Traversing Through Land and Memory
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May 23, 2012
Traversing Through Land and Memory
Murchison Professor Arturo Madrid pens memoir titled In the Land of Empty Crosses
On a warm spring evening, more than 100 people gathered in the Chapman Great Hall to listen to Arturo Madrid, the Norene R. and T. Frank Murchison Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, give a very personal reading. Wearing his trademark Panama hat and a black collarless shirt under a linen jacket, Madrid captivated the crowd by telling of a trip he took to the grasslands of Northeastern New Mexico with his father to the site of a town that no longer existed. At one time the ghost town was home to the high school where Madrid's father began his teaching career. Now all that was left, according to story, were the memories of his father.
The story is part of a new memoir written by Madrid titled In the Land of Empty Crosses: The Story of a Hispano Protestant Family in Catholic New Mexico and published by the Trinity University Press.
As evidenced by the enthusiastic reception from the audience following the reading, Madrid said he was aware for a long time there was great interest in his professional trajectory, but he had been reluctant to write a personal memoir. It was only after he decided to devote the book to the themes of family and culture that he began work on the project, which took 15 years to complete.
First and foremost, the memoir is a valentine from Madrid to his extended family, especially his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
His family's roots in New Mexico span four centuries, beginning with Francisco Madrid, who, as an eight-year-old, was part of an expedition traveling north from Zacatecas, Mexico in 1603.
"I wanted to bear testimony to the lives, the historical experience, and the cultural expression of my family going back over multiple generations," said Madrid. "They were the ones who helped create who I came to be. And it was through their tutelage, their example, that I was able to dedicate myself to a life of service."
Fitting a man who has dedicated his life to academia, Madrid has also included a good dose of scholarship into his memoir, illuminating the complexity of Latino history and heritage into his personal saga.
For example, the title relates to a central theme in the memoir: growing up as a Presbyterian, a protestante, as Madrid writes, in a predominantly Catholic community. A distinction between the two faiths is symbolized by the crosses in the churches. In Catholic churches, crosses bear the likeness of the crucified Christ to symbolize His sacrifice, while in Protestant churches, the crosses are empty of any likeness to emphasize His resurrection.
As both a Latino and a protestante, Madrid writes about being a minority not just among the Anglo community but in the Hispano community in New Mexico as well. As he researched the history of the state, he said he was surprised how little was written about Hispano protestantes like himself. "It was an unknown history," he said. "What I simply wanted to do was leave a record of what had been and how vital it had been and how significant and informative it had been for me."
While the big themes of family and culture frame the book, the personal stories from Madrid are at the heart of the memoir. Even the New Mexico landscape, with its mountains, valleys, rivers, small towns, churches, and graveyards become significant characters in the book.
The narrative is generously supported by exceptional photographs by Miguel Gandert, Distinguished Professor of Communication and Journalism at the University of New Mexico. The photographs evoke a sense of place that compliments Madrid's story.
When asked what people will take away from his memoir, Madrid said that he hopes readers of his story will see that Latinos are not a monolithic, one-dimensional community. "I hope the people who read this book will see that the reality is far more complex. Here is a community that is literate, that is diverse, that is profoundly bilingual and bicultural, and that has aspirations and hopes that parallel those of the larger community."