Connie Hernandez: A Curandera of the Heart

"It is clear within minutes of meeting her that she is incredibly devoted to her city, her faith and her little shop"

Date December 13, 2011 at 12:49 PM

Author Staci Golar

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Art Markets & Galleries Business Community Culture

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Almost every week for the past 47 years, Consuelo Hernandez, better known as Connie, has opened the Old Santa Fe Trail Gift Shop and welcomed in the public. First built by Hernandez’s grandfather as a home and grocery, the building, located on the historic Old Santa Fe Trail, was passed down to Connie’s mother where Connie and her four sisters, two brothers and parents lived for several decades. After a short stint as a ballet studio (operated by Connie’s younger sister), the place is now packed floor to ceiling with books, milagros, prayer cards, folk art, rosaries and more. Stepping inside, it feels intimate and warm, not only because it is tiny, with the kind of creaking wooden floors that only those buildings from old Santa Fe seem to have, but also because of Connie’s unassuming, gentle presence.

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While the store contains unique gifts to purchase, it might be better known for its gifts of the spirit. People call Connie every week to ask for advice. What milagro will help my sick friend? What do I buy for a first communion? What novena could we use for our dying family member? Some out of town visitors have even made it a destination on their annual visits to Santa Fe. Guidance is doled out sincerely—and for free—to everyone, no matter his or her background or faith.

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When she’s not giving spiritual advice, Connie likes to share the rich history of Santa Fe as she remembers it. Whether it’s a story about her sister offering to feed prisoners who were cleaning the streets with push brooms, or recounting how a symbol carved on a wooden post outside her father’s store indicated that those down on their luck could get a free meal, Connie is like a living history book of all of the very best parts of Santa Fe.

It is clear within minutes of meeting her that she is incredibly devoted to her city, her faith and her little shop.

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SantaFe.com: What has kept you coming back to the Old Santa Fe Trail Gift Shop, day after day, for the last 47 years?

Connie: I’m not like a lot of people who say, “Oh I don’t want to go to work!” I’m anxious to get here, and I like it, you know? This little shop began with the selling of imports; my little sister and I started it. We used to import things from Austria, Spain, France, Germany and Peru. And one time, I ordered a few religious things. They sold right away and we sold more and more. I thought, "This is what the people are hungry for, this is what they need," and so I went that way, and I’ve been very happy.

SantaFe.com: Surely you’ve met some of Santa Fe’s famous characters through the years, right?

Connie: Oh, Fray Angelico Chavez was a regular visitor. And my sisters sang for Witter Bynner who used to live up the street. He was going to have a party or something, and he was running late, so my sisters sang and danced for the people at the party. Can you imagine?

SantaFe.com: What can people find here at the shop?

Connie: La Conquistadora [the oldest figure of Madonna in the US], T-shirts, and good books about her. We also have some hard to find folk art nativity sets from Mexico, other sets by Charlie Carillo and woodcarvings by artists like Ortega, Alvarez and Larry Jacquez…We have rosaries and medals. We have a lot of interesting folk art along with the religious things.

SantaFe.com: Do you think you have a gift for helping others?

Connie: I would say more of a want, you know? Not a gift.

SantaFe.com: Well, how do you know all of the things you do in order to help people, then?

Connie: I’ve just lived it, you know? For example, I was a sacristana who cared for La Conquistadora at the St. Francis Cathedral and so was my mother, Dona Miguelita Sena de Hernandez. She, La Conquistadora, sure chose the right place to come! She’s miraculous.

SantaFe.com: I think some people think of you as a kind of curandera, what do you think?

Connie: I’m not a curandera…Well, maybe a curandera of the heart.

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Meet Connie and find unique holiday gifts for loved ones on Friday, Dec. 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Old Santa Fe Trail Gift Shop Holiday Open House (529 Old Santa Fe Trail). Two never-before displayed images of Hernandez, taken by photographer Laura Gilpin, and two bas-relief woodcarvings by Connie’s father, Jose Hernandez, will be featured. Organizers promise refreshments and surprises! Call 983-6540 for more information.

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