Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert

American Association of University Women-New Mexico. “Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert.” (1976). MSS 303 BC, Women of New Mexico, Catalog of AAUW exhibit on “Women in New Mexico”, Albuquerque Museum, February 1-June 6, 1976, Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

Nuevo Mexicana, Folklore, Foodways, Federal Writers’ Project

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert


Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert’s pioneering work on folk foodways, folklore research, and cultural activism has served as an intellectual foundation for the study of Hispanic folklore in the Southwest. She was born in Liendre, New Mexico in 1898, and raised on her family ranch. After graduating from high school with a teaching certificate in 1913, she volunteered to teach in one-room schools in rural New Mexico. In 1921, she graduated with a BA in teaching pedagogy from New Mexico Normal, which later became Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. While working for her degree, she took a year off to study at Centro de Estudios Históricos in Madrid, Spain. Then, she earned a second BA in Home Economics (1929) from New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now New Mexico State University). 

After graduating, Cabeza de Baca Gilbert was hired by the U.S. government as an extension agent, a position she would hold for thirty years. In this role, she taught rural women new approaches to cooking and, gardening, and introduced new techniques for raising poultry and canning vegetables and fruits. In 1929, she published Historic Cookery which included extensive cultural background on the recipes and cooking traditions. This contribution is the first folk foodways accounts of Indian-Hispanic cooking in the Upper-Rio Grande region. In 1949, she published The Good Life: New Mexico Traditions and Food, focusing on the Hispanic traditions and the different regional cuisines in New Mexico. In the 1950s, UNESCO invited her to work in Mexico to help develop domestic programs for Tarascan indigenous groups in Michoacán. During this time, she collected recipes, remedies, stories, and religious ritual traditions.

In 1954, Cabeza de Baca Gilbert published an autobiographical book, We Fed Them Cactus, related to her family’s life on the Llano Estacado. Based on ethnographic data—folk stories, beliefs, recipes, values, emotions—she documented the imposition of cultural changes on the lives and landscapes of New Mexico.

Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert addressed the social and cultural changes forced on New Mexican Hispanics by the rich and influential Americans who were more interested in creating a fantasy heritage version of Hispanic culture. She became a cultural activist, concerned with cultural preservation and reclaiming the folk traditions from outsiders who have viewed New Mexican culture as a commodity. She, along with other women, became the co-founders of La Sociedad Folklórica de Santa Fe, an organization that persists today, to promote cultural awareness, and Spanish language preservation. 

Among her publications are:

Historic Cookery, 2 volumes (1939)

We Fed Them Cactus (1954)