Unlike many of this year’s Latino Heritage Internship Program (LHIP) interns, I did not have to relocate for my internship with the National Trails Intermountain Regional Office. Instead, this summer I will be following a familiar pattern: traveling to and from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in the city where I grew up, Albuquerque, to work at the UNM branch of the National Trails office. However, my project, “Sharing Our History: Hispanic Legacies of Route 66,” will allow me to explore New Mexico in an entirely new way.
I am a New Mexico native. My family has lived in the state since Spanish colonial times and I grew up and attended school in Albuquerque. I completed my undergraduate degree in History and English at UNM, and a few weeks ago I graduated from the same university with a Master’s in history. While I do have a deep connection to this place, in a few months I will be moving across the country to Michigan, trading borders from a Southwest arid landscape to a wooded wintry environment. While there, I will pursue my doctorate in history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, researching reproduction and women’s health in the American West and the interaction between Hispanic communities, traditional healing such as curanderismo, and professionalized medicine. It’s an exciting venture, but I will definitely miss the world I will leave behind.
In part, this internship allows me to enjoy my home just a little bit longer. Even more, it encourages exploration into a component of New Mexico history that I, honestly, have ignored. Route 66 is a well-known facet of American history, a marker of consumerism and mobility. Before the interstate, it provided a route across the United States and snaked through New Mexico until the road was bypassed by I-40 in 1981. However, the experience of the road and its lasting legacy remains.
As a kid, whenever I went to visit my grandparents in La Joya, New Mexico, we always passed an arch that marked historic Route 66 along Old Coors Road. UNM and surrounding businesses further claimed their connection to the route. I’ve definitely enjoyed milkshakes and burgers and banana splits at the 66 Diner just west of the university on Central Avenue which originally operated on Route 66 as a Phillip’s gas station. My mom, who grew up during the road’s heyday, even participated in the leisurely driving culture. On warm summer days during her teenage years, she would cruise down Route 66 and Central Avenue with her friends, undoubtedly listening to music and enjoying the expanse of road before them.
It is this history and the diverse experience of Route 66 in New Mexico that the National Trails strives to uncover, and that I, as an LHIP intern, will hopefully be able to present to the public. For the past twenty years, the National Trails program has been collecting information about the Route, including oral histories about its impact on different New Mexican communities. They have also been behind numerous conservation and preservation efforts, all of which I promise to address in future posts. My role this summer will be to take this information, provide follow-up research as needed, and make it available online to the public and for community leaders and other participants in New Mexico. I’m honestly very excited. This kind of work, taking research and historical information and presenting it to the public, is my bread and butter. It is, ultimately, what I want to do with my career. Beyond the research that shows how everything has a history, this kind of public engagement and education shows that history impacts and interests everyone. It tells stories and connects families. Much like Route 66, it is just as much about the journey as the destination. So buckle up!