LAS CRUCES – Behind the lush pecan groves along Highway 28 near San Miguel, N.M., are stories most people don’t know.
They’re the stories of the workers of Stahmann Farms and the communities hidden behind the iconic pecan trees. Those communities existed from the 1950s until 1990, and once boasted their own clinic, gas station, company store, hen house and airstrip, which was mainly used by the farms’ owners.
For years, the workers’ stories went untold, until two professors from New Mexico State University’s College of Education based their research project on documenting those stories so that one day, they’re taught in classrooms throughout the area.
The research project, titled “Survivors of Stahmann Farms Communities: Digital Family Histories as Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” recently received funding through the college’s Emerging Scholars Initiative, which aims to support and promote innovative research efforts of untenured, tenure-track faculty and research faculty that will advance scientific knowledge or creative works in a specific field or area of professional activity, and develop skills to be successful at securing external funding.
Judith Flores Carmona, an assistant professor in the NMSU College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, is the project’s principle investigator along with Curriculum and Instruction associate professor Blanca Araujo. Flores Carmona said that since 2014, she’s lived in San Miguel and learned about the Stahmann Farms communities from a neighbor.
“The opportunity to apply for a grant came up through the National Endowment for the Humanities, and that is when I brought up the idea,” Flores Carmona said.
Flores Carmona said since Araujo is originally from the area, it made sense to collect the histories of residents who used to live in those communities. Years before, Araujo had the same idea for her dissertation, but since her father used to work at Stahmann Farms, she saw it as a conflict of interest and didn’t pursue it.
“I was so glad when Dr. Flores Carmona started to talk to us about the oral histories project. I got really, really excited,” Araujo said. “I’m learning so much, even though I grew up there. New things come up all the time.”
The project has become very personal for Araujo. Several interview subjects were close friends with her parents.
“At first I thought, ‘Oh maybe that’s going to be weird. Maybe they’re not going to share everything, but they’ve been very candid and they have shared a lot about my father,” Araujo said.
What the research team, which also includes undergraduate assistant Micaela de la Rosa and graduate assistant Oscar Troncoso, have learned is that many of the Stahmann workers were recruited through the Bracero Program, a series of laws and diplomatic agreements initiated in 1942 when the U.S. signed the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement with Mexico. In order to provide laborers with adequate housing, the Stahmann family created several communities throughout their farmland. Each community had its own mayordomo, or property administrator, who met every morning with Stahmann Farms owner Bill Stahmann.
Flores Carmona said she hopes to develop a school curriculum that will include these historically excluded voices, a topic that has been her passion for several years.
“The people I have interviewed haven’t shared these stories with their great-grandchildren,” Flores Carmona said. “Yet their children have benefitted from the decisions they made, for example coming through the Bracero Program to work, or the opportunities that were afforded to them and their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren because of the decision that they made to work there.”
Rudolfo Chávez Chávez, a regents professor of curriculum and instruction at the NMSU College of Education, is assisting with the oral histories project by interviewing several families. He said he was invited to join the project because of his connections to the community of San Miguel, and wanted to help because the politics of erasure is very strong in the Mesilla Valley.
“We tend to remember only certain parts of history and most of the time those histories are not Chicano histories from the border,” Chávez Chávez said. “This oral history project really is about unerasing some of the history, if not all of the history, that’s been in this area. This deals with the workers of Stahmann Farms, this deals with the struggles of Stahmann Farms and it also deals with a legacy. These people, from their own voracity and vitalness, created their own lives.”
Manuel Solis worked at Stahmann Farms for 20 years. He attributes his experiences there to his success as the owner of Merlin Electric and Merlin Enterprises, and he continues to work at Stahmann Farms occasionally as an adviser and contractor. When he started at Stahmann, Solis was a new immigrant from Mexico who didn’t know English. Stahmann was his education.
“I can say that I’m a product of that company,” Solis said. “That’s why more people need to know about our history, because these people (the Stahmanns) have done a lot of good. A lot of good.”
Troncoso, a doctoral student in the Curriculum and Instruction department, said he’s realized there is much more to the history of the area other than the pecan groves Highway 28 is known for. He said he also felt a personal attachment to the area because it reminded of him where he grew up – El Paso’s Lower Valley, which is also dotted with farmland.
“I had never seen anything beyond the trees,” Troncoso said. “When I started learning that there were a lot of communities in there, I started to feel more of an emotional attachment to it because I became more and more curious. The other thing I learned was working as a team with wonderful professors that I’ve learned to really appreciate. My respect has grown a lot for them.”
“Eye on Research” is a weekly feature provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s feature was written by Adriana Chavez of University Communications.