A drive down Los Alamos’ main hill road to Chimayo can lead you to a whole other world.
Don Usner, author and photographer, experienced both these communities’ worlds growing up. He further explored the world of Chimayo in his book, Chasing Dichos in Chimayo, and shared his book and adventures Tuesday afternoon with the Rotary Club of Los Alamos.
Usner, who graduated from Los Alamos High School 40 years ago, said he had “a wonderful bi-cultural upbringing between here and Chimayo.” He remembers even though his mother spoke Spanish with family members, he was prohibited from speaking it as part of his family’s effort to try to “Americanize” and blend into the mainstream.
However, Usner’s grandmother would not only share folk tales but would also impart dichos or Spanish traditional sayings that provide some sort of lesson or moral example to her grandson. As it turns out, Usner’s mother recorded more than 200 of these dichos, which Usner described as “a rich treasure I felt I had to mine.” As a result, he began to write Chasing Dichos in Chimayo.
Accompanied by his mother and a camera to photograph Chimayo, Usner said he wanted to branch out from where he grew up and explore other parts of the community. He explained that the emphasis of his book is threefold – exploration of place, exploration of language and exploration of identity.
Usner’s talk to Rotary was in honor of Literacy Month. In addition to Chasing Dichos, Usner has written several other books including The Natural History of Big Sur and Sabino’s Map: Life of Chimayo’s Old Plaza. He has contributed to New Mexico magazine, Bienviedos and El Palacio. He was named a New Mexico Luminaria by the New Mexico Community Foundation in 2013.