I was born and raised in Walsenburg, Colorado, Huerfano County. The question I always got was what does Huerfano mean? Huérfano; orphaned adjective; Huérfano; kiddy noun; Chiquillo, mozo Pequeño, niño bajo …
Huerfano County has a long history as it was home to many Native Americans. Our county, named for the Spanish word for “orphan,” covers 1750 square miles in south central Colorado, east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (Sangre de Cristo = Blood of Christ). The Spanish Peaks were sacred mountains to our people, and many ceremonies were performed there. Looking back, I now realize how blessed I am to have grown up in such a great and special place. It is funny how this land has been such an intricate part of me and how it has affected my decisions in life and how it is a big part of my blood—no matter where my travels have taken me.
As a young girl, I rode my horse Charlie, (a little, white Shetland pony) all over the region and mountains. I could feel my ancestors riding with me on my horse. I had a dark complexion and long mahogany-brown-almost black hair. It blew in the wind as my horse trotted everywhere. My granny called me India, which means Indian in Spanish. My family was extraordinarily rich in culture and taught us plenty about our ancestors. My dad was a very hard worker; he worked at a local dairy, which provided fresh milk with our morning cereal. We were taught how to make flour tortillas from scratch, and chili verde, and frijoles (pinto beans); these were all the tasty dishes we enjoyed then and still enjoy today.
My grandmothers on both sides both spoke fluent Spanish. Rafaelita Vigil was my mother’s mother, whom I was named after (Marie Rafaelita Rodriguez). Genevieve was my dad’s mother. These were our babysitters and in order to communicate with them, we had to learn the language. Our parents would often speak to one another in Spanish, so we would not understand what they were saying for many years until we learned the language and finally understood.
Growing up in our little mining town of Toltec was remarkably interesting and full of various expeditions as a young child. I really thought that this little place was the entire world until I traveled the universe when I joined the military. I would be in a strange place overseas, and all I could do was smile about the thoughts I had as a young girl back home. Today, I live on the land that I grew up on since my dad’s passing in 2020. One of the hardest losses to date. You never know how you’re going to take a loss until it happens.
I wake up every morning thinking about what I can offer the world every day because of who I am and where I grew up. I think as long as we try and do something good each day it makes God smile. Just the thought of that keeps me hoping, dreaming and praying for a better tomorrow. I’m one grateful Hispana mujer (Hispanic woman).
*all photos provided by the writer