On Tuesday, New Mexicans elected the nation’s first Hispanic woman governor. Regardless of your personal political leanings, that’s a historical milepost and, given that we’re in the business of celebrating our history, we’re taking the opportunity to remember another Hispanic who made history as governor of New Mexico.
Donaciano Vigil was the first native New Mexican Hispanic to serve as New Mexico governor after Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny raised the American flag over the Palace of the Governors. According to the State Historian’s web site: “(H)e was undoubtedly the most important native Hispanic leader in the transition of the Territory from Mexican to American government. His decision to support the American annexation of the New Mexico territory and join the new American sponsored government in 1847 helped ensure the status of New Mexico in the American nation and to assure the participation of Hispanos in that system. ”
In its July 3, 2010, edition, the Santa Fe New Mexican singled out Vigil as one of eight people critical to the preservation of the city’s heritage:
Born in Santa Fe in 1802, Donaciano Vigil chose when he turned 21 to make the military his career. After U.S. conquest of New Mexico in 1846, Vigil’s acceptance of American rule influenced other Hispanos to recognize the reality of the federal presence and calm largely political unrest in the territorial period. During the earlier Spanish colonial period, government and church officials were careful to preserve historical records. After arrival of the Americans, however, it fell to Vigil to champion the cause of saving historical records. As New Mexico’s first civil governor, Vigil organized archival records and made it his cause to preserve New Mexico’s history.
In its newsletter, distributed today, the Historical Society of New Mexico features a remembrance of Vigil by HSN President Mike Stevenson, who quoted a passage from Vigil’s speech to the first Territorial Legislature on Sept. 24, 1847. Stevenson thought, and we agree, that Vigil’s words have only grown more powerful in the 163 years since, as advice to those who would lead us and to we who are choosing those leaders:
If our government here is to be republican—if it is to be based upon democratic republican principles—and if the will of the majority is one day to be the law of the land and the government of the people, it is evident, for this will to be properly exercised, the people must be enlightened and instructed. And it is particularly important in a country where the right of suffrage is accorded and secured to all, that all should be instructed, and that every[one] should be able to read to inform himself of the passing events of the day, and of the matters interesting to his country and government. This is the age of improvement, both in government and society, and it more particularly becomes us, when commencing as it were a new order of things, to profit by and promote such improvements, and they can only be encouraged and promoted by diffusing knowledge and instruction among the people…All that the legislature can do in the cause of education for the people is most earnestly pressed upon them and will meet with my hearty approval and cooperation. (Emphasis added.)