Los Lunas

Stories told by the families of the Rio Abajo are blended with native tradition, language, song and dance. Through the dedicated work of the Raíces del Rio Abajo planning committee, their history is being passed on to future generations through striking photographs and moving text.

Now that summer is here, the planning committee is gearing up for next year’s ceremony. The second annual Raíces del Rio Abajo will salute veterans of the Rio Abajo area stretching from Isleta to Socorro.

Jarales resident Ruperto Baldonado is chair of the group’s subcommittee, which has already begun gathering information on local veterans.

They are accepting 4-inch by 6-inch photographs of each veteran, to create pictorials to memorialize military service.

“Anybody is welcome to put their picture in, from any war that we have had,” says Baldonado, who served in the Korean Conflict from 1951-1952.

“Any veteran is welcome. We need their picture if they wish to be a part of the project.”

Soldiers enlisted in the armed forces and newcomers to the valley are encouraged to participate. The planning committee is looking for information, such as in what branch of service each veteran has served Marines, Navy, Army, etc. The committee also wants to know if the veteran received any special honors, commendations, citations or awards.

The committee also would like to have a family history, such as parents names, etc., for each veteran.

Honoring the veterans will be a special part of the Raíces del Rio Abajo ceremony scheduled for mid-April of 2003. The event will be held at a different venue this time around the new Los Lunas Schools administration building.

The exhibit will be 10-12 black and white family pictorials and their history. The intent of the celebration is to highlight local families and to promote local artisans.

“This is a large task an ambitious undertaking for us. We’ve had a lot of interest in the project,” says Rita Padilla- Gutierrez, a member of the planning committee.

“Communication to the community is important to get what we need. It’s time for people to come together for this festivity, be proud of family and their contributions to the community.”

Interest in the project is evident. Hundreds of Valencia County residents and visitors from around New Mexico turned out to the first Raíces del Rio Abajo in April at Belen City Hall.

“We knew early on what we were doing was special,” Padilla-Gutierrez says.

Word of mouth keeps the program growing. “That’s the exciting part the camaraderie of getting together every month for a year. We host meetings in members’ homes, where different families get to know each other and where they live.”

The Raíces del Rio Abajo planning committee is committed to the vision of letting the people of the community tell their own stories. “Everyone has come together to learn about history,” she said.

“The people of the Rio Abajo take pride in who they are. For the first time, they are telling history their way.”

Now, as new families become part of the program, it’s an easier process for the committee to help them get started.

This year, donations, in the form of small stipends, will be distributed to each family. “We want to help them produce pictures for their pictorials.”

Starting June 30, the pictorials from the first Raíces del Rio Ajabjo will be on display for three months at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, located at Fourth and Bridge.

The long-term goal of the committee is to have five and 10 year reunions of the family pictorials. And, one day, the families hope to build a community center to house a local museum on the history of the Rio Abajo.

For now, the committee is anxious to look for local sponsors, holding fund-raisers and drawings and collecting photos from veterans. For more information on how to get involved, call (505) 861-2365 or (505) 861-1768.

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Jennifer Harmon