Through her development of Spanish heritage materials, teacher training, and one-on-one work with students, she made enduring contributions that continue to help preserve the Spanish language and Hispano culture unique to New Mexico, while meeting the needs of bilingual children in our education system.
Maria Dolores Gonzales devoted her life to the preservation of the Spanish language and bilingual education programs. Bilingual education programs aim to teach children in two languages, with proponents arguing that a child’s literacy in their home language correlates directly to their success in a secondary language. Bilingual education remains controversial in the United States, with critics claiming that such programs fail to teach children English. Gonzales contributed significantly to the development of programs that supported bilingual students and demonstrated the efficacy and value of the approach.
Maria Dolores Gonzales grew up in Pecos, a small village nestled in a river valley in Northern New Mexico. Born to Geronimo and Paulita Rivera de Gonzales, Dolores was the third of the couple’s nine children. Called Lola by her immediate family, she was described by her family as sensitive and conscientious as a child and having a great appreciation for nature. This is understandable since Gonzales spent her childhood with the Pecos wilderness as her backdrop.
From the first grade through high school, Gonzales attended the Pecos Public Schools. From there, she went to Highlands University in nearby Las Vegas, New Mexico, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and English. After graduating, she returned to the Pecos area and taught there for seventeen years. During this time, she also served as a county principal for San Miguel County. She went on to receive her master’s degree from the University of Columbia in New York and later a PhD from Pennsylvania State University. After receiving her doctorate, she became known as “La Doctora” to those who knew her well.
Her interest in bilingual education took her to Latin America. She worked as an elementary advisor for the United States Agency for International Development of Education in Central and South America. She helped teachers in many Latin American countries compile Spanish language textbooks and worked as a textbook consultant for the University of New Mexico’s education program in Ecuador.
Gonzales also worked as an Associate Professor of Elementary Education at the University of New Mexico. There, she headed the Bilingual Education Program Material Production Institute and developed the Tierra de Encanto or Land of Enchantment series of bilingual readers for elementary students in New Mexico. Aimed at teaching New Mexico’s Spanish speaking students formal Spanish that they might not otherwise learn at home, these readers, with such titles as Días de Sol (Sunny Days), Cielo Azul (Blue Sky), and Granitos de Arena (Grains of Sand), focused on the natural environments that are so familiar to New Mexico children.
Schools in New Mexico demanded an educational approach that recognized the diverse cultures comprising the state. Through her development of Spanish heritage materials and in her one-on-one work with students, Dolores Gonzales supported the preservation of the Spanish language and Hispano culture that is unique to New Mexico.
Dolores Gonzales Elementary School in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, was named in her honor. The school employs Dual Language and Bilingual Education programs, reflecting Gonzales’ belief that students from varied language backgrounds should have access to education in their native language, while assuring that they become proficient in the dominant language of their community.
Fernandez, Margaret, Luisa Martinez, et. al. Dolores Gonzales: Pioneer of Bilingual Education. Albuquerque: Longfellow Elementary School, 1978.
Flores-Dueñas. “Dolores Gonzales’s Resume.” Unpublished document, n.d.
Gallegos, Melinda. “Dr. Dolores Gonzales: February 25, 1917–March 18, 1975, Text prepared by her sister, Melinda Gallegos.” Unpublished essay, n.d. Research Inc., 1993.