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Rubén Cobos: Collector of Songs and Folktales

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Throughout his lifetime, Rubén Cobos combined an exuberant wit with an extraordinarily driven sense of purpose, becoming both a lyric tenor of note and an authority in the language and culture of the peoples of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. He enjoyed nothing better than sitting down with the grandparents of his friends and students and listening to folktales of the old southwest. He also enjoyed creating stories about his own life, which makes it difficult to date several important life events with absolute certainty. He was, in his words, born on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year (1911) in Piedras Negras, a Mexican border town in Coahuila, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas. Rubén’s 1911 birthdate appears in nearly all his official records, including most of his military documents, and on his gravestone. But, when Rubén registered for the draft in October 1940, he gave his birthdate as November 13, 1913, and his age as 27. Why shave two years from his actual age, one wonders, especially when it was a serious matter to lie to government authorities?

And, if Rubén Cobos practiced deception on a government document, what does that say about other information that he passed on to his daughter Evelia for inclusion in the memoirs that she penned in 2010?1 An earlier interview that Rubén gave in 1993 to colleague Nasario Garcia differs from the Evelia Cobos memoir in several important respects. Garcia states that Rubén read and approved the 1993 interview as written. If, as one must assume, Rubén also approved the material in his daughter’s memoir, why are there several important discrepancies that relate to the first 16 years of his life?

One thing is clear: both works indicate that Rubén came from extreme poverty and that he pursued an education with passion and purpose. His daughter relates that Rubén was a mestizo, “a blend of the Spanish from Spain with indigenous Mexican native Indians. He claimed he was descended from Padre Cobos, a priest who emigrated to Mexico from Spain, ‘polluting’ native women and converting natives to Christianity as he traveled about Mexico.”2 Garcia does not mention this, but he does introduce information that appears to contradict Rubén’s daughter. That is the time and cause of his unnamed father’s death and the date for the family’s move to Texas.

It is odd that Rubén never revealed his father’s name; all we know is that he disappeared from Rubén’s life when Rubén was still a child. He told his daughter that his father died of the Spanish flu in 1918, as did his youngest brother Noe and youngest sister Rebecca. But he told Nasario Garcia: “My father, I still do not know clearly whether he came back from the war of the [Mexican] revolution or whether he had gotten hurt. But anyway, by the time I was old enough, which was maybe four or five years, he was already bedridden.” He speculated that his father was “suffering possibly from cancer,” but that in any case, “he stayed sick … for about seven years. He died in 1923.”3

Still more remarkably, when Nasario Garcia asked Rubén about his remarkably good health, he reported that Rubén “was quick to credit his father,” who had told him: “Take care of yourself when you’re young and you’ll get to enjoy your health when you’re as old as I am’ (he was 71).” It is impossible to reconcile these three stories; we can only assume that something about his father’s life—or death— embarrassed him. Rubén’s daughter recalled that his facial expression was “enigmatic” when he spoke about his father, and that her mother had said to her: “We don’t know exactly what happened to your father’s father. He either abandoned the family or he died. Your father changes his story so many times.”4

Both life accounts agree that, with no father, life was harsh. Rubén went scavanging in restaurant dumpsters for discarded vegetables that he could bring home to his mother, and he collected syrup that streamed over the sugar vat in the syrup factory so that they could have sugar. Evelia testified that Rubén developed a lifelong fear of starvation, and that he always squirreled away food, even when times were good.

View from Piedras Negras across the Rio Grande to Eagle Pass, Texas

The discrepancies as to the time and cause of Cobos senior’s disappearance create other biographical disparities, especially as to when Rubén’s mother Dolores Medina de Cobos left Mexico with her children and resettled in San Antonio, Texas. Rubén told his daughter that, after his father’s death in 1918, “Things were very tough for us. […] The revolutionaries were killing everyone, and destroying property. We feared for our lives. So in 1920 we sold our house and went across the border to San Antonio where we lived with Mama Wenceslada—Mother’s Polish, Jewish mother. I got jobs selling newspapers, shining shoes, sweeping the sidewalks of shops, and delivering medicine on a bicycle that Mr. Milburn loaned me for Milburn Drugs.”5 He said that he and his sisters Consuelo and Lupe were baptized in San Antonio by a Presbyterian minister, and that Consuelo, the oldest of the siblings, went on to become a Presbyterian missionary.

The specificity of this account suggests that it is more accurate than the one Rubén gave in his 1993 interview. There he stated that, two years after his father’s 1923 death, the family moved to San Antonio where his sister Consuelo was already living as a Presbyterian missionary.

Rubén knew no English when the family arrived in San Antonio. Since there were no special classes for teaching English, he was enrolled in a kindergarten class. Then, as his English improved, he was rapidly moved through the grades until he was in the class appropriate to his age. And, at the same time, he learned Italian.

He had a fine singing voice, and he enjoyed hanging around outside the San Antonio Opera House, because, “from the open windows came the most beautiful singing I’d ever heard—an orchestra playing, soloists singing. I stopped there every night on my way home just to listen to the music.” One of his neighbors, a Mrs. Guido, had been a teacher of Italian literature at the Italian Institute in Rome. Rubén was so intrigued by listening to her as she read Italian poems and stories to her three sons that he asked if she would teach him Italian in exchange for his washing her car, mowing her lawn, and taking her boys out on excursions to a local park. She was surprised at his eagerness to learn and told him that she could teach him to sing Italian songs. He went to her home three times a week for lessons, and she became enthusiastically engaged in his progress.6

Evelia Cobos and Narsario Garcia both report that Rubén’s sister Consuelo came down with tuberculosis, and that the family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1927, where Consuelos could be treated in a local clinic. She died one month later, but Rubén’s mother decided that the family should remain in Albuquerque. This was a failed opportunity for Rubén, who had won a $1000 scholarship earlier that year to study art with the renowned Texas painter José Arpa. But, as Rubén himself recounted, new opportunities awaited him in Albuquerque. Here his mother eventually got a good job working as a seamstress for a local laundromat. Rubén sang in the Presbyterian church choir, and the church started Rubén in classes at Menaul High School.

Rubén’s enrollment at Menaul—a Presbyterian boarding school for Spanish-speaking boys—represented a turning point in the young boy’s life. Most of his classmates came from northern New Mexico and from southern Colorado, and they spoke a Spanish quite different from Rubén’s Mexican Spanish, or even the Spanish spoken in Texas. “I spoke a much better language than they did,” he remembered, “I noticed right away that their Spanish was antiquated. I could not explain it at the time, but it was different from the Spanish that I had, and I realized that the kids were making mistakes in grammar, in sentence formation, in syntax, making mistakes in verbs.”7 After a brief time, however, Rubén came to appreciate these linguistic differences. He learned that the language his classmates were speaking came directly from the 16th century Spanish brought to New Mexico by Juan de Oñate and his colonists. This language included many words and phrases new to him. “At first my classmates made fun of me because my language was Mexican from Mexico and they spoke a language that was New Mexican. They called me surumato which is a little villege in Mexico and I thought they were referring to that village. But in New Mexico it means ‘low class Mexican’ and they were actually calling me a bad name.”8 Later, as he and his classmates became friends, he was invited to their homes. “That’s when I became fascinated with the folklore and unique language of New Mexico,” he said. “My fascination was through the songs and stories of my classmates’ parents. I had the germ of writing a dictionary of New Mexico’s vocabulary of 16th and 17th century words then.” Indeed, “by the time I graduated from Menaul, I had a shoe box full of little papers with words there that were not common to the Spanish that I knew as a child in Mexico, or as a youth in San Antonio. I knew that someday I would use those words.”9

During the school year Rubén helped pay for his keep by working in the school cafeteria. In the summers he worked on the Menaul farm. The farm functioned as a kind of vocational technical institute; here he learned gardening, baking, butchering, and carpentry, and had assignments waiting table and monitoring the student dormitories, all on a weekly rotational basis. This training, he said, helped him gain entrance to the University of New Mexico.

Ruben Cobos as a sprinter at Menaul High School, 1931, from Evelia Cobos Pictorial Collection, PICT 2013-009, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.

Athletics were the other skill that made Rubén attractive to the university. He excelled in field and track. Although he was only 5’6” tall, he outpaced boys with longer legs in racing. As a sprinter, he set local records for the 100-yard, 220-yard, and 440-yard dashes, and won a gold medal at the state championship games for running the 100-yard dash in 10.2 seconds. At the university, Rubén would participate in field and track only his freshman year; instead, he would focus more on his music as a leisure activity.

When Rubén graduated from Menaul High School, his mother assumed he would join her in working at the laundry, since he would not be able to manage the costs of a college education. Rubén, however, was determined to continue his studies at the University of New Mexico. He showed up, unannounced, at the door of the university’s president, James Fulton Zimmerman, and successfully persuaded him that he was a master of many trades who would take on any job needed on the grounds crew or on the janitorial staff, if the university were only willing to cover the costs of his books and tuition. The president agreed, and Rubén was able to take advantages of all the benefits offered to him during the four years of study he spent there.

He benefited in particular from Arthur L. Campa, who shared his interest in the folklore, language, and culture of New Mexico. Campa, who was six years older Rubén, had a history similar to his; he had fled the Mexican Revolution with his mother and siblings, found support from the Methodist church, and attended a Methodist boarding school in Albuquerque. Like Rubén, he had become fascinated by the people and the culture of Greater New Mexico, and had served as a field worker in the WPA (Works Progress Administration), where he began his research into the New Mexican Folk Narrative. In 1931 his Master’s thesis on “New Mexico Spanish Folk Tales” was published.

At the time Rubén entered the university, Campa was employed there as director of research in New Mexican folklore. He learned of Rubén’s collection of authentic New Mexican vocabulary, idioms, tales, ballads, and even recipes that he had gathered from the parents and grandparents of his Menaul School friends, and offered to pay Rubén for the stories and songs that he continued to collect from his friends’ homes. “It was then,” Ruben said, “that I learned folklore was valuable.”10 Campa also helped out financially by hiring Rubén’s mother to stay at the home of his own elderly mother as a companion.

Arthur L. Campa, ca. 1935

In 1933 Campa had been involved in the development of a national folk festival, and, in 1934, Rubén went with a group of UNM students as a participant there in a 300 year-old Christmas play Los Pastores and in a university Spanish men’s quartet that sang equally old and authentic folk songs, “of various moods, from Spanish cowboy melodies, to lullabies, chants, and songs of love, religion and humor.”11 This men’s quartet remained intact throughout Rubén’s enrollment at the university and performed at the National Folk Festivals held in Chattanooga, Chicago, and Washington D.C., even after its members had graduated and gone on to various positions elsewhere.

Rubén was taking his music seriously during these years. He had developed a fine lyric tenor voice and began taking voice lessons from a Mrs. Ralph Smith. During this time he appeared in local productions of Il Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana, The Bartered Bride, and The Pirates of Penzance. And in 1935 he participated in a vocal contest held by local radio station KOB; the winner of this 6-week competition would go on to state competition in Santa Fe, with the winner then performing in the national finals in Denver. Rubén took the state prize in Santa Fe as well as the regional prize in the Denver finals, and was awarded a large trophy that he then gave to his music teacher.

When Rubén graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1936 his life direction was well set. He was now multi-lingual, since, in addition to his Spanish, English, and Italian, he had acquired Portuguese and French proficiency at the university. He pursued his goal of teaching in rural New Mexico by accepting a job at Wagon Mound; here he could continue his work of collecting materials relating to the distinct culture of Greater New Mexico, as part of his pursuit of a master’s degree from UNM. And he had acquired a wife.

Rita Sanchez was an exceptionally intelligent young woman. She was four years younger than Rubén, but such a brilliant student that she graduated from the University of New Mexico at age 15, then earned her master’s

degree at age 19 by writing her thesis on the Spanish poet/philosopher Unamuno in 1934. She was already teaching Spanish at La Joya High School when she and Rubén wed in 1936.

The University of Mexico’s Spanish Men’s

Quartet. Rubén Cobos is standing on the right.

Rubén had met Rita at the University, and wooed her by dedicating to her the Romantic Spanish songs he sang on the radio. They married at San Ignacio Catholic Church in Martineztown and lived briefly with Rita’s mother. This new mother-in-law disapproved of the marriage because of Rubén’s Mexican background, telling Rita frequently that “We came to New Mexico directly from Spain. We didn’t stop to mingle in Mexico marrying Indians.”12

By the fall both Rita and Rubén found teaching jobs that were not too far from one another. Rubén applied to, and was accepted at, the Wagon Mound school, where he served as a jack of all trades, teaching, besides Spanish, American history, health education, physical education, and natural sciences. In addition, he was assigned to be basketball coach, despite the fact that he knew nothing about the sport. Rita got a job at Highland University in Los Vegas, a town just over 40 miles to the southwest of Wagon Mound. Rubén was also hired by Highland University after three years at the Wagon Mound school.

Rubén and Rita had a daughter, Evelia, in 1937. Later they had two more children: a son, Irving, and a second daughter, Helene.

Rubén was well aware of the possibility of the United States entering the war in Europe and in the South Pacific, and he began war work even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. In June 1941 President Roosevelt had approved a general wartime censorship program. Rubén and Rita left Highland University and moved to San Antonio, Texas. There Rubén became principal translator for the Civil Service office even before it was transformed, after America’s entry into the war, into one of the major censorship stations established by the new Office of Censorship. This office issued guidelines for the media, asking that they participate in a voluntary program of self-censorship. (One result of this self-censorship was the willingness of area newspapers never to mention Camp Ritchie by name, but to refer to it only as a “nearby camp.”)

Postal censorship workers. At its height, the US Office of Censorship employed over 10,000 civilian censors.

Letters were another matter. Before America’s entry into the war, only letters to and from enemy aliens were subject to US government censorship. But, after Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8985 on December 19, 1941, authorizing the creation of the Office of Censorship, every letter that crossed international or US territorial borders from December 1941 to August 1945 was subject to being opened and “scoured for details.”13 San Antonio was a major censorship station for mail traveling between the United States and Latin America. This postal censorship served two purposes. First, it deprived the enemy of information that could be unwittingly passed on by letter recipients and used against the Allies. And, secondly, it provided the US with valuable intelligence that could be turned against the enemy. All international communications were now subject to censorship: the press, the mail, broadcasting, and cable traffic.

In his work as principal translator, Cobos drew up vocabulary lists for the postal censors of new Spanish military terminology, offering words such as ametralladora (machine gun), carros blindados (armored cars), ejercito mechnizado (mechanized army), proyectores electricos (search light). Rita Cobos also began working for the San Antonio censorship office, but she came down with tuberculosis and had to return to her mother’s home in Albuquerque..

Rubén took on other tasks during his stay in San Antonio. In August 1941 he helped secure tutors, lecturers, library materials, and facilities in Saltillo for a program that brought American students to Mexico as an experiment in promoting Pan American friendship.

And, in June 1943, Rubén performed as soloist with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Max Reiter, singing Mexican folksongs at the Arneson River Theatre.

Rubén was called up for army service in January 1944, had his basic training at Fort Sam Houston, and then was sent to the Military Intelligence Training Center at Camp Ritchie. as a member of its 18th class (April 13-June 10, 1944). Here he specialized in French. During his time at Camp Ritchie he was a frequent performer at the area USO clubs.

Ruben Cobos, 1944 - Evelia Cobos Pictorial Collection - PICT-2013-009, Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico

He was scheduled to go to Normandy, but, as he described it, “One night I was jumping from the top of one tank to another—from tank to tank—and I broke my leg.” Because of this, he remained stateside. And, since his leg “never healed just right […,] I never saw action.”14 On October 4, 1944, Rubén received an honorable disability discharge. Still, there is some discrepancy between Cobos’ report and that of his army hospital admission card of September 1944. The latter stated that he was suffering from an unidentified “disease” that had existed prior to service. In any case, Cobos returned to San Antonio to continue his civilian work as consultant for the Office of Censorship.

A brief visit to Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico determined his lifelong career. Here he met a former teacher and Camp Ritchie colleague, Francis Kercheville, who urged Rubén to come and teach at the University of New Mexico. Rubén recalled: “He knew that I could handle the Spanish classes he was going to assign me, and sure enough, I stayed with the university from ’44 off and on until 1977 when I retired.”15

During the 1940s and 1950s Rubén’s life followed two strains. The one was music. He studied voice with Luigi Viani, who coached him in Bel Canto singing, and Giovanna d’Onofrio, who cultivated his lower ranges and taught him German Lieder. Rubén had always had a fine lyric tenor voice. His formal training now raised his level of singing to new heights, and he was in constant demand, not just as a church soloist, but in concerts at the University, in programs raising funds for various social programs and in formal concerts in Santa Fe, Silver City, and Roswell, and Albuquerque. His concert programs were generally a mix of classical pieces and Mexican folk songs.

Rita and Rubén Cobos in Mexico City with their three children. 1949 - Evelia Cobos Pictorial Collection - PICT-2013-009, Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico

Ruben also bought recording equipment and began spending every weekend driving out into the countryside and recording hundreds of hours of old people singing old folk songs and telling folk tales. This put great strains on his marriage. Rita Cobos was as active professionally as he, and, like him, a Spanish language instructor at the University of New Mexico before moving to a teaching and administrative position at Albuquerque High School. But she was also the one burdened with cleaning, cooking, managing the household budget, and taking care of the three children. Rubén’s weekend absences increased tensions at home. Things reached a head when Rubén spent an entire month’s salary on advanced recording equipment, without thinking of his fiscal responsibilities to his family. Rita threw him out of the house and ordered the children not to visit him.

Ruben’s daughter maintains that it had never been a model marriage; although Rita and Rubén were aligned through their knowledge and leadership roles in furthering Spanish language pedagogy, Rita was, by nature, sober and serious, while Rubén was always light-hearted and an admitted spendthrift. Both eventually remarried; in 1956 Rubén married Elvira (Vera) Garcia, a registered nurse. Like Rita, Vera remained professionally active throughout her marriage, practicing school, hospital, and public health nursing. They had two children, a girl, Renee, and a boy, Ruben Marcelino, and enjoyed over 50 years of married life together.

Rubén had already earned his M.A. degree from the University of New Mexico in 1940; in 1949 he started working towards his doctor’s degree in folklore from Stanford University in California; he successfully completed all his coursework and preliminary examinations, but never finished his dissertation.

But he was far from inactive. In October 1949, he became a columnist for El Nuevo Mexicano, a weekly newspaper published in Santa Fe; at that time, this was America’s most prominent Spanish language newspaper. Most of Rubén’s articles treated individual folk songs and ballads from Greater New Mexico. He declared there that the Indita (“little Indian woman”) ballad was New Mexico’s unique contribution to the Spanish-American tradition; these ballads were distinguished by their first person, female gendered form. During 1949/1950 he published 57 studies in El Nuevo Mexicano, explaining both the musical form and historical basis for each song that he treated. And he organized a contest through the newspaper to submit folk poetry and folk tales to him on an on-going basis.

Rubén’s work was already being recognized. In the 1950s, he began using his concerts as an occasion to lecture on the many and varied types of Spanish Folk Songs. These included a wide variety of religious songs, most of them traditional Spanish songs, which dealt with Catholic ritual: Christian holidays, weddings, baptisms, wakes, and the blessing of fields and livestock. He particularly relished the secular Spanish folk songs, which included Spanish, Mexican, and New Mexican creations. Many of these, he explained, told the history of the region. One of his favorites was “The Ballad of Pablita Angel,” or “La Pablita.” Its rhythm, he explained, was influenced by the chanting of the Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande Valley, and its thirty verses recounted the “beautiful story about the only woman hanged in New Mexico [in 1861].” 16

Elvira and Rubén Cobos, ca. 1991 - Ruben Cobos Collection of Southwestern Folklore and Folk Music, MSS BC, Box 13, CD 35, Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico

Rubén greatly reduced his public singing performances in the 1960s, but he continued to pursue his deep interest in the Spanish folk music of the American southwest. His work was recognized in 1964 when the National Folk Festival, at its meeting in Covington, Kentucky, gave him its Burl Ives Award in recognition of his tireless efforts to “preserve and vitalize Spanish American culture as an integral part of the American heritage picture.”17 Ironically, he had been referred to as “New Mexico’s Burl Ives” by the Albuquerque Tribune twelve years before he received this honor.

During his career Rubén taught courses at Stanford University, The University of Nevada (Reno), and Colorado College. Upon his retirement, both the University of New Mexico and Stanford University made him professor emeritus, and he was awarded honorary degrees from Highland University and Colorado College. He was inducted into the New Mexico Folklore Hall of fame, and was one of 13 Hispanic Scholars honored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the National Endowment of the Humanities at the US Capitol in 1979.

There was seldom a festival or a workshop where Rubén was not involved. In the summer of 1964, for example, he accompanied 56 high school teachers from across the nation to Quito, Ecuador, where he and several Ecuadorans taught Spanish language classes in a 2-month advanced teaching institute funded by the National Defense Education Act. And in 1967 he edited a two-volume work on the laws of the kingdoms of the Native Americans (Recopilación de leyes de los reynos de las Indias), published by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

He served as a mentor and collaborator on numerous workshops projects. He encouraged his students to record stories told by their grandparents. Together they created over 500 reel to reel tapes called “Voces de los Abuelitos — Voices of the Grandparents” that are now housed in the Special Collections at the University of New Mexico. He carried this collaborative work over into his publications. In 1969 he, the musicologist Richard Stark, and the folklorist T. M. Pearce published a volume called Music of the Spanish Folk Plays in New Mexico; this work dealt with songs from the old Hispanic Christmas plays known as Los Pastores. He also translated 25 regional Spanish folk tales collected by independent folklorist Paulette Atencio

Rubén’s lifework was published in 1983, a work that he had begun over 50 years ago when, as a schoolboy, he wrote down New Mexican vocabulary words on small slips of paper and stored them in a shoe box. It was a project that he had never stopped working on. One of his students recalls how he got those in his upper-level language classes involved in the work: “In order to make an ‘A’ in the class, we were required each week to bring in an archaic vocabulary word used in New Mexico. It was nerve-wracking, and became progressively harder, as no words could be repeated. Dr. Cobos mischievously told us that he would one day compile all our words into a dictionary and make a million. We all laughed. Then one day 30 years later, I bought his dictionary […] and remembered the brilliant professor who challenged us and nurtured our love of the Spanish language.”18

One of the last photos of Rubén Cobos, ca 2005.

This work, a Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish, showed how the Spanish of Greater New Mexico was made up not only of archaic 17th century forms ( rural Castilian and Andalusian influences), but also of Mexican Indian words (including many from Nahuatl, an Aztec dialect); words and idioms peculiar to the Spanish of Mexico; local New Mexican vocabulary; and, of course, English language items that the Spanish-speaking population had adopted and adapted for everyday use. This dictionary, then, encompassed everything from the most archaic words, such as yagual, for “a kind of pad or bolster placed on the head to cushion the weight of objects carried on one’s head”19 to adapted English words, such as crismes for “Christmas.”20 Of particular value for Spanish speakers was the different meanings given in the greater New Mexican area to standard Spanish words. In standard Spanish, for example, arete means “earring.” But in Northern New Mexico, the word was frequently applied to a child who insists on tagging along with an older brother or sister. 21

Rubén knew, at the time of the dictionary’s publication, that the work was a museum to a language that was already dying. As one reviewer put it: “Cobos sadly anticipates a time when people will speak either English or Spanish as it is spoken in Mexico. His list of words for which there is no Spanish equivalent is a surreal vision of modern life in America: bowling tournament, corduroys, insurance premium, jumper cable, schedule, closed circuit.” And yet, the fact “that English has not completely taken over in the 130 years it has been spoken in the region testifies, in Rubén’s words, “to the strength of the language of Cervantes.” 22

Two years later, Rubén followed up on his dictionary with Refranes: Southwestern Spanish Proverbs, a similar alphabetical listing of proverbial statements accompanied by translations and explications. One feminist critic noted with disfavor that Rubén remained “deafeningly silent” about the fact that some 50 proverbs in the collection demeaned women. “Women are the sum of their body parts, we learn, less faithful than dogs, dangerous outside of marriage and better as corpses than as mothers-in-law,” she complained. “Cobos provides, if unwittingly, an invaluable document of how cultures have imagined and dreaded women.” 23

Rubén’s pursuit of the language and culture of Greater New Mexico acquired a new focus after he read Manuel Alvar’s Poesía tradicional de los judíos españoles; this 1966 work alerted him to the fact that there was a large concentration of people with Sephardic Jewish ancestry living in New Mexico; these were “crypto-Jews”— Jews who had escaped the 16th-century Spanish Inquisition by pretending to be Catholic converts and emigrating to America. Ruben now began a new study focusing on that singular aspect of New Mexican culture. He was working on this when he died, at age 99.

Beverley Driver Eddy,


1.) Evelia Cobos, They That Laugh Win: To Dr. Rubén Cobos with Love. A Memoir. Los Ranchos, NM: Rio Grande Books, 2010.

2.) Evelia Cobos, 2.

3.) Nasario Garcia, “Interview,” in Nasario García, An Indelible Imprint: Rubén Cobos, A Multi-Talented Personality. Los Ranchos, NM: Rio Grande Books, 8.

4.) Evelia Cobos, 12.

5.) Evelia Cobos, 105.

6.) Evelia Cobos, 76, Nasario Garcia, 75. The two reports differ in relating how Rubén met the Italian professor, but Garcia’s more detailed report appears to me to be the more credible one.

7.) Nasario Garcia, 15.

8.) Evelia Cobos, 65.

9.) Nasario Garcia, 70.

10.) Evelia Cobos, 66.

11.) “ ‘Los Pastores’ To Be Presented at Rodey Hall Thursday Night,” Albuquerque Journal, 28 Apr. 1934.

12.) Evelia Cobos, 37

13.) Louis Fiset, “Return to Sender: U.S. Censorship of Enemy Alien Mail in World War II,” Prologue Magazine, Spring 2001 33:1.

14.) Evelia Cobos, 52.

15.) Nasario Garcia, 32.

16.) “Folklorist dedicates his life to preserving culture, language,” Roswell Daily Record, 22 September 2006.

17.) Flo Wilks, “Prof. Ruben Cobos Is Presented National Folk Festival Award,” Aluquerque Journal 7 June 1964, 15.

18.) Posted by Cheryl Hargroves, 7 Jan.

19.) Tom Ireland, “Cobos’ dictionary offers creative approach to New Mexico’s unique Spanish language,” The New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM) 27 May, 1983, 27.

20.) Eleanor G. Cotton and John M. Sharp, “Dictionary is fine collection of NM, Colorado Spanish,” El Paso Times, 5 June 1983, 60.

21.) Marc Simmons, “Dictionary has Southwest flavor,” The El Paso Times, 12 June 1983, 8-B

22.) Tom Ireland, “Cobos’ dictionary offers creative approach to New Mexico’s unique Spanish language,” The New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM) 27 May, 1983, 26.

23.) Demedtria Martinez, “Refranes: Southwestern Spanish Proverbs,” Albuquerque Journal, 29 Apr. 1986, 50.

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