In his memoir that he began in 1908, Santiago Tafolla recalls finding himself—along with his fellow Mexican Confederate soldiers—terrorized by white Confederates. When the “americanos” take up arms and threaten to eliminate all the “greasers,” Tafolla is forced to desert to Mexico in order to survive.
This fascinating autobiography recounts the life of a man born in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1837, long before Mexico lost control of the region following the Mexican-American War in 1848 and the state achieved U.S. statehood in 1912.
One of the first Methodist preachers of Hispanic descent in the United States, Santiago Tafolla chronicles his life during turbulent times. An orphaned runaway, he left New Mexico in 1848 on a U.S. Wagon Train, and traveled through Missouri, New York, Washington, D.C. and the Deep South. He experienced firsthand the racism inherent to the time period and was an eyewitness to slavery. He was a veteran of the Texas Indian Wars and the Civil War, having served as a bugler in both the U.S. Army and the Confederate Army. And he spent the last 35 years of his life as a Methodist circuit-riding preacher in a time when most Hispanics were Catholics.
The preservation and publication of this memoir is almost as fascinating as the life described within its pages. The handwritten, Spanish-language manuscript—left unfinished when Tafolla died at the age of 73—was passed from relative to relative until his grandson, Fidel Tafolla, took on the task of translating and transcribing it in the late 1960s. This first-ever publication of a remarkable look at life in the 19th century has been edited by Santiago’s great-granddaughters, Carmen Tafolla and Laura Tafolla. It includes sample pages from the original, handwritten manuscript; the complete original Spanish manuscript; an epilogue describing the significance of Santiago’s later life; the English translation; and historical photos of Santiago and his family from the 1800s.
Published as part of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project series, A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Confederate / Las memorias de un mexicoamericano en la Confederación is an invaluable aid to understanding the upheavals of the 19th century in North America. An absorbing account of personal survival in a world of fluid and changing borders, it is also an affirmation of ethnic identity in a time when racial and ethnic differences were subject to greater ignorance and often, violence.