ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) – Janire Najera’s stop in Southwest Utah was brief before returning to her journey along Old Spanish Trail earlier this month. The Spaniard hopes her travels will lead to a deeper understanding of Spanish culture throughout North America’s southern deserts.
“I was not familiar that there was so much Spanish influence in the Southwest. I didn’t know that there are so many people in New Mexico who speak the same language that I speak, and in that way all the culture and the traditions were preserved,” Najera said.
Najera said the Spanish culture in the desert Southwest has perhaps evolved at a different pace from its parallel in Europe, but she has learned from the people who remain proud of their origins – some tracing their ancestry more than 400 years – and who continue to foster the language and history of a society far away.
“For me, it is as well a journey of discovery of my identity as a Spanish person,” she said.
Najera is working on the project “Spaniards: Moving Forward, Looking Back” as part of a program organized by the Embassy of Spain’s Cultural Office in Washington, D.C.
Although her greatest focus is at the trail’s ends in New Mexico and California, the road in between represents a trip through time with signposts along the way she can compare to surviving diaries from the 1776 Dominguez-Escalante Expedition and subsequent travels along its route.
“The motivation was to see what I could find in New Mexico and California – if the Spanish heritage has been preserved in a different way in California than it has been in New Mexico. And the Old Spanish Trail, following the routes, is a way to link both regions as they were linked once in the past,” Najera said. “The idea of this project is to connect Spanish descendants.”
At Lake Powell, Najera and her companion, Matt Wright, an Englishman, viewed a now-graffiti-marred rock inscription believed to have been left by a cartographer with the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition when the group was despairing of ever being able to cross the Colorado River.
Najera wrote and took photos for an online blog that symbolically parallels the diary Antonio Armijo left while traveling the trail.
“I’m trying to give a little more information and show how everything has changed from his days. How my worries are really different from what were the worries back in the day,” she said. “Now, I need propane and (I’m) looking for the Internet. Before, they had to worry about looking for food and water.”
After learning about the troubled interactions between Spaniards and American Indians at Abiquiu, N.M., one of the towns along the route, Najera said that some aspects of history don’t gleam in people’s memories.
“That’s another thing I learned along the journey and I had to deal with,” Najera said. “It’s hard to be proud of everything the Spanish people did.”
Najera and Wright were “roughing it” in a 1984 motor home that has had its share of troubles along the way, and while writing her Internet blog, Najera also wrote a diary on a portable typewriter.
“We wanted a little hardship to empathize with them,” Wright said. “It reinforces things you take for granted, like shade. ... Just the vastness of the spaces. ... I can’t imagine traveling three months under this sun without any shade.”
At the end of their journey, the couple will return to Wales, where they met during their university studies. They’ll come back to the United States in October to prepare for the book and exhibit tour planned to begin next year at the nation’s capital.
“What’s really amazed me is, because America is such a young country, there seems to be a real thirst in its population to define its heritage,” Wright said. “It’s really mad for us to not know what our grandparents did, or let alone our great-grandparents.”