A dear friend told me the other day that she thinks we live in a blue bubble here in New Mexico. On the electoral map, New Mexico and Colorado show up as almost insignificant small blue squares in a sea of red, so unimportant on the national level we received almost no attention or visits during the previous election—which may be just as well. But before I give in to survivor’s guilt about being the beneficiary of blue, I want to take a minute to think why this happened.
It did not happen by chance but through the concerted efforts of many individuals over a couple of centuries, beginning with the painful adjustments the Pueblo people had to make to their Spanish conquerors and then to their Mexican conquerors, and finally to the U.S. government in order to become a state and join the Union. Those adaptations are what the rest of the world is dealing with, in better or worse ways, as people from other countries who look different, speak other languages and practice other religions flood from the places we have ravaged in our endless wars. The anger some people feel about what they view as an invasion reflects the attitude of some of the Native people we invaded—but they found a way of adjusting and accommodating without losing their languages or their religion, as I see in every Catholic church alongside every traditional kiva in our eighteen northern pueblos.
There really is no other way to survive, and ultimately to thrive, which is why I was so alarmed last night to hear friends say they would now be wary of Googling The Koran. We can’t get anywhere without understanding what seems strange, without fear of repercussions. Since so few of us have even a dim idea of what the Koran contains, to be self-prohibited from learning about it seems to me a disaster. It’s the first step toward adapting to a totalitarian state.
Tolerance grew here because of an extraordinarily diverse cultural community, a little city where gay people have been a part of the mix for decades, where women considered eccentric elsewhere found our niches, where adventurers of both genders added their salt to the recipe. We have generations of women writers, and whether they are now forgotten doesn’t matter, generations of women artists, and, to make it work, generations of cultural patrons, many born elsewhere, who support our six museums, our performing arts center and our many musical events. None of this could have happened in the many places where wealthy people, transplanted from elsewhere, feel no obligation to support their community, the excuse being, “I gave in Dallas”—or wherever.
The other cause of our blueness is the nature that surrounds us, that I relish every day within a few miles of the city limits. When Pip and I go hiking, I have for a least a few moments, the open mind that only space brings. Our trail system, ably maintained by volunteers, our state, and national forests give us all that space, to breathe, to think, to open.
Another essential element is provided by the plethora of non-profits that have grown and flourished here over the years. Whether their budgets are in the hundred of thousands or in the millions, their presence reminds us of the vital needs we might otherwise ignore: to feed the hungry, the house the homeless, to protect the rights of individuals, to do all we can to prevent our immigrant population from being swept away, to give shelter to our Muslims, especially to ensure that the reproductive rights we fought so hard for decades ago are not ruthlessly destroyed. None of this work could be done without the hundreds of volunteers who keep these not-for-profits rolling and the people who support them.
Finally, although New Mexico is considered a poor state, it has provided a rich base for women entrepreneurs. More small businesses are owned by women in Santa Fe than in any community of comparable size. This is what commercial life may look like in decades to come: small, handcrafted businesses that produce handmade goods that cannot be bought in big box stores.
So our blue bubble, just possibly, may be where we are all heading as we fight our way our of this crisis.
At least I hope so.