Certain news stories can ruin my good mood. Most times I take the news in stride. Boston’s collapsing “Big Dig,” for instance, has been brought to my attention many, many, many times. Usually this is accompanied by some type of joke about me being crushed to death upon moving to the city. Hilarious.
Let’s be candid, though. It could rain concrete on me everyday in Boston and it would still be better than living in Texas.
Of course, there are other, more obscure, news stories that have some relevance to me. Allegedly medical doctors have concluded that Latinos from Northern New Mexico are more predisposed to a wide range of neurological problems (including muscular dystrophy and spontaneous cerebral hemorrhage (my father’s sister, btw, died of a spontaneous cerebral hemorrhage in her early thirties)). A couple of centuries of being fairly isolated might have resulted in my New-Mexico kin-folk being just a tiny bit inbred. Great news for GayProf!
This won’t concern me, though. I figure my mother’s Irish-American background should offset all of that. Being of mixed ancestry has to pay off here, right? Right? Medical doctors?
Of course, we have already discussed news of an Albuquerque raid on a local gay gym in the previous post. Currently, the ACLU and a local gay rights group are considering suing Albuquerque police for civil rights violations.
Another story from New Mexico, however, also invoked my full gravitas. Shortly before I arrived in Albuquerque, the city celebrated U.S. Independence Day. New Mexico has a long history of navigating its internal racial dynamics by claiming a unique tri-cultural heritage (Latino, Native American, and Euro American).
We can debate the problems of this claim some other time. Yes, GayProf understands that this vision reenforces racial categories in certain ways. I also believe that the “tri-cultural” model intentionally ignores a greater racial diversity in New Mexico (that includes Asians, African Americans, and so forth). Moreover, the Latino-plank of that tri-cultural model is often skewed to favor a romanticized (and fictional) Iberian connection. Nor does this idealistic tri-cultural model address the serious economic disadvantages symptomatic of the state’s racial divisions.
All that aside, though, the state came to the tri-cultural model after generations of racial conflict. It’s an attempt, though imperfect, to acknowledge the contributions of each of these groups and guarantee their role in the state. Unlike the rest of the United States (except Hawaii and Puerto Rico, which have similar visions and programs), New Mexico mandates institutionalized multiculturalism. This often manifests in state and local-sponsored cultural programming. On July 4, for instance, Albuquerque sponsored a celebration with three stages with performances representing the three ethnic groups (Yes, it really is often that formulaic and obvious).
Imagine my outrage when I opened the Albuquerque Journal to find a series of letters to the editor complaining about this city-sponsored event. According to these letter writers, listening to Linda Ronstadt perform music in Spanish had infringed on their Independence Day Celebrations. Seemingly all Euro-American, these letter-writers claimed that Spanish was incompatible with the United States. One such letter stated, “It is no more proper to celebrate the United States Independence Day in New Mexico with a tribute to Mexico in Spanish than to celebrate it in Minnesota with a tribute to Norway in Norwegian.” Much in the same tone, another wrote, “We came there to celebrate the American [sic] Independence Day, not Cinco de Mayo.” Likewise, a third letter complained, "Linda Ronstadt...did not sing one song in the English Language. Was I celebrating Cinco de Mayo or the Fourth of July?"
Alright, now the Right Wing is intruding on what’s mine. I grow tired of the right’s basic hatred of any group different from themselves. Why, though, do these folk need to live in New Mexico? Poor New Mexico is surrounded by states that would welcome this type of hate. Heck, Texas alone would canonize these individuals for their xenophobia.
These letter writers’ total lack of respect or knowledge of New Mexico’s history particularly annoys me. As they deploy this “Nativist”-tinged rhetoric, they conveniently ignore that New Mexico did not enter the United States willingly. Rather, U.S. imperialism brought it into the union and kept it powerless as a territory for almost seventy years. Demands to celebrate July 4th implicitly require New-Mexico Latinos celebrating their own ancestors’ subjugation to outside invaders.
Mexico’s corrupt regional military leaders abandoned New Mexico to land-hungry Euro-Americans in 1846. Mythology promotes a vision of the U.S. Army triumphantly entering Santa Fe with claims of bringing a “better life” to the inhabitants. New Mexicans, though, seemed unconvinced.
U.S. military sources reported that many people in Santa Fe wept at seeing the U.S. flag rise over the capital. It turns out, they had a reason to fear the new government. “The great principle of freedom,” Donaciano Vigil wrote in 1852, “has been so quenched out that it is enjoyed only nominally.” Despite explicit guarantees in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, New Mexico’s Latinos lost 90 percent of their lands to Euro Americans by 1880.
Even with these conditions, New Mexico’s Latino population did build a sense of place within the nation thrust upon them. Creating a unique place for New Mexico as a “tri-cultural” state became part of the way that they reconciled themselves to the invasion. They demanded recognition of their role in the state. It is this recognition which those letter writers apparently detest.
Currently New Mexico faces an onslaught of wealthy Euro Americans who descend on the state like locusts. They gobble up land and precious water in their quest for mansions and golf courses. Though they claim to “just love the uniqueness of New Mexico,” they do everything in their power to reshape it to meet their own expectations. The desert landscape doesn’t work for a good golf game, so why not just trash the local environment? The local people speak more than English? That can be changed as well. “But,” they say, “New Mexico is NEAT! You can buy turquoise here.”
Locals bitterly point to Santa Fe as the key example of the ongoing costs of U.S. imperialism. Latinos whose families had owned property in the capital city for generations could no longer afford the taxes by the end of last century. As multi-million dollar houses appeared, the local Latino community disappeared. In 1990, for the first time since Santa Fe’s 1610 founding, Latinos became out numbered by a surging migrant Anglo population. From 1970 to 1990, Santa Fe’s Latino population did not climb above 26,500; however, the Anglo population escalated exponentially, jumping from under 14,000 to 27,000. As Santa Fe became a playground for the rich, many of them brought their racist demands with them, including English-only.
While out shopping, I chatted briefly with a Latina sales clerk. For whatever reason, the conversation drifted to the new gated housing communities [sic] springing up between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. “That’s how it is with New Mexico,” she commented, “The rich outsiders buy up everything. Now you have to pay to walk on land that used to be free.”
Her resignation to this situation haunted me. It occurs to me that those on the political right are really the ones who “hate America.” They loathe acknowledging that the United States has a multi-racial, multi-lingual population. This diversity is neither good, nor bad. That’s just the reality.
Yet, the right will not rest until they ensure their narrow vision's dominance in political discourse. We can’t just passively accept that they have the authority to name the meaning of the nation state. All of us who are committed to social justice, regardless of our own racial category, needs to fight this narrowness both in and outside of New Mexico.