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Barelas Mi Amor

Adela Martinez, born and raised in New Mexico, struggled to keep her memories and home alive. This is the story of the house that stood still in Albuquerque.

By Orlando Lujan Martinez, In memory of Adela Martinez

There comes a time in the lives of certain individuals when circumstances beyond their control force them to stand up and be counted.  It would be impossible to do otherwise.

On October 22, 2000, the first institute of its kind in the United States, the forty million dollar National Hispanic Culture Center opened its doors.  It is located in the old historical district of Barelas, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

His Royal Highness, Prince Felipe de Borbón y Grecia of Spain, Vice President Al Gore, the mayor of Albuquerque, and many state and city officials attended the event. They were there to honor and respect the center and the Hispanic people of the United States and New Mexico.

A parade, Expressions Dance Legacy, Los Lobos, Al Hurricane Sr., and Jr., Cipriano Vigil, Los Folkloristas de Nuevo Mexico, and the Ehecatl Aztec Dancers entertained the crowds of people attending the historical event.  In addition, a photo essay of the people and the places of old Barelas, was displayed in one of the galleries in the new Center. Everyone was having a good time.

The Hispanic Culture Center is built on the land where fifty families, living on Manual Avenue Southwest, were removed by a court order that said: move or we will move you.  All but one person obeyed the order. 

In the mid 1920s, Adela Martinez and her family moved into the house on Manual Avenue southwest in Barelas. The raven-haired Adela had a happy childhood in the loving arms of La Familia on Manual Avenue where everyone was a good neighbor and they took care of each other. Adela got married and happily lived in a house, close to her parents, on a tree-shaded street. It was a wonderful place to live and to gather good memories.

In the 1970s, part of old Barelas was torn down to build an industrial park, compliments of politicians and business leaders, all in the name of progress.  And no one stood up to the machine to say this land is endowed with memories.

Again in 1994 the powerful thought that they could move mountains.  They told the people living on Manual Avenue southwest, "We want to build a National Hispanic Cultural Center on this site,” and they had a court order telling them to move.  The families went like sheep with the money the city paid them to move--but not Adela.  When they asked her, a woman who could still hear the gentle whispers of that long-ago and wonderful time to move, she said no!   

We'll give you $119,000 if you move, they said.  And the words "We want to build a National Hispanic Cultural Center the whole world will admire," meant nothing to Adela--because there were those sweet memories in her head that she sometimes dreamed about, as if they were just yesterday.   "No, a million dollars is not enough. Not now, not ever," she said, “I won't move.”

"But you are living in a bad neighborhood and the money will buy you a house in a safe place," and, "If you don't move we will move you," they threatened.  "Not now, not ever," Adela repeated from the castle of her memories.

The newspapers said Adela did not want to move because she had been living in the same house all her life.  But they missed the point completely because it wasn't the house alone that was behind her determination not to move.  It was something more powerful and gentle.  It was the memories of her children playing in the yard, and the Mexican/Hispanic Culture of Manual Avenue Southwest that had found a loving home in the heart, soul and mind of Adela.

Adela could not find the words to tell the powerful, the people that came to move her out of her house, about walking with her first boy friend past the scent of lilac bushes under a beautiful moon.  The thrill and the happiness she felt at the sight of her first baby, her children in the kitchen laughing before going to school or the loving arms of her husband on a cold winter night in the house on Manual Avenue Southwest. These were memories so beautiful that she could still see and feel them on the day they asked her to move.  Even if she had found the words to tell them, how could they understand?  They were from a different world, another time.  “Don't you understand this is my home?” was all she could say.

After the celebration at the new Hispanic Culture Center, the royal prince went back to Spain. Al Gore continued on his campaign trail and the powerful went back to plotting the next section of Barelas that would be torn down in the name of progress but Adela's house of memories is still there, surrounded by a huge parking lot.  The National Hispanic Culture Center sits beyond a six-foot adobe wall that surrounds the house.

Adela died on January 29, 2000, in the house she loved and in the arms of her beautiful memories.  She is admired by many for standing up to the power of money. Government and the courts met their equal in Adela because they did not know that God was on her side.

My mom put her faith in God and God told her, "Don't worry. You are not going to move.”   God bless my mother. May she rest in peace.