Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Search for mi tatarabuela by Juliana Aragón Fatula

2015 Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City, Colorado

October 28, 2021 
Dear Reader, 

October blew in like a hot air balloon on LSD. Whoosh. My lawn chairs down the block at the neighbor’s hootenanny. My golden Aspen leaves blown to smithereens and my wildflower seeds scattered to the wind. Southern Colorado today feels like windy Wyoming or the streets of Chicago on a blustery day in autumn. But let me get to the point. I’m not here to discuss the weather in Southern Colorado. I’m here to discuss the phenomenon known as Zoom Writing Workshops. 

My next workshop falls on November 7, 2021. The great fact of Zooming Workshops, I don’t have to spend time and money traveling to Las Cruces, New Mexico; but oh, how I wish I were travelling south to visit mi comadre, Denise Chavez. She leads an incredible writing workshop. This will be my second with the Chicana icon. She holds a special place in my heart, and we have become comadres/familia. 

Juliana with Denise Chavez in Las Cruces, New Mexico

My assignment from Denise instructs me to find a photo of a relative and study the photo and place a copy in a sketch book and doodle, draw, dabble with words, figures, whatever comes to my imagination but put it down in pencil, ink, colored pencils, markers. I can use glue and scissors and add memorabilia to my tribute to my ancestor. The exercise focuses my attention on one singular person, the flexibility to create something, and to write when the story comes to me. 

I’ve chosen my tatarabuela mi great-great-grandmother, Southern Ute from New Mexico Territory before it was a state. I have a photo of her thanks to and a relative I discovered through DNA testing. My indigenous ancestry ties me to North and South America as well as many other countries. I’m fifty-eight percent indigenous to this continent, America. I knew my maternal grandmother, Phoebe Mondragón, but not my great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother. I’ve made the pilgrimage to Alamosa and to Villanueva, New Mexico to visit my ancestors graves. I honor my ancestors for the struggles they endured to enable me to be a survivor. 
Abranita Quintana Jacobs 1860's

My tatarabuela, Abrana Quintana, was born March 16, 1842, in the territory of New Mexico. Her ancestors came from Ute land. I’ve never told her story until now and although I don’t know the facts, I do know her truth. She was an indigenous woman living in the wild west during the Indian Wars, the Mexican American War, the Civil War. She married a white man, a Preacher who converted the indigenous people of New Mexico and Southern Colorado and taught his wife and children the English language with the help of the Bible. 

Why did she marry him? Did she need a husband? Did he need a wife? Did he need a translator? Did he need a woman tough enough to survive the old west and the ways of the white man during a struggle over the land, water rights, and human rights? Did she need a home, money, food, safety? Did he need someone to teach him the culture of the Ute people? 

My research has led me to the place they married Ft. Union, New Mexico. Records indicate that he served in the military during the Indian Wars and fought in several battles. Did he kill people or was he the official preacher for the wounded and dead who fought the Indians? Did she cook, feed, nurse the soldiers who invaded, stole, and pillaged her people? She received a pension from the military after her husband died. Did she become a Christian or did she retain some of her native skills, language, culture? Did she pass those skills to her children? 

My grandmother, Phoebe Gomez was Abrana Quintana’s granddaughter. She was bilingual but spoke English and Spanish/Spanglish. She read the Bible every day, attended church, played the accordion, and sang hymns. I learned Bible stories and hymns from my grandmother. But I didn’t learn any of the Ute language or customs. The Anglos acculturated my ancestors both Ute, Navajo, and Pueblo into Mexicans, then Mexican Americans, and today are known as Chicano: Abranita Quintana Jacobs, Abrana Jacobs Gomez, Phoebe Gomez Mondragón, Eloísa Mondragón Aragón, Juliana Aragón Fatula. 

For my Zoom writing workshop assignment, my research and storytelling will take me to the New Mexico Territory to discover my tatarabuela Abrana Quintana and her ancestors so they can tell me who I am, where I come from, and where I’m going. Because, until you know where you’ve been, you cannot know where you are going. And everywhere you go, there you is.


  1. I love the adventure you are on, Juliana!Best wishes in finding lots of good information about your tatarabuela!

  2. How wonderful to know your ancestor's truth. I remember sitting down with my father when he was battling cancer but still quite alert and asking him about his childhood. He looked surprised. His look said why would you want to know? I got what I could out of him, but I wish he had told me more. We search for our ancestors like reaching for stars—they are intimate but untouchable. Still, the reaching is important, because star dust is part of us.

  3. I can't wait to learn more of what you find. I've found a little about my background, but not enough to know my roots. Without the basis, you don't know what you don't know.


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