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  • Over Behind Mabel's on Indian Land:Utopia and Thirdspace in Taos
  • Sylvia Rodríguez (bio)

In 1979, the Kit Carson Memorial Foundation Museum in Taos announced plans to open to visitors the chapel located inside an old morada (Penitente chapter house) it had purchased two years before from the two remaining Hermanos Penitentes who owned the building. After months of trying unsuccessfully to meet with the museum director, the Brotherhood, or La Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno, including Penitentes from other moradas in the Taos area and throughout the state of New Mexico, staged a dramatic public protest over what they considered an imminent sacrilege. According to the Taos News, more than one hundred Hermanos marched in procession from Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church, near the plaza, through the heart of town, eastward down the hill toward Cañon, and up the road to Las Cruces (the crosses north of the highway), a distance of at least a mile. They carried banners, chanted alabados (hymns of mourning), and were accompanied by four parish priests, one of whom allegedly pronounced a curse at the doorway. Nearly three hundred parishioners joined them (Daigh 1979).

This stunning event quashed the museum's plans to open the morada for public display. The museum board and the Brotherhood reached an agreement whereby they would reopen the matter for negotiation in thirty years. For the next three decades the building was used only to store archives, with access restricted to staff and authorized researchers. Then in October 2008, a resolution was achieved whereby the Taos Historic Museums, Inc., successor to the Kit Carson Memorial Foundation as owner of the morada and two other heritage properties in Taos, transferred the deed to the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe parish.1 The deal was negotiated between a museum board representative, the pastor of the Guadalupe parish, and a representative of [End Page 379] the Hermandad. The archbishop of Santa Fe approved the agreement and pledged funds toward restoration. The stated intention was to restore and reconsecrate the crumbling structure and "return [it] to its original use as a center of the area's traditional religious and spiritual devotions" (Fernández 2008a; Padilla 2008).

In this essay I focus on a single geographic locale to illustrate the production of space through a process of struggle between specific spatial practices and divergent interpretations or representations of space. My approach rests on the premise that rather than being a natural given, space is produced through the interaction of social and historical forces (Lefebvre 1991; Soja 1996). My narrative begins with two buildings, one being the morada, then moves beyond them to encompass their surrounding neighborhood, the social fields and temporal forces that shape them, and the words and deeds of individuals or groups that inhabit, traverse, control, or stake claim to them. My perspective is ethnographic, historical, textual, visual, symbolic, and mnemonic, drawing on my own and others' memories of the place I am writing about, which is where I grew up, periodically reside, and study as an anthropologist. My purpose is to describe and analyze space—and by implication place—as situated process involving interaction and struggle between subjects caught up in larger socioeconomic forces.2 My discussion also touches on the question of utopia, which literally means "no place," or more precisely, the paradoxical non-setting where it resides. Foucault (1980, 1986) refers to such a space as heterotopia, whereas Soja (1996) calls it Thirdspace. But rather than embark on a theoretical inquiry into the nature of Thirdspace or its relation to heterotopia, my intention is to describe an instance of its production. To accomplish this, I focus on one specific geographic and architectural zone, located in and around the colonial tourist town of Don Fernando de Taos: the Las Cruces arroyo and lower drainage.

Adobe architecture has been central to New Mexico's tourist appeal as a site of modernist utopian longing. Several books published in the late 1990s discuss specific architectural structures as significant in regional and national history: Chris Wilson's (1997) book on Santa Fe, Douglas Comer's (1997) on Bent's Fort, David Weber's (1996) on the Severino...


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