Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


While the native Hispanos formed the majority of the population throughout New Mexico's territorial period and into the early statehood years after 1912, they were nevertheless subject to the powerful forces of Americanization. As Anglo-American and foreign settlers prepared New Mexico for full incorporation into the United States, considerable ethnic conflict arose. Seeing many threats to their social and cultural interests, Hispanos responded with ethnic protest. By the turn of the twentieth century, a distinct tradition of Hispano collective resistance emerged. Some of the most significant Hispano protest took place within the vast region that the Spanish pobladores (yeoman settlers) first called las vegas grandes (the great meadows) and el llano estacado (the Staked Plains), which extended from the Rockies onto the western fringe of the Great Plains. Anglo newcomers came upon Hispanos who were already settled in the Plains counties of San Miguel, Mora, Colfax, Union, and Guadalupe.

A major form of protest innovated by Hispanos living in the Plains was la junta de indignación (mass meeting of indignation). In the typical junta de indignación, a spontaneous demonstration was organized to deal with an issue suddenly affecting the Hispanos as an ethnic group. One of the biggest and most significant of such juntas took place in Las Vegas in 1901 in response to a Methodist missionary who disparaged in a local newspaper column the "pagan" religious customs of the Hispano folk. A crowd of 600 Hispanos rallied to refute the missionary's alleged "lies" and "calumnies." Typical of the Hispano junta de indignacion, a round of speakers denounced the offender in harsh and sarcastic terms. Also typical of this protest genre, the leaders appointed a committee and charged it with crafting resolutions to be published in the press calling for Anglos to cease their racial prejudices.

Hispano ranchers in the Plains also applied la junta de indignacion in efforts to keep legal possession of communal lands. On the important Las Vegas Land Grant, for example, a "people's" movement, consisting of hastily convened meetings, formed in response to the actions of a group of elite townsmen who attempted to gain control of the grant. In this case, juntas de indignación intertwined with dramatic court cases and local elections.

Statewide juntas also erupted in 1933 when a psychology professor at the University of New Mexico disseminated negative stereotypes of Hispanos in his racial attitude scale. Protests erupted in the two Plains communities of Springer and Taylor Springs in Colfax County. Both involved the rituals of indignant speakers and a petition calling on the governor to fire the professor whose "slanders" insulted the Hispano people.

As a collective repertoire, la junta de indignación enabled Hispanos to forge a homeland ethnic identity. It served as a means for giving notice that they would not tolerate the denial of rights in the land that their ancestors had settled. The classic turn-of-thecentury junta de indignación went out of style in the mid-1930s as the Great Depression and the New Deal caused significant changes in New Mexico's structure of political and civic engagement.

See also HISPANIC AMERICANS: Hispano Homeland.

Phillip B. Gonzales University of New Mexico

Arellano, Anselmo F. "People Versus Trustees: Protest Activity on the Las Vegas Land Grant." In Las Vegas Grandes on the Gallinas, 1835–1985, edited by Anselmo F. Arellano and Julián Josué Vigil. Las Vegas NM: Editorial Teleraña, 1985: 66–74.

Gonzales, Phillip B. Forced Sacrifice as Ethnic Protest: The Hispano Cause in New Mexico and the Racial Attitude Confrontation of 1933. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2001.

Gonzales, Phillip B. "La Junta de Indignación: Hispano Repertoire of Collective Protest in New Mexico, 1884–1933." Western Historical Quarterly 31 (2000): 161–86.

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