In conversation with students at Marcos de Niza High School during "What Would Marcos See" workshop in 2009

What Would Marcos See?

In 1540, Spanish friar and ethnographer, Marcos de Niza, set out on an expedition in search of the legendary “Seven Cities of Cibola”, an empire said to have been made entirely of gold. In Arizona, De Niza stumbled across the Zuni Pueblo, misinterpreting their mud-bricked buildings for the famous golden kingdom. Although he never did find the Seven Cities, De Niza’s quest led him to become one of the first Europeans to cross the present-day Mexico/Arizona border. His detailed journal is considered one of the earliest ethnographic and geographic surveys of Arizona.

My former high school, Marcos de Niza High (MDN) in Tempe, Arizona, is named after the historical friar, and its mascot is endearingly referred to as the “Fighting Padre”. MDN is currently one of Arizona’s most culturally diverse public high schools, which includes a large American Indian population. As a graduate of MDN, I revisited my former campus and led a drawing workshop with students that explored Marcos de Niza’s controversial legacy by imagining Marcos de Niza revisiting MDN in 2009, and students surveyed contemporary campus culture through the 16th century European explorer's lens.

Page spread from "The journey of Fray Marcos de Niza (1949), translated and edited by Cleve Hallenbeck. UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

Student collage of "high school types"

Marcos de Niza High School display showcasing Padre uniforms

Students conducting research in "What Would Marcos See?" workshop

Student drawing of observed Marcos de Niza student clothing 

"Fighting Padres" dedication plack located at entryway to Marcos de Niza High School campus

Student drawing of observed student clothing

Student drawing of observed student clothing

Student drawing of "strange sleeping structure" 

Marcos de Niza High School "Fighting Padre" mural, Tempe, Arizona

Student drawing of "strange friendship ritual"

Marcos de Niza student at work during "What Would Marcos See?" workshop

Student drawing of Marcos de Niza High School life

Student drawing of "eternal fountain of water"