“I’d rather be writing”: Author Ana Pacheco

Ana Pacheco in her living room, photo Gabriela Campos/The New Mexican

If you are lucky, the next time you arrange for a ride from Uber or Lyft, your driver will be Ana Pacheco. And if you ask her nicely, your trip could turn into an illuminating tour of Santa Fe. “Santa Fe is the mother lode of history,” she said. “I truly believe it’s one of the most historically significant cities in this country. I bang out a book a year on Santa Fe or New Mexico history.”

Pacheco — whose family has been in the area since the 18th century — drives for ride-sharing companies to make ends meet, but her real career is as a writer. She is the author of seven image-rich books about local and state history, which include J. Paul Taylor: The Man from Mesilla (2012), Legendary Locals of Santa Fe (2013), and Early Santa Fe, in the Images of America series published by Arcadia Publishing (2017). Her latest, Pueblos of New Mexico, is in the same series, published in 2018 with a foreword by Brian Vallo (Acoma Pueblo), director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research. Her next project involves early death rituals of New Mexico.

Many Santa Feans know Pacheco from her time editing the magazine La Herencia, a quarterly she published from 1994 until 2009, when the economy crashed and advertisers began to disappear. “I didn’t go bankrupt,” she said. “But the universe was telling me to get out, so I just decided to close it. After that I started writing for The New Mexican and writing books.” For six years, her column in the newspaper, “A Wonderful Life,” celebrated the elder community of Santa Fe through oral history.

She started La Herencia after returning to Santa Feto take care of her terminally ill mother. Pacheco had moved to New York City in 1976 on the advice of her theater professor, the actress Kim Stanley, who taught at the College of Santa Fe. “I was seventeen when I met her,” Pacheco said. “She kept telling me to quit school, move to New York, and be a writer. Now I am a writer, but how did somebody like her see something like that back then?”

Within two weeks of landing in Manhattan, Pacheco found an apartment, a job as a waitress, and a part in a show. A few years later, she began taking writing classes at the New School for Social Research and getting some freelance writing gigs. By 1980, she was doing phone sales for The New York Times — a thankless job for which she had a talent. She started selling advertising for a salsa-music magazine, a role that launched a 16-year stint as an ad executive. She tired of New York, however, and would have left the city sooner, “but I was being held hostage by a rent-stabilized apartment,” she said. “I was paying $435 for a one-bedroom in midtown Manhattan. Then my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and I came home. She died a year and a half later. I gave birth to my daughter while my mom was sick. She’s twenty-six now.”

While Pacheco was living in New York, she began to hear stories about how Santa Fe was changing and home prices were going up. “When I got back, my cousins weren’t living here anymore because they couldn’t afford to buy houses or pay property taxes. I decided I was going to save the Hispanic community, so I started La Herencia, which means ‘the heritage.’ ” The magazine covered such topics as crypto-Judaism in Northern New Mexico, local folk legends, the history of religious education in New Mexico, norteño genealogy, and Santa Fe political history.

With such a deep well from which to choose, Pacheco hesitated when asked if she had a favorite moment or concept in local history — but then settled on Santa Fe’s reputation as a “spiritual mecca,” a tradition she learned more about when writingA History of Spirituality in Santa Fe: The City of Holy Faith (2016). Everyone she interviewed for the book, whether they were Buddhists or Baptists, she said, cited “the mountain vortex” when asked what it was that drew them so strongly to Santa Fe. Spiritual seeking “isn’t a new thing that came with the hippies in the 1970s,” she said. “This has been going on a long time.”

Pacheco could easily jump-start a thriving career as a tour guide, hustling people around town for tips while illuminating the sites they see out their windows, but, at sixty-two, she’s just not sure that’s what she wants to do with her life. “I know that I have the gift of gab, but I’d rather be writing.”

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