Ulibarrí, Sabine R(eyes)

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ULIBARRÍ, Sabine R(eyes)

Nationality: American. Born: Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, 21 September 1919. Education: University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, B.A. 1947, M.A. 1949; University of California, Los Angeles, Ph.D. 1959. Military Service: Served in U.S. Air Force, 1942-45: Gunner (received Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal four times). Family: Married Connie Limón in 1942; one child. Career: Teacher, Río Arriba County, 1938-40, and El Rito Normal School, both New Mexico, 1940-42; associate professor, 1947-68, professor of Spanish, from 1968, chair of modern and classical languages department, 1973-82, now professor emeritus, University of New Mexico; director, National Defense Education Act Language Institute, Quito, Ecuador, 1963-64; director, Andean Study Center, University of New Mexico-Quito, 1968; vice-president, 1968, president, 1969, American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. Lives in Albuquerque. Awards: Medal Recipient for Promotion of Hispanic Culture, Government of Mexico, 1986; Governor's award for literature, 1987; Hispanic Heritage award, 1989; Service award, University of New Mexico, 1989.


Short Stories

Tierra Amarilla: Cuentos de Núevo México. 1964; as Tierra Amarilla: Stories of New Mexico. 1971.

Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandma Smoked Cigars and Other Stories of Tierra Amarilla (bilingual edition), translated by Ulibarrí; illustrated by Dennis Martínez. 1977.

Primeros encuentros/First Encounters (bilingual edition), translated by Ulibarrí. 1982.

El gobernador Glu Glu and Other Stories (bilingual edition), translated by Ulibarrí. 1988.

El Cóndor, and Other Stories (bilingual edition), translated by Ulibarrí. 1989.

The Best of Sabine R. Ulibarrí. 1993.

Sueños/Dreams. 1994.


Al cielo se sube a pie. 1966.

Amor y Ecuador. 1966.


Spanish for the First Grade. 1957.

El mundo poético de Juan Ramón: estudio estilístico de la lengua poética y de los símbolos. 1962.

Fun Learning Elementary Spanish. 2 vols., 1963-65.

Pupurupú (children's stories). 1987.

El alma de la raza. 1971.

Mayhem Was Our Business: Memorias de un veterano. 1997.



in Chicano Perspectives in Literature: A Critical and Annotated Bibliography by Francisco A. Lomelí and Donald W. Urioste, 1976.

Critical Studies:

in Chicano Literre: A Reference Guide edited by Francisco A. Lomelí and Julio A. Martinez, 1985; "Nostalgia, Amnesia, and Grandmothers: The Uses of Memory in Albert Murray, Sabine Ulibarri, Paula Gunn Allen, and Alice Walker" by Wolfgang Karrer, in Memory, Narrative, and Identity: New Essays in Ethnic American Literatures edited by Amritjit Singh, Joseph Skerrett, and Robert Hogan, 1994; Sabine R. Ulibarri: Critical Essays edited by María Duke dos Santos and Patricia de la Fuente, 1995.

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Sabine R. Ulibarrí is a major contributor to the cultural heritage and memory of New Mexico and the Southwest. His two books of stories, Tierra Amarilla and Mi abuela fumaba puros (My Grandma Smoked Cigars) , remain classic portrayals of Ulibarrí's childhood home, the village of Tierra Amarilla, and of the people, ethnic values, and overall atmosphere of northern New Mexico.

On one level both books serve as reminiscences of Ulibarrí's own childhood spent growing up in the region and of his friends and family influences. On another level they are a native son's modern account of the continuing historical and cultural presence of the Spanish settlers who first populated the region in the sixteenth century following the expeditions of Juan de Oñate and other conquistadors. In both respects, as autobiography and as an ethnological case study, Ulibarrí's stories of Tierra Amarilla and New Mexico are tributes to the lives and landscapes of the people and places of his "tierra del alma" (soulscape).

Ulibarrí's two books of stories may be read as one volume or, because they have the closest kinds of thematic and structural ties, as companion volumes. The narrators of both works are obvious analogues of the author's own autobiographical persona, a successful man of letters with a reverence for words and the mysteries of language who is pausing in his maturing to cast a retrospective eye over the ghosts of his past. His tone is respectful but humorous in that the people and lives he imaginatively recasts and reanimates into words were shaped by both the sadness and the joys of life.

Ulibarrí's sense of what the Spanish heart and soul intuit as "la tristeza de vida" (the sadness of life) is thus colored and revived by a counterbalancing exuberance and zest for life, regardless of its hardships. Each of the 17 stories provide the pleasure and catharsis of tragicomedy, which is reinforced by Ulibarrí's urbanized and sophisticated self looking back at his rural beginnings. This dualistic, somewhat ironic sense is further underscored by the bilingual texts. Ulibarrí's fluency in both Spanish and English is apparent within and between both versions, with both "translations" set conveniently side by side so as to enhance mutual Spanish/English and Hispanic/Anglo linguistic and cultural understanding.

Tierra Amarilla contains short anecdotal accounts of vaquero s (cowboys), priests, village merchants, local families, and near and distant relatives along with one long story, almost a novella, "Hombre sin nombre," (Man without a Name). The story concerns an author's anguished attempts to escape the psychic dominance of his father, who has suddenly and strangely become himself.

The initial story, "Mi caballo mago" (The Wonder Horse), is a more innocent father-son story involving a teenage boy's youthful quest for masculinity, dramatized here in the pursuit and capture of a white, gloriously wild mustang. This wonder horse, a magnificent stallion, symbolizes the narrator's individualism and identification with manliness. In finding and roping the stallion, the boy revels in his prize and the pride it brings him in his family and in his community. It is, however, in the horse's escape that the boy finds real maturity. With the solidarity and empathy shown by his father, the boy realizes that such a horse exists forever as a transcendent spirit, escaping symbolically into the rising sun.

The theme of innocence lost turns darker in "Hombre sin nombre," a story in the tradition of the doppelgänger. Here the narrator, retreating to his home village to write a story about his father, becomes convinced that his father has usurped his own motive and identity. He attempts to rid himself of this psychic horror by returning to his home in the city and to the comforting embraces of his wife. To his ever greater horror, he comes to see that his wife is his own mother. He is lost, a man without a name, in a long, tormented dark night of the soul. His book takes on this very name, and, troubled though he is, he attempts to save himself in the act of writing yet another book outlining his former self's experiences since returning to the city and his disturbing discoveries.

My Grandmother Smoked Cigars similarly deals with triumph and travail. The title story is a great tribute to the strength of the narrator's grandmother. She survives the grief of her own widow-hood by adopting the cigar-smoking habits of her deceased husband. And when the narrator's father commits suicide, she rages against him and the wages of death with such vehemence that she wards off insanity for the narrator's forlorn and grieving mother.

In a more humorous accounting of death's visitations, "El Negro Aguilar," the narrator recounts the ribald exploits of a black cowboy who shocks the village, especially the women, and also endears himself to them. His earthy stories and songs, along with his uncouth antics, elicit avowed public condemnation but inner admiration. Even at his funeral he literally rises from his casket with a smile on his face and a silent song of life.

All of Ulibarrí's stories are flavored with the earthiness of the folktale and the passion of people deeply and passionately engrossed in living out their cultural and familial destinies. His retrospective analyses and dramatizations are loving even in their moments of satire. Through Ulibarrí's microcosmic rendering of one small northern New Mexico village, the reader finds a joyous, reaffirming window on the human condition.

—Robert Franklin Gish