San Antonio de Padua is one the oldest villages in the Sandia Mountans. Thirty miles east of Albuquerque, New Mexico, it sits at the crossroads of two great passageways of human migration: the Camino Royal, used by Spanish conquistadors to travel from Mexico City to Santa Fe, and Route 66, one of America’s original highways linking Chicago to Los Angeles. San Antonio was founded near a mountain spring called an acequia. It has provided drinking water and served as a meeting point for Native Americans, Hispanics, and Gringos for hundreds of years. Archeological evidence suggests that nomadic travelers may have been stopping by the acequia since the end of the last ice age.
During San Antonio’s Catholic feast days residents bless the acequia. The ceremony is performed by matachines dancers who are rooted in Spanish, Moorish, Aztec, Pueblo Indian, and Hispanic traditions.
In the desert environment of the American Southwest, water is not a commodity, but a luxury. There are reports that new golf courses and suburban lawns are draining the aquifer. Some speculate that the area will soon turn into a dustbowl. Growing up in the Sandia Mountains, I watched my family and neighbors battle real estate developers. I wondered how they were able to preserve the character of our community when everywhere else was turning into sprawl and strip malls.
I’ve been attending the matachines dances since I was a teenager. One year the local East Mountain Historical Society asked me to videotape the fiestas. I recorded matachines, abuelos, malinches, and mayordomos participating in vesper masses, processions and dances at San Antonio.
After the fiestas, I kept returning back to the acequia to walk through its surrounding apple orchards and enjoy its natural beauty. Sometimes I would come across Chris Jinzo, the caretaker of the acequia. He told me stories about San Antonio as he cleaned and inspected the spring. Once, I met a curandiero who showed me the plants that she used in her traditional healing rituals.
The completed film was screened by the East Mountain Historical Society on the the one hundredth anniversary of New Mexico’s statehood. It was projected against the back wall of a church down the road from San Antonio in Tijeras.
I want the documentary to bring awareness to the San Antonio and its cultural heritage. Development is a constant threat to the village. Every year its borders become a little smaller; its traditions practiced a little less. I also hope that the video can be an inspiration, first to the residents who must keep fighting, and also to other small, rural communities that face similar challenges. By understanding our challenges a little better we can take the necessary steps to overcome them.
San Antonio de Padua is unique because it resisted the urban sprawl that has come to characterize the American Southwest. When Walmart proposed a new super-center a mile down the road from San Antonio, residents rabidly protested. Their critics claimed resistance was futile. No one can stop Walmart. Surprisingly, the East Mountains was able to keep the box store out.
What can we learn about preservation from a place that is constantly being invaded by a new party of settlers? San Antonio de Padua has seen different ethnic groups negotiate its land use for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Yet, for countless generations, San Antonio continues to preserve this tiny spring. The water is so clean that you can drink it straight out of the acequia, something rare in the world we live in today. The high quality of the spring is made possible through the residents’ understanding of the high-desert environment they live in, preservation of past traditions, and the ability to adapt to the present environment.