While not unique, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert was close, for her life nearly spanned the 20th
century and, as a Hispanic New Mexican woman, she achieved and experienced many seminal benchmarks. She was born on May 16, 1894 on a ranch outside of Las Vegas. Her mother died when she was very young so her grandfather raised her. She learned a sense of pride, as well as acquired a curiosity about old lifestyles in a century when technology had a profound influence on everything. Before she died on October 14, 1991, her life spanned from horse and buggy transportation to the automobile, jets, space travel, indoor plumbing, centralized heating, and computers.
She received a good education first when she boarded with the Sisters of Loretto Boarding School in Las Vegas and then when she received a degree from New Mexico Normal School (now New Mexico Highlands University) in pedagogy and, finally, in Las Cruces where she received a Bachelor of Sciences degree from New Mexico State University.
For forty-two years she worked for the Agricultural Extension Service extensively traveling throughout northern New Mexico teaching people nutrition, food preparation, and sewing. But, she also learned about local traditions as well as languages from the very people that she taught. Besides her native Spanish, she spoke English, Tiwa, and Towa. In 1950, the United Nations sent her to Mexico to train other agricultural extension agents from throughout Central and South America. She also worked with the Tarascan Indians to set up demonstration centers.
Fabiola’s education, lifelong experiences among rural ethnic groups, and her own family’s interest and respect for traditional ways, along with the rapid changes occurring around her, conspired to make her an outspoken advocate for historical preservation. Today, she is most remembered for her efforts to record, teach, and share the traditional lifestyles of northern New Mexico. She co-founded La Sociedad Folklorica in Santa Fe, which has become an institution of pride and education. The Sociedad has shared and taught traditional dance, music, language, folklore, and costume. Inspired by Fabiola, many of the women in the organization were encouraged to share their own family stories, do research, and, like her, write and publish books.
Despite personal disappointments, such as a divorce and an automobile accident that resulted in the loss of a leg, Fabiola’s indomitable spirit could not be broken. Her traditional cooking became legendary and her three books on traditional food preparation, history, and oral traditions gleaned from her many years of inquiry, are sources of study for subsequent generations of scholars who seek an insight to New Mexico’s past beyond the mere regurgitation of dates and names.
Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert: We Fed Them Cactus
; The Good Life
; Historic Cookery
UNM Center for SW research, unpublished papers, MSS 603 BL Box 1 Dr. Buchanan, Multicultural Library Services and Sources, Fall 1996 American Women Writers, Ungar Publishing “My Memories of Fabiola C de Baca Gilbert”, Adelina Ortiz de Hill. Rancho Pancho
. Nuestras Mujeres
, pg 44-46