A Love Letter to New Mexico
On November 6th, my beloved New Mexico turned azure to match its skies.
I have lived here for twenty-seven years, and in all that time, I’ve felt and seen a slow progression in state politics toward justice. We have now taken the first dramatic steps to improve the quality of our representation both here in New Mexico and in Washington. I haven’t heard of any other state that turned blue last Tuesday both locally and nationally.
Instinctively, when I drove across the country on January 1, 1991, feeling as though I was taking my life in my hands, I anticipated without much proof that this enormous state, combining high mountains and deserts, with a scattered population of some three million people, was a place that had often offered a fresh start, especially to women. Nearly a hundred years ago, Mary Wheelwright and the White sisters arrived here from the East Coast, leaving Santa Fe blessed with two extraordinary museums and with a model for adventurous women finding a home far from home.
We are blessed as few other areas are with having three deeply rooted populations: first, the inhabitants of the eighteen northern pueblos planted along the Rio Grande and then the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni. These cultures have survived because of the persistent efforts of their people, especially their women, not to be cowed by poverty or obliterated by white settlers, and they continue to educate and illuminate us today.
Next came the Spanish conquerors with rapine and murder, but they also left behind their former slaves, their women and children who had not taken part in the rampage and who stayed on to form their own distinct society here. Not be confused with the later flood of Mexicans—who do all the outdoor labor here, as they do in most of the U.S—these Spanish-Americans are thoroughly interwoven, their influence as inescapable as the hourly bells pealing from the St. Francis Cathedral in the heart of downtown. They were the ones who named Santa Fe “The City of Holy Faith.”
And then we came, white people of all sorts, drawn here for many reasons from all parts of the world. We have created problems with our enormous houses, blighting the foothills, and sometimes we manage to treat Santa Fe as a holiday resort ignoring the desperate needs around us: our public schools are at the bottom, nationally, and we have a great deal of poverty and the on-going problems of the extractive industry on whom a large part of our economy depends, as well as the long-term problems caused by the nuclear lab at Los Alamos. But we also brought, at least in part, a progressive ideology that may be seen most clearly in the numbers of people volunteering to cook and serve at our homeless shelters: 2500 out of a city population of sixty thousand.
And now we have turned blue, due to tireless work on the part of volunteers who have made the phone calls and knocked on the doors that lead to this success. We have elected our first women Land Commissioner, Stephanie Garcia Richard, who will oversee more than ten million acres of public land, dealing with the contentious issues of mining, grazing and public use. She is not a rancher or an oil man, as has often been the case in the past, but an educator, and we will be counting heavily on her to protect our land.
From down south in Las Cruces, a bold young woman named Xochitl was elected to represent a conservative area even though someone I know pronounced, “They will never elect a Mexican girl”—ignoring the fact that she is neither a girl nor Mexican. Fresh and energetic, Xochitl may even manage to teach the guys in Congress how to pronounce her name.
And now we have our second woman governor, Michelle Lujan, replacing our first woman governor, a Republican who did a lot of damage.
And all our other state offices and judgeships have flipped.
I am most excited by the election of Deb Haaland, from Laguna Pueblo, who will join one other Native American woman in the U.S. Congress.
Her face is for me the new face of progress.