This is a story of coming home.
Adonis Trujillo’s mom, Yvonne, stokes the smoky ash in the horno oven. The oven is made from adobe, like the traditional homes here that are thousands of years old.
As Adonis and his wife, Mona, stand at the doorway of their grandmother’s home waiting to assist Yvonne with taking the bread to the oven, they are once again connected to this place.
Though they now live in Seattle, this land and its people are their forever home. The couple returned weeks ago to have their firstborn child here at Taos Pueblo.
“It was vital for us to have our son born here surrounded by family,” Adonis explains, while holding his three-week old son. “We believe that a sense of connection and a sense of place starts immediately after birth.”
At the house, Adonis gently hands their son, Quaylum, over to Mona and walks across the dirt toward the two ovens.
He’s built fires in these ovens countless times; his hands possess their own knowledge of this place and its ways. His mother and aunt spent last night and early this morning preparing more than 50 loaves of Pueblo bread in anticipation of the upcoming Feast Day of San Geronimo/Saint Jerome—an annual celebration of harvest with family, lots of food, and ceremonies in the Taos Pueblo community.
Yvonne spends the entire rest of the day on her feet preparing traditional biscochito cookies, pies, chilies, and stews . . . all to share for the feast. But she’s not alone, as more aunts and uncles show up throughout the day. They all grab a seat at the kitchen table and help.
It’s true communal work, but nothing out of the ordinary for their way of life. In fact, ever since the baby came, Adonis and Mona have not cooked a single meal so they could focus on the baby. They’ve been held here by their family, nourished by the land, and loved by the community.
Another reason that the couple wanted Quaylum to be born in the community is to hear their Tiwa language. Adonis asked his family to speak to Quaylum exclusively in Tiwa.
“We’ve elected as a community to not record these things,” Adonis explains. “So, there’s this incredible responsibility to keep this language alive, to keep our ceremonies alive, to keep our dances and songs available for the next generations.”
As new grandmother Yvonne begins the next batch of cookies with Adonis’ sister Aurora, Adonis loads up in his truck. It’s time to go feed the horses.
The truck lumbers over the dirt roads, banging the keys back and forth against the steering wheel. Adonis, his little brother, and one of the family dogs, Bew-ooh (who is happily seated on Adonis’ lap), drive to visit Adonis’ horses. Bew-ooh is baby Quaylum’s dog. Bew-ooh will watch over the child as he grows, and the two will live side-by-side for the remainder of their lives.
This land is one of Adonis’ oldest friends, and he speaks of her with true admiration.
“Taos Pueblo is located right where the desert meets the mountains,” Adonis says, stroking Bew-ooh. “You have this beautiful mix of dry sagebrush area for miles meeting peaks that are 13,000 feet high. Fall is a beautiful conclusion to summer. There are all these fruits that start to come to fruition in the summertime. We have plums, we have pinons and chokecherries, and we have corn and squash in the gardens.”
In New Mexico there are 19 Pueblos, Adonis explains. There are also Navajo and Apache peoples. Each of these communities is distinct from one another. Each group has its own language, stories, and ways of celebrating and paying reverence to this land, Adonis explains.
Adonis has raised and ridden horses ever since he can remember. Today, he has two horses, and he has just started to train one for his little brother. He tosses a bale of alfalfa on the ground for their meal.
“Hey Thunder,” he says to the white horse.
Adonis grew up training these horses, with many of the scars and injury stories to prove it. He’s been gutted by branches, bucked off into rocks, and barreled through beehives face-first.
For him, a connection to the animals, to the land, to the people—it’s all sacred. He says goodbye to the horses and heads back to the truck. He wants to visit the place where he and Mona were married.
Adonis lifts his face to the bright autumn sun underneath the structure where he got married and where the tribe holds its powwows.
“There’s a lot of good energy in these places. I come to get away from the rush and noise; I come to get recharged and reconnected to myself and my surroundings,” he shares.
The traditions and ceremonies formed him just as much as the land and people formed him, he says.
“My brother and I were fortunate enough to have many different role models across the Pueblo to teach us the songs and the dances and the ways, so that we can carry them on and pass them on to future generations.”
He shares that there’s a responsibility a person has when born into a place that has such rich culture and history. There’s an intrinsic motivation to carry it on.
“Our community does an excellent job of passing on this knowledge to future generations. Ceremonial life is a component of our community, and everybody is responsible for sharing their knowledge to educate future generations, to help our culture thrive.”
Adonis grew up at Taos Pueblo, but his parents sent him to school in Tucson when he was transitioning from middle school to high school. Every summer, he’d return to Taos Pueblo and fall in love with the land more and more.
But spending the school year elsewhere gave him a different perspective when he returned. He wanted to do something with the skills he was gaining every year to help Taos Pueblo keep growing and thriving. This desire eventually solidified into his life’s purpose: to serve indigenous communities. What wasn’t as clear was how he’d do that.
His path led him to graduate school to study business, with the idea that a business degree would provide many useful tools and bring multiple opportunities to fulfil this purpose.
During his time in grad school, he worked on a project for Microsoft and was introduced to one of the project sponsors, Mike Miles. Mike was just putting together a new team at the company, now the Talent Workforce and Community Development Team, whose goal was to build and nurture relationships with the local communities that hosted Microsoft’s datacenters. Adonis took interest in the project because he observed a genuine interest in the company to create meaningful and long-term impact—something that at the time was counterintuitive to his perspective of corporate America.
Over a few months of working with Mike, who Adonis describes as a visionary and authentic leader, Adonis began to soften to the idea of corporate work, especially if it meant he had a way in to develop relationships with local and potentially native peoples. A year later, he started working on Mike’s team.
In addition, Adonis has taken a voluntary leadership role to organize with a group of indigenous employees who work at Microsoft to create their own official employee resource group inside the company.
“I see myself building on top of all of this work to continue to serve indigenous peoples,” he says.
Every day after school, Adonis and his friends, cousins, and brother would go to the Taos Pueblo River, a tributary of the Rio Grande that runs through the southwestern United States.
“I believe that without our river, our community would not be here,” Adonis says as he scoops up some of its potable water for a drink.
“If it was wintertime, we’d ice skate. If it was summer or springtime, we’d build rock dams to trap trout and go hand fishing. You cannot buy opportunities to go hiking in this beautiful mountain, to have complete silence and be surrounded by the wild.”
Adonis’ uncles encouraged him to spend time in the mountains. He says that when his parents got after him for having muddy and wet clothes, his uncle defended him and encouraged him to stay in the mountains, wrangle horses, hunt, and fish.
Adonis explains that spending so much of his childhood learning “the quiet of the mountain,” being with animals, and learning traditional ceremonies was what fostered his place-based identity.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that our children have the same experiences as we did when we were growing up. We want them to be able to swim in our river, to drink from the river, to fish from the river.
We want them to be on our lands hunting, we want them to grow the crops, and we want them to carry on this responsibility for future generations.”
As the sun sets, the smells of freshly baked breads, pies, and cookies waft through the oven-hot house. Now, it’s time to prepare the stew and chili. Every family member pitches in to help slice meat and chop vegetables.
During feast day, the community opens the doors to its homes and feeds folks who are coming to see and participate in the feast. Large tables spread with food, like the one Yvonne and the family spent the day preparing, welcome visitors and family alike to feast on the bounty of the year.
“Each feast day is an opportunity for families to meet in their living rooms, to fire up their ovens, to come together to accomplish this really big event,” Adonis says.
“It showcases the culture of our people; it showcases the resiliency, the heart, and the commitment we have to carrying on these traditions.”
“This is as good as it gets,” Adonis says wistfully, looking up at the stunning display of stars.
“I understate how important it is to maintain this way of life. On top of all this beauty, we have this culture that’s been around for time immemorial. It’s very difficult to continue to build on these things, being far away. It’s hard for me not to live here at Taos Pueblo because I feel like I’m kind of dropping the ball on that responsibility for keeping this culture alive and protecting this beautiful place.”
But Adonis knows that his role right now is to contribute to the greater world and to have impact in other communities, but also to come back to this community and still have an impact. He also hopes to inspire others to do the same.
“No matter where we are in the world, this will always be our home.”
Photography by John Brecher; videography by Alex Benson; additional reporting by Amanda Finney and Alex Benson.