A former high school teacher, New Mexico State Historian Rob Martínez tries to view the past through a human lens. Photograph by Jen Judge.
ROB MARTÍNEZ LOVES A GOOD STORY—whether during an interview, onstage with one of his musical groups, or on camera for his 10-minute history lessons. As New Mexico’s state historian, the 56-year-old values academic truth, but he considers the past through a human lens. “I don’t ever want to forget that,” he says. The Albuquerque native, from a musical family, has a pretty compelling backstory as well. After graduating from the University of New Mexico with a business degree, Martínez pursued a music career in Los Angeles, returned for a master’s in Latin American history, worked as a researcher at the Vargas Project and the Sephardic Legacy Project, and taught history at Rio Rancho High School. While his perspective, music, and storytelling have helped us navigate these historic times, Martínez’s upcoming book focuses on ghost stories and folktales.
Growing up, we always heard about brujas and hechiceras, witches and sorcerers. So I was always interested in the folklore and the superstitious aspect.
What I found even more fascinating was when I started digging into the historical record, especially in the Mexican and Spanish periods, I started seeing a lot of cases of witchcraft, sorcery, and love magic. It fascinated me that all these stories were rooted in history—in actual beliefs and actual events.
It’s not just random superstition. They’re beliefs that were in our DNA. They’re a part of us.
When you read about a woman who goes to a curandero to get a plant to control her husband’s amorous ways with other women, I want to talk about how she was suffering. She’s not just a name on a page. There was an actual human life being lived here—and it was very important to her.
In New Mexico, history and culture are in your face. They’re not just things that happened 500 years ago or 100 years ago. People are still talking about it now, and they’re arguing about it now—as if it happened yesterday.
People are adamant about how they are identified or not identified. And yet, we’re all one community.
I was a high school teacher for 10 years. I think it’s one of the best training grounds for a historian, because when you’re teaching in the public schools, you have to really be careful about being biased.
I have to be the historian for all of New Mexico.
I was in an acoustic duo called Lenin and McCarthy—like Vladimir Lenin and Joseph McCarthy. We would play Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, the Eagles, America. We play all kinds of music, and we do some Mexican.
We play all over. We played all the casinos, the State Fair, but we really like playing the Corrales Bistro Brewery. They have a little stage, and we play for tips. But we have good crowds, good food, and beer.
These are very challenging times. Now more than ever, we need to study history and learn from history.
We have to be careful that we don’t start to get some sort of cold detachment about what people did in the past. On the one hand, that’s how they did things back then. On the other hand, let’s not fall into the trap of being insensitive and thinking, Well, then, that was okay.
We still feel the reverberations from those events. We feel them now.
We’re still part of that history. We are active participants in history.
What I hope I can do with history is broaden people’s perspective and get people to think. It doesn’t mean they have to reject their history or reject their ancestors, but we do need to broaden our perspective and think not just about my own history, but also about that person’s history over there.
I like when things blend, and it’s not black-and-white. I like when things are complex.
We have a beautiful history, we have an exciting history, but we also still have a lot of work to do.
SEE FOR YOURSELF
Watch episodes of Rob Martínez’s New Mexico History in 10 Minutes series online at newmexicohistory.org.