The ghost of Adela Martinez haunts the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
The Center (http://www.nationalhispaniccenter.org) honors Hispanic culture, offering exhibits of fine art and media arts as well as dance and music performances. Classes and seminars are part of the foundation’s mission.
The lofty purpose of the forty-million-dollar complex began as a vision forty years ago when plans were first drawn. The architecture of the project honors the simple earth tones and soft shapes of the Southwest. Inside, the tall ceilings, cool without air conditioning, have a cathedral quiet.
Manuel Avenue was a thriving neighborhood when the Martinez family moved there in 1914 with their 4-year-old daughter, Adela. The street was still vibrant in 1936 when, Adela gave birth to her daughter, Josie.
As it became encircled by urban growth, Manuel Avenue aged, and by the ’70s was targeted for renewal. Locals were offered $50,000.00 for their homes. Those who did not accept were threatened with condemnation of their property.
Soon the whole street was vacant and bulldozed–save two adjacent houses owned by Adela Martinez and one, a block away owned by an elderly man. Neither would sell their homes. Both resisted threats of eviction. Eventually, the old man moved away, later his house burned down, and at some point, his little parcel was swallowed into the acreage of the large project.
Adela stood alone, her houses in the center of the drawings of the several-acre project.
In the name of honoring Hispanic culture, it was the movers and shakers, politicians and PR people, lawyers and their lackeys versus Adela Martinez. The project was pitted against the most basic of the values they wanted to honor: home and family. Again and again Adela beat them in court. The heavyweights failed to notice Adela’s giant ally, Public Outrage.
Eventually, a redesigned Hispanic Cultural Center was built and opened. It serves the community well.
In the center of the complex (center right in the sit map above), hidden by shrubbery, are two simple, pale green houses with a letterbox in front. In front of the houses is a large parking lot; behind are the buildings of the Center. Adela Martinez lived in one house until the day she died on January 29, 2000. And, I am told, the ghost of Adela Martinez still walks the grounds.
Inside the other house lives 75-year-old Josie Montoya Martinez.