The Wiede at Hueco Tanks By Don Walden El Paso Joe Sierra started kicking where a handful of brown, dried leaves were half-buried in the sand. He uncovered a dark, carrotlike root three or four inches long and held it up. “This is what they used canagria.” He broke it open; it was reddish-orange, and he ran his thumb across the break to show how easily the color came off. “They mixed it with almagre. It’ll never wear off.” We were standing in front of the Cueva de las Mascaras Hueco Tanks. Joe is a state park attendant; he is also an alquacil Tigua Indian Community of Ysleta. He is also a.council member of the Tiguas. The Tiguas are the most recently recognized tribe in the state despite the fact they are its oldest identifiable ethnic group, having been brought to this area in 1680 by the Spanish fleeing from New Mexico during the Pueblo Revolt. They are a poor people trying to better their economic situation and still remain Indian. Today they live in the borderland’s unique adobe-walled poverty. They, being poorly educated for the most part, suffer from unemployment and poor paying jobs. According to a survey made during February of 1970, 91 families made up the community. Of these, 32 families had an earned income of less than $1,000 per year, but more sobering than this fact, 15 of the 32 families had no income at all and lived on some type of welfare. Thirty-three other families have incomes below the national average, and 26 families have incomes ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per year. MIGUEL PEDRAZA, governor of the tribe, says that when he was a child they had enough, but today conditions are more crowded, and his people have a harder time finding work. Miguel is a tough, sinewy old man with a face like dark leather. He has already retired from one job as a school bus driver and now takes his place as a coordinator and supervisor on the tribe’s building project restoring an old Indian building at the Ysleta Mission. Most of the men who have jobs work in the building trades. Eleven men work in the projects at Mainstream, as Manpower trainees and are paid by Project Bravo with U.S. Department of Labor funds. A few are employed at Hueco Tanks State Park, and some women and girls, like Joe’s wife, work in clothing manufacturing plants. The writer is associate editor of the Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine. Few women work, however, because they have children and no marketable skills. Alton Griffin, the state’s superintendent for the tribe, emphasizes the need for vocational education for both men and women especially in the Indian crafts work etc. For the Tigua’s economic situation to improve, both Pedraza and Griffin agree, they must have better education. Fifty-eight percent of the people are under 21, a fact which represents a great opportunity for improvement through education. So far, however, the Tigua experience with education has been disappointing. There were 439 persons in the community in February. Of 184 over 21, the average number of years of school was four, but more ominously 20% of these have no formal education at all. Of the people between 11 and 21, 15 were in high school; 61 in grade school; but 33 had dropped out of high school. Of the 142 persons under 10, all those of school age were in school. Four Tiguas graduated from high school this May, and all four want to go to college. There are plans for them to go to the University of Texas at El Paso so they can live and eat at home. Records show only one Tigua has gone to college, and she dropped out after two years to return home and go to work. She is now working in the superintendent’s office and has married a Tigua. Photo by Reagan Bradshaw Pictographs near Hueco Tanks The 33 who dropped out provide a sobering contrast to the hope that the college candidates inspire, and they may be more typical of the Tigua experience. Griffin says that these children dropped out for the same reasons that affect minority children everywhere. Their parents, not convinced of the value of education, do not provide the motivation they need at home, and overcrowded, poor housing does not provide the atmosphere for studying. Many do not get to high school until they are 17 or older, and when they do they feel too inadequate to continue. Several solutions to these problems have been proposed. Pedraza speaks of a school for Indians only. He says that their language would not be a problem. In addition they could be taught their culture, and they would not have to compete with Anglo and Mexican American children, who have a better start. Griffin mentions an Indian-oriented preschool and early grade to prepare children for public schools. In the meantime the state provides the Iriclian children with school lunches, clothes and shoes to encourage them to go to school. DESPITE THEIR problems the Tiguas are optimistic. Miguel Pedraza says that none of them know the meaning of wealth and therefore do not miss it. He personally is “glad to be walking around working.” Part of their satisfaction is due to their Catholic religion. Asked where his treasure is, Pedraza points his thumb upward and asks, “Don’t you know?” Nevertheless the Indians want to get more of the luxuries of this life. Joe showed me the kind of car he wants a white Chevrolet with bucket seats and four on the floor. Why a downtrodden people obstinately refuse to be depressed is an enigma to white people, but the answer, at least for Tiguas, is in their pride in their heritage. Joe says that someone born an Indian will die an Indian. Perhaps one reason for their pride is that they still have their traditional ceremonials regularly. They have their original tribal drum and ancient batons of office. Their kachina masks are still preserved, but only Indians can see them. The care and responsibility for the drum and ceremonial regalia is that of the war captain, Trinidad Granillo. Another source of pride is Hueco Tanks. Three low mountains of low grade granite, one of which rises 500 feet above the greasewood desert, Hueco Tanks look gnarled, broken and bent like something awful happened there. Joe says the Indians piled the rocks there. July 16, 1971 3
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