The basic definition for the Spanish language word querencia is a metaphysical concept taken from the verb querer, which means "to want” or “to love." But the reality of querencia is more complicated, more poetic and sentimental, seated in deep emotions and culture and a sense of longing for and belonging to a place where the heart resides.

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Spencer Herrera

Querencia: Reflections on the New Mexico Homeland, edited by UNM alumni Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, Spencer R. Herrera, and UNM professor Levi Romero, was published in 2020 and was reviewed by The Western Historical Quarterly in June by Joseph Ukockis, a doctoral student in History at the UNM Center for the Southwest.

“My co-authors and I wanted to celebrate New Mexico. So we decided to explore the idea of querencia,” Herrera explained. “There has been a fair amount already written about the idea by well-established authors, but from previous generations, who we deeply respect and admire. But we decided to seek new ideas and perspectives from both burgeoning and mid-career scholars. We wanted to understand what New Mexican querencias mean today. But we wanted to anchor those ideas in scholarship produced by those who taught us, whether directly in class or indirectly through their words and in doing so, honor them.”

The book contains 17 essays from 20 contributors, many of them with ties to UNM, about their experiences with querencia.

Herrera, now an associate professor of Spanish at New Mexico State University, completed his Ph.D. in Spanish with a minor in film at UNM. He recently completed a stint as a visiting scholar at the UNM Center for Regional Studies. As visiting scholar, he made a journey along the Río Grande to collect stories about the people and the land along the way and visited the boyhood homes of the esteemed late UNM professor Rudolfo Anaya, who died in 2020, to better understand and write a dossier about his life and legacy.

Fonseca-Chávez received her BA in Spanish and her MA in Southwest Hispanic Studies from UNM where she was a visiting scholar at the Center for Regional Studies in 2019. Her Ph.D. is in Spanish Cultural Studies, with an emphasis in Chicano literature from Arizona State University, where she is now an assistant professor of English.

Romero wrote a book, Sagrado: A Photopoetics Across the Chicano Homeland, that was co-authored with Herrera. His books have received numerous awards and he was awarded the post of New Mexico Centennial Poet Laureate in 2012. He is an associate professor in the UNM Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

Querencia, which expresses a deep love of one’s homeland and its people, has been highly acclaimed for its close examination of the New Mexico homeland by Hispano and Indigenous scholars. The book has received several positive reviews with more forthcoming. It also generated several talks and interviews with the author-editors and other contributing authors. Creating a book of this magnitude with 20 contributors is a major undertaking that took five years from concept to print,” Herrera said. He also authored a chapter titled New Mexico Triptych: Querencia Etched in Wood, in Media, and in our Memory, which critically examines the importance of cultural maintenance in today’s society.”   

Anaya, who was a Professor Emeritus of Creating Writing in the UNM Department of English, wrote the foreword. In the foreword, the Western Historical Quarterly review noted, the late Anaya “discusses his time spent with incarcerated nuevomexicanos, highlighting the importance of books to a population rendered placeless and invisible.”

“We are honored that Rudolfo Anaya, considered the ‘Godfather of Chicano Literature’ and author of more than 40 books, including Bless Me, Última, wrote the foreword to Querencia, his last published piece before his death,” Herrera said.

Other contributors with UNM ties include:

Kevin Brown, a member of the Navajo Nation, joined the UNM University Libraries in 2016 as the program administrator of the Indigenous Nations Library Program. He has a master’s degree from UNM in Public Archaeology and is currently working on his MBA in Educational Leadership at UNM. He is also an artist and photographer. 

Myrriah Gómez received her master’s degree at UNM. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at San Antonio in English with an emphasis in U.S. Latina/o Literature and Theory. Her forthcoming book, Nuclear Nuevo México: Identity, Ethnicity, and Resistance in Atomic Third Spaces, examines the effects of the nuclear industrial complex on Nuevomexicanos. She is an assistant professor in the UNM Honors College.

Moises Gonzales is co-editor of the book, Nación Genízara: Ethnogenesis, Place, and Identity in New Mexico along with Enrique Lamadrid to be released by the University of New Mexico Press in 2019. He is an associate professor of Urban Design in Community and Regional Planning at the School of Architecture and Planning at UNM.

Lillian Gorman was part of the first class of McNair scholars at UNM where she graduated with a BA in Spanish and an MA in Southwest Hispanic Studies. Her Ph.D. is from the University of Illinois at Chicago in Hispanic Studies with concentrations in Latina/o cultural studies and sociolinguistics. She is the director of the Spanish as a Heritage Language Program and an assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Arizona.

Bernadine Hernández received her BA in English and Spanish and her MA in English Language Literatures from UNM. Her Ph.D. is in Literatures in English and Cultural Studies from the University of California, San Diego. She is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of New Mexico and is a research professor at the Institute of American Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she is finishing her book manuscript titled (In)visible Bodies of a New Nation: Civility, Gender, and Sexual Economies in the Nineteenth Century Borderlands Archive.  

Irene Vásquez specializes in the intersectional histories and politics of Mexican-descent populations in the Americas. She co-authored Making Aztlan: Ideology and Culture of the Chicana and Chicano Movement: Ideology, 1966-1977, published by the University of New Mexico Press. She is the founding Chair of the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department at UNM and serves as the director of the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute. Under her leadership, from 2013-2018, UNM established a Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, a BA, and an MA and Ph.D. program in Chicana and Chicano Studies. 

Karen R. Roybal received her BA in Journalism and Mass Communication and her Ph.D. in American Studies (with an emphasis in Southwest Studies) from UNM. She is an assistant professor of Southwest Studies at Colorado College. 

Corrine Kaa Pedi Povi Sanchez earned her MA in American Studies with a minor in Health Education from UNM and completed her Ph.D. in Justice Studies at Arizona State University. She is the executive director of Tewa Women United.

Simón Ventura Trujillo received his BA in English and Philosophy at UNM and his Ph.D. in English Language and Literature at the University of Washington. He is an assistant professor of Latinx Studies in the English Department at New York University.

Norma A. Valenzuela earned an AA in Business Technology and a BUS with an emphasis in Spanish and Bilingual Education at UNM. Her MA and Ph.D. in Spanish Cultural Studies, with an emphasis in Chicano/Latino & Latin American Cultural Studies, are from Arizona State University. She is an assistant professor of Spanish at New Mexico Highlands University.

Querencia: Reflections on the New Mexico Homeland is available from The University of New Mexico Press.