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Chronicler of Pueblo Life

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The late author and historian, Joe S. Sando, began to chronicle New Mexico Pueblo history in the 1970s. His six books on pueblo culture have become invaluable for historians, as well as people interested in water rights and land claims. It was his insider’s take on pueblo life that have made Sando’s books so respected. In reviewing his Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History, the New York Times wrote: “An excellent book, the first insider’s story of the 800-year history of the 19 pueblos in New Mexico.”

A Bilingual Childhood

Pueblo Nations by Joe S. Sando.

Joe. S. Sando was born in 1923 in Jemez Pueblo, 25 miles northwest of Bernalillo. His given name in his native language of Towa was Paa Peh. In 1936 at the age of thirteen Sando’s parents sent him to attend the Santa Fe Indian School. When the young student arrived he couldn’t speak a word of English. But Sando could sing all of his Native American songs from Jemez Pueblo in Spanish. As the author explained, “When I was a child we spoke Spanish on the pueblo. For a very long time we had no contact with the outside world except for the Spaniards, who we lived side by side with.”

Service to Country

After graduating from high school at 17 Sando attended New Mexico Highlands University for two semesters before joining the Navy. While in the navy he was a Yeoman Second Class and took care of the records for the enlisted personnel. For three years he was stationed on the ship USS. Corregidor and took part in four invasions: in the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Marianas Islands.

An Insider’s Perspective

His insider’s perspective was especially welcomed by the Native American community. “In 1922 a woman by the name of Elizabeth Clews Parsons came to Jemez Pueblo,” Sando explained. “Our people were very friendly and welcoming towards her; she was allowed to live with them for a while, learning all about our culture. Then she wrote the book Pueblo Indian Religion, revealing some of our ceremonies. The book made all the pueblos mad. Since then the pueblos have clamped down and refused to share information with the outside world. I called this the “Parsons Syndrome.”

A Pueblo Connection

The biography of Joe S. Sando.

Prior to his death in 2011, Sando had lived in Albuquerque with his wife, Luisa Parker. He retired from the University of New Mexico where he taught New Mexico pueblo history. The historian was also the archivist emeritus of the Archives and Research Center at the Indian Pueblo Center at the time of his death. Throughout his life Sando continued to maintain close ties with Jemez Pueblo. As he once said, “I’m related to half the pueblo. I’m the oldest member of my paternal family and the second-generation male on my mother’s side of the family. I’m the oldest man in the family, so I’m considered their leader.”