Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

summer of 1967 was also a time of some monumental change in northern
New Mexico.  Four weeks into the season on 27 July Santa Fe Opera house caught fire – plans to
rebuild started immediately and today’s outdoor theater is built on
those foundations from 1967. I
n a battle to reclaim the land granted under the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo, Reies Lopez Tijerina stormed the Tierra Amarilla
Courthouse  to free some of his compadres who were held in the jail. 
This generated national attention and resulted in the largest manhunt in
New Mexico history!  Their motto was “Tierra o Muerte” – land or
death.  This dominated every evening news broadcast.  

My little Polish grandmother back in Chicago voiced her concerns.  We were going so far away and I wouldn’t even know the language!   I had one semester of Spanish in high school!  In the beginning I made some embarrassing cultural gaffes which can still make me uncomfortable; then I slowly realized that almost everyone in Santa Fe was related to everyone else.  It was the fear of the other that would keep me separate from my neighbors.

My husband was interviewed and was hired by the Superintendent of Schools, Calvin Capshaw.  The teachers were a tightly knit group.  Two fellows popped out of nowhere.  Richard “Tippy” Mares a realtor and Eddie Ortiz a teacher at the high school.  Tippy went on to become one of Santa Fe’s largest realty company and Eddie later become Superintendent of Schools.  We were all in our late twenties and early thirties.  About three weeks after we arrived they invited us to our first Fiesta on the Plaza!

Yes, oh, yes! Music, dancing, a chance to put on a dress and patent leather high heels!  Lipstick, makeup – a new experience – I was so ready!  In the car on the way to the Plaza the two men started to tell us some of their stories of being young students  at St. Mike’s High School.  They were punished for speaking Spanish and it was difficult for them….the first time I encountered stories of the cultural differences in my new town.  I learned to listen.  For a brief moment everything got really serious….but then the sounds of the mariachi music from the Plaza became louder and happier!

A veteran of Polish weddings, the Mexican music was another form of Polka.  It was the first time I felt connection to this new place! The musicians were playing in the little park area across from the Palace of the Governors.  The street was paved with asphalt.  The four of us laughed and danced all evening!  My patent leather shoes were never the same and my nylons were in shreds, but I felt joy for the first time in months!  That was my first enchanted evening in my new home!     

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