Hispanic families populated the Hondo Valley at least as early as 1849. According to early records, amid the ranch and farm houses in the valley, a schoolhouse stood near the confluence of the Rio Bonito and Rio Ruidoso. A school as one of the earliest public buildings in such an area is not an anomaly. It represents the merging of culture and education, family commitment, an emphasis on cooperation and the respect for authority figures so common in the culture of the time. It also foretold the Valley’s future.
The elementary school that began as a two-room schoolhouse needed more room. A 1902 school bond met the needs of an increasing student population. By 1920, 113 students were enrolled in Hondo. Still, a larger space and more teachers were needed. In 1923, the principal of the elementary school petitioned for more money for a high school teacher, and his request was granted. Over the next decade, enrollments continued to grow. In 1935, the Hondo High School and elementary school became an independent school district. With progress, politics and its protocols again came into play. For a new high school to be constructed, consolidation and a bond election was necessary. In 1946 and 1947, respectively, these hurdles were overcome and Hondo Valley Union High School became a reality.
About the same time, reviving the corridos and folk dances of the early Hispanic settlers became a priority for the community, ostensibly, to keep area adolescents engaged and out of trouble, but also as a means of reinforcing cultural identity throughout the Valley. Fermín S. Montes and his wife, Cirenia, developed the Hondo Fiesta Dancers and the Fiesta held in May. These traditions continue today and embody the relationship of the school to cultural traditions. Both were a source of pride and a vehicle for students to experience the world while sharing the songs and dances of those who lived there a century before.
While fostering the cultural aspects of the Hondo Valley by hosting the Hondo Fiesta Dancers in classes, offering Spanish classes and encouraging student Spanish clubs, ENMU-Ruidoso’s role in the area of education itself is very much appreciated by the people of the Hondo Valley. ENMU-Ruidoso offers an Associate of Arts in Early Care and Education and Teacher Education Transfer Program which prepares students for a bachelor’s degree. Several teachers and staff members in the Hondo schools are former ENMU-Ruidoso students. In addition, Ms. Andrea Nieto is the superintendent and a member of the College Advisory Board. She works as a liaison to the College and a voice for the Valley in decisions concerning future programs and educational needs for both students in Hondo and the college students in Ruidoso hoping to teach there.
Sandra Herrera-Rue is one such college student. Her family has a long lineage in the Valley, dating back centuries. She remembers going to the fiestas as a little girl. “What I remember most were the big tissue flowers. There were brightly colored flowers everywhere. Yes, those flowers and the crowd of people. It was wall-to-wall people. People were waiting outside, and probably some people couldn’t get it. That’s how packed it was. Of course, the gym was a lot smaller then, but it was a tradition. Everybody went to the fiestas.”
Rue chose going back to school to pursue a teaching degree for several reasons. The most important one was to be an example for her children. “I kept telling them: ‘You have to go to college,’ but here I was working at [a local discount store]. I’ve been working there for 26 years, and I know I don’t want to spend the rest of my life working retail. So, I knew there was something else that I could do and love to do.” As a mother, Rue was a fixture in her children’s schools as a volunteer. She found that she enjoyed being around children. The fact that she intended to stay in the area clinched her decision to go back to school. As she says: “This is my home. Never did I plan on leaving. So, it’s either working here, where I was at, or teaching.” Not that going back to school was easy. She had a full-time job and husband and a family. “When I first walked in here and did the paperwork, I was afraid. I thought: ‘I can’t do this.’ It was Sue Kluthe, an advisor at the College, who was the one who convinced her that she could succeed. With the support of her husband, family, instructors and close friends who encouraged Rue to continue on, she completed her associate’s and working toward her bachelor’s degree. “It was one step, one class at a time. That’s why I’m here today.”
After Rue finishes her degree, her dream is to work as a teacher in the Hondo Valley. With her husband, she plans on settling in the Valley of her ancestors, going back to the land, perhaps living off the grid, raising chickens and teaching the children of friends and relatives. She smiles as she says: “What better place than the Valley? By being a teacher, I hope to have it all. It’s like going home.”