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Valentine’s Day in New Mexico

Love is in the air…and on the map

February 8, 2012, 12:00 am

Although Valentine’s Day is often considered a typically American holiday, New Mexico presents interesting cultural variations to the popular festival—and, like other states, also has its locales whose names directly call to mind the spirit of Valentine’s Day:

• Lovington, in Lea County, was named for Robert Florence Love, a promoter who organized the town in 1908. US Land Commissioner Robert McAllister suggested naming the town Love for its founder, but Loving was more euphonious. However, a town named Loving already existed, so Love himself added the suffix “-ton.” 

• Loving, located 10 miles southeast of Carlsbad, was originally settled by a group of Swiss immigrants who sought irrigated farmland. The Swiss called the town Vaud (Voh), after their canton in Switzerland, but by 1904, the Italian laborers they hired to work on their farms had changed the name to Florence, after the town in Italy. Just four years later, the name changed again. Oliver Loving, who helped establish the Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail, was mortally wounded by a Native raiding party while on a cattle drive nearby. He died of his wounds, and Florence was renamed Loving in his honor. 

• Amistad (the Spanish word for friendship) is a settlement in southern Union County, which dates from 1906, when Henry S Wannamaker, a Congregational minister, led a group of fellow ministers and promoters seeking to create a farming community in northeast New Mexico. They formed an “improvement association” and voted to name the town Amistad, hoping that the name and its friendly connotation would attract others to the settlement, which it did. Locals pronounce the name “Ahm-stahd.” 

• Corazón (the Spanish word for heart) is a now-deserted village located some 35 miles east of Las Vegas. It is named for a hill (Cerro de Corazón) shaped like a heart. This is not to be confused with another Corazón Hill, which forms a bluff that makes a precipitous bajada (or long, steep highway descent) from the mesas above to the valley below and marks the beginning of Great Plains. 

• Some 75 miles east of Corazón lies Tucumcari, in Quay County. The name of the town derives from Native origins. According to legend, Wautonomah, an aging Apache chief, was worried about his succession. He summoned two of his finest warriors, Tonopah and Tocom, rivals and sworn enemies vying for succession and the hand of his daughter Kari. Unbeknownst to Wautonomah, Tocom was Kari’s secret lover. Wautonomah proposed a duel to resolve the issues. Accordingly, the two braves met in mortal combat. When Tonopah killed Tocom, Kari anguished over her lover’s death. She rushed in and stabbed Tonopah to death, then plunged the knife into her own heart. Wautonomah, aghast and grief-stricken, then took the knife and committed suicide, crying, “Tocom! Kari!” as he expired. The mountain where this occurred became known as “TocomKari” in remembrance of the tragedy. Eventually, the town that grew nearby was named Tucumcari.

Valentine’s Day also has a prominent place among Hispanos in New Mexico. San Valentín, as the icon is known in the Hispanic world, is celebrated as a saint’s day on Feb. 14. In some parts of the Hispanic world, the day is known as Día de los Enamorados (Lovers’ Day); in others, it is known as Día de Amor y Amistad (Day of Love and Friendship). 

Several Hispanic folk tales portray the plight of young lovers. One example, which has several variations, tells of two young men who attend a dance and meet a beautiful girl. The girl happily dances with one of the boys all night, and the two are smitten with each other. At the end of the dance, the boys offer to escort her home in their wagon. On their way home, the girl complains that she is cold, so the suitor offers her his coat. Before reaching her house, they pass by a cemetery, and the girl says she is feeling sick and asks them to stop. She steps down from the wagon and disappears into the night. The boys search for her, but to no avail. The next day, still anxious, the suitor resumes his search and eventually finds the girl’s house. Her parents are surprised when he relates the previous night’s events and tell him that his story is impossible; the girl died tragically in an accident three years before and is now buried in the nearby cemetery. Eventually, he finds the girl’s grave. Lying neatly folded over it is his coat.

On a more humorous note, Joe Montoya’s “Cuento del Día de San Valentín” (La Herencia, Spring 2005) reveals the innocence of a fourth-grader named José “Pepe” Rosales. Pepito, according to the story, is celebrating Valentine’s Day with his classmates at his elementary school in the Agua Fria barrio of Santa Fe in the 1960s. During the party, the children dine on cookies, candy and punch and exchange Valentine’s cards. At the end of the party, the teacher asks the children to draw a picture of what Valentine’s Day means to them. Accordingly, Pepito draws a picture of a heart—complete with two arms and two legs. Curious about the unusual representation, the teacher asks Pepito to explain why he drew legs and arms on the heart in his picture. Pepito responds in Spanish, “Porque en la noche oigo a mi papá que le dice a mi mamá, ‘Abre las piernas, corazón!’”

Blushing, the teacher recalls the old Art Linkletter adage: “Children do and say the darnedest things.”

Editor’s note: Corazón, although translated as “heart,” is also used as a term of endearment. Hence, an indirect translation of Pepito’s response: “Because in the night I hear my father tell my mother, ‘Spread your legs, love!’”

Maurilio Vigil is a professor emeritus at New Mexico Highlands University and the author of several books on New Mexico politics and history.

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