aggressive greed, as in “ the rapacity of landowners seeking greater profit from their property”

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