Cabeza De Baca, Fabiola

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Born 16 May 1894, La Liendra, New Mexico; died 1991, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Also wrote under: Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert, Fabiola C. Gilbert

Daughter of Graciano and Indalecia Delgado Cabeza de Baca; married Carlos Gilbert, 1939 (separated)

Four years after Fabiola Cabeza de Baca was born on her family's northeastern New Mexico land grant, her mother died, and Cabeza de Baca was raised by her paternal grandmother, a traditional Hispanic woman of the patrón class. Cabeza de Baca attended schools in Las Vegas, New Mexico, earning a degree in pedagogy from New Mexico Normal University in 1921. After a year of study in Spain, Cabeza de Baca taught in New Mexico public schools for several years.

She became intensely interested in "Domestic Science" after she was assigned to teach it, earned her B.S. in Home Economics at New Mexico State University, and immediately began work with the New Mexico State Extension Service. As a home demonstration agent, Cabeza de Baca visited the Hispanic and Pueblo villages of northern New Mexico, organizing clubs for women and children, teaching canning techniques, and developing skills and markets for craft products. Cabeza de Baca lost her right leg in an automobile accident, but continued her strenuous career. Her marriage to an insurance agent ended in their separation.

In 1951, UNESCO sent her to Mexico to establish a home economics program among the Tarascan Indians and to instruct Latin Americans in her techniques. She has received many awards for outstanding achievement in her field. After retiring in 1959, she lectured widely, wrote newspaper articles on folklore and food, and trained Peace Corps volunteers in extension methods.

Cabeza de Baca's writing career grew from her home economics work, beginning with pamphlets in Spanish on food preparation and canning. Her article, "New Mexican Diets" (1942), stresses the nutritional value of traditional foods, and counsels extension agents to respect and understand those they serve. Her interest in New Mexican food, which blends Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo influences, led her to publish Historic Cookery (1939, reprinted 1970), an Extension Service cookbook that sold more than 100,000 copies and was reissued several times. Cabeza de Baca collected the recipes by watching village cooks and experimenting in her own kitchen to determine precise measurements. She pragmatically recommends using time-honored techniques or modern appliances according to their superiority for each particular dish. Cabeza de Baca's book conveys the untranslatable Spanish "guisar," which loosely means "to dress up food," with spices and, more important, with caring.

In The Good Life (1949, revised in 1982 as The Good Life: New Mexico Traditions and Food), Cabeza de Baca recounts the yearly cycle of seasons and festivals in a fictionalized Hispanic village in contemporary northern New Mexico. Cabeza de Baca emphasizes the cultural context of cookery and the folklore associated with food preparation and herbal medicine. Without romanticizing the hard work rural living entails, Cabeza de Baca stresses the cooperative spirit and close relationships among village women that give The Good Life its quality. The second half of the book includes recipes for many of the traditional foods described in the text.

Cabeza de Baca moves out of the kitchen in We Fed Them Cactus (1953, reprinted in 1954, 1989, and 1994); the title refers to keeping cattle alive during a drought. While strong in defense of the patrón system, Cabeza de Baca describes the life of all settlers on the plains in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She includes stories narrated by "El Cuate"—the Twin, cook on her family's rancho—concerning life on the llano before longhorn cattle replaced buffalo and sheep. Cabeza de Baca supplemented her memory with interviews with older residents and archival research, and produced a fascinating blend of folklore, history, and autobiography. She compares traditional Hispanic women's roles with those of Anglo homesteaders, and with her own experience as a rural schoolteacher. Cabeza de Baca's perspective as participant makes this a valuable work, especially became little has been written about this region's Hispanos, in a period of drastic change.

Cabeza de Baca's contribution to the literature of the Southwest consists in imaginatively depicting the integrity and vitality of Hispanic culture. Her early books show food, and the women who prepare it, as central to an integrated social system that she explains in more detail in We Fed Them Cactus. She reveals the strength of the Hispanic woman, in her works and in her life.

Other Works:

Los Alimentos y su Preparacion (1934; revised editions, 1937, 1942). Boletin de Conservar (1935; revised editions, 1937, 1941).


American Association of University Women, Albuquerque Branch, Women in New Mexico (1976). McShane, B. J. G., "In Pursuit of Regional and Cultural Identity: The Autobiographies of Agnes Morely Cleaveland and Fabiola Cabeza de Baca" in Breaking Boundaries: New Perspectives on Women's Regional Writing (1997). Ponce, M., The Life and Works of Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, New Mexican Hispanic Woman Writer: A Contextual Biography (1997).

Other Works:

Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Women in Education (1977).

Other reference:

Albuquerque Journal (24 June 1959). California Farmer (16 Oct. 1954). El Palacio (June 1949). NewMexico Historical Review (Jan. 1956). New Mexico Magazine (Oct. 1958). Santa Fe New Mexican (6 Feb. 1966, 19 May 1968).