The first time this movie was screened it was on the back wall of Tijeras church for the East Mountains of New Mexico’s centennial celebration. Ten minutes before the start of the show the entire building was packed. A hundred sat inside and people stood outside, peering in the doorway like it was La Posadas.
Five minutes before the screening, the day’s organizers made an announcement.
“Free cake, live music, and a silent auction going on now behind the library!”
There was a mad dash. The music began on the courtyard patio. Less than a handful of people remained in the audience. I waited, but there was nothing left to do but start the show before even more people left. The projector warmed up and flickered against old curved adobe walls that distorted the edges of the frame.
I stared stiffly ahead, groggy from spending the night on the road the night before. I left Denver after my shift ended at 8 and got to Trinidad State Park well after midnight. I slept in the back of my car and ducked out at first light before the ranger started making rounds.
Sitting like that all by myself in the front row watching a movie about where I grew up in the very area where I grew up made me realize how much of an outsider I was. I’d been an interloper my whole life here, ever since our family moved to the East Mountains 18 years ago from Massachusetts. Most of the other gringos hadn’t been in the area until relatively recently, but the Hispanic families in villages like San Antonio held water rights that dated back to the Spanish Crown. Even before their arrival, the niches in the hills flourished with pueblo and plains Indians who had been living in the area for hundreds of years. Everyone came for the same reason. The ojito, or spring, at San Antonio de Padua was an oasis in the high desert that characterizes New Mexico environment.