Reunion Search for Roots

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by Doris Norrito Albuquerque

This was one reunion we couldn’t miss. Sure it would be great to see classmates again after so many years; but a reunion in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was almost providential. We had to go. Albuquerque is my husband’s family name and Reunion West II was a chance to find out more about the city that bears his name. Often trips to the Land of Enchantment had been pushed aside in favor of family visits to Brazil, where Paulo was born. Reunion West II was a siren song, a calling to discover part of the country we hadn’t seen while finding roots to the old world.

Baldwin High School Class of ’51 explorer Bill Goodwin lost no time investigating Albuquerque after his move from Montana. With an eye on Reunion West II, he lined up activities to engage everyone’s interest and accommodate their activity levels.

“Getting us all together was most important,” said Bill.

For the Albuquerques, it was that and more.

Present and past histories were interwoven. Classmates with whom I had shared a lifetime, mingled with dreams of a colonial past and wonder about the first Duke of Albuquerque.

Tracing roots began well before the September trip. Hours with email and phone calls to Brazil dead-ended. Paulo’s father came from Portugal, married a Brazilian woman and had ten children.

A call to the genealogy society in Albuquerque surprised me. No Albuquerque was listed. In fact, I would later learn, the Duke of Albuquerque, for whom the city was named, never set foot there. Curiosity heightened. How did the “Duke City” come by our name? Maybe the answers were there.

“Just let’s go and enjoy,” Paulo said. We suspended Albuquerque queries. When we made reservations for the trip, this was the conversation.

“Name?”

“Albuquerque.”

“Yes, got the city but what’s your name?”

Repeat: “Albuquerque.”

Surprise, interest and friendly questioning invariably followed; no one let us forget. At least there were no requests for spelling, though later we learned that even the spelling had been changed.

The dry desert and mountains of the great southwest were a new and welcome change from our sultry east coast shoreline and far different from the beaches of Rio de Janeiro where Paulo grew up. Rekindling memories with classmates–swimming, fishing and boating in the cool Atlantic–were all the “roots” I needed.

For Paulo, the Hotel Albuquerque was the only place to stay. The Spanish-Native Indian décor and the wide tile-lined entrances with large urns of fresh flowers set a mood for discovering “his” city.

For five days Hotel Albuquerque was home base for evening dinners that followed day trips to historic Old Town, to Santa Fe and atop Sandia Peak for a spectacular view of the city. It was also a message center and meeting base for side trip departures.

Our first get-together at the rustic Los Amigos Roundup broke the ice. Alumni and friends talked, danced, ate barbeque and experienced southwestern entertainment by the Watermelon Mountain Jug Band and the Aztec Fire Dancers. Entertainment with local flair accompanied the lively buzz of conversations about where to go and what to see.

Next morning we strolled to historic Old Town‚ ten minutes away. Across from the 18th Century San Feliipe de Neri Church, a tree-lined plaza centers shops, museums and eateries. Credit cards got a double take and friendly kidding when I introduced Paulo as “The Duke of Albuquerque.”

Research of the city’s name – our name – soon took a back seat to a scenic drive to Santa Fe, the sunset funicular ride to Sandia Peak, a tour of a Native American nation, and a drive along the Turquoise trail. No one we spoke to knew any one else named Albuquerque.

At the Albuquerque Museum, we learned the reason. In 1706, the city began as a small unstructured settlement. Francisco Cuervo y Valdes, then provisional governor of this new territory, wrote King Philip V of Spain and, most important, wrote the viceroy of New Spain (stationed in Mexico), describing the settlement in glowing terms in the hope of gaining favor by establishing a town. Cuervo reported there were indeed 30 families, an urban center and a governing body. And knowing that the viceroy was “The Duke of Alburquerque,” a walled town in Spain, he flattered him by proposing the settlement be named “villa of Alburquerque.” (not a mistake: the original spelling had an extra “r”).

Formal investigation in 1712 found requirements for the villa were not as reported. There was no church, no plaza and no government buildings. But by then, Albuquerque had grown and the charter was not revoked.

After four days of southwest immersion, Reunion West II met at Hotel Albuquerque to say adios. “Til we meet again,” the theme for our last dinner together, led the way for planning the next reunion.

“Spain!” I shouted.

“No, the years are catching up; maybe a gentle cruise,” someone said.

“Make it soon,” another shouted.

All agreed.

About the author
Doris Norrito Albuquerque is a news correspondent and features writer for Tampa Bay Newspapers weekly publications, WMNF community radio news broadcaster and freelance magazine writer.

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