Sunday, June 1, 2014

Am I Leaving Not Today

The past is never dead. It's not even past.
William Faulkner

At Jim Baca's Only In New Mexico blog I just read a comment about on online poll at the Albuquerque Business Journal that asks: "Given what you know about conditions in your field, and the economy, do you think you'll be in New Mexico 10 years from now? Why or why not?"

The reference to the poll is meant to highlight Baca's take that day on the uncertain future of the Intel plant in Rio Rancho, a major, important Albuquerque area employer. Baca often writes about the state of New Mexico's and Albuquerque's economies and the failure of our current political and business leaders to do anything about their dismal and deteriorating condition.

The poll is running about 50-50 -- half say they plan to stay and half say they'll probably be leaving -- which results may or not be surprising. Much has to do with which readers decided to take the poll and it would be considered an unscientific poll in any event.

But what interested me more were the comments left by people who took the poll. They were mostly from the people who think they'll be leaving, and a sentiment they express repeatedly is that there's a hostile, even brutal environment here. The police here, who are notorious for their brutality, are mentioned once or twice, but most see the overall culture here as being that way. They say there's not a strong sense of community here or that people are more apt to try to take from you than to help you or be cooperative.

"I can appreciate the scenery and nice weather for only so long," one person remarked.

The comments interest me because New Mexico often seems to me, too, to be a hostile environment. I meet some very kind individuals here. I also meet many who act as if they can take me or leave me, and many who, no matter how well I treat them never return the favor. I seem to be met with mistrust and suspicion, from people I don't know, every time I leave my apartment. I see a different set of manners on display here, an abbreviated set, it seems to me, but at least a set that I'm not used to and that don't make practical sense to me.

But I hesitate to characterize New Mexico according to my impressions, for a couple reasons. One is that with the overall deterioration of the "middle class" in America, the slowly eroding living standards, the economic insecurity, the foreclosures, the shifting of jobs from industrial to service, I don't know that it's not becoming more hostile and brutal everywhere else in the country, too. I think it is. It's bound to.

Another is that the idea that it's a hostile environment here is primarily, I believe, an outsider's view. I don't hear natives speak of this place in that way. The things that characterize New Mexico for outsiders don't seem to be noticed by natives. This, to my way of thinking, could be because natives accept the hostility as a matter of course -- it's always been that way and that's just the way it is. Or it could be that to them, it's not hostile, that is, for a native, either it's not hostile or doesn't seem that way.

Boll Weavil Blues

I've experienced a kind of culture shock once before, when I moved from the Midwest where I grew up to take a reporting job in the South. There I found different manners, customs and practices, and for a long time, years, I felt like an alien. Those different ways had to do, I eventually concluded, with the unique history of the South. In short, the post Civil War area was very difficult. The economy was devastated, on its knees. People survived not so much by cooperation but because the large landowners let people sharecrop on their land, and in return, were allowed by the sharecropping working people to run things as they saw fit. This is why, to this day, there's so much deference to "the boss man" by Southern working people and why they have adopted the boss man's anti union, anti government-in-Washington (which ruined the economy) attitudes and why it's a red state, i.e. a conservative, area. It's a much more caveat emptor environment than where I grew up.

Racial division, the Southern variety, as a means of social control of the white sharecropper working class, was layered over this, and the federal government's involvement in enforcing civil rights only cemented their political attitudes even more.

I was more comfortable in William Faulkner's South when I had comprehended the implications of all this, and also when I'd adopted some of their Southern manners and customs myself, even in small ways, for example when I figured out the different ways in which they greeted each other in different places and began doing that myself. I wasn't treated with as much mistrust, and hostility, and was more comfortable.

La Historia

New Mexico has its own unique history, which also has a lot to do with the way things are here. For one, it was colonized by people from a different part of Europe than colonized the parts of America I'm accustomed to, who had a somewhat different concept of community, which was more centered around a patron type of economy, and who then after 1848 had people come out here and try to take their land. There's an interesting and rich history about the struggle over the land that took place, that's beyond the scope of this blog entry, mainly because it defies my easy summing up. I don't fully comprehend it yet, but it necessarily has had lingering effects on the culture here.

NM 371 with the old road to the right

A kind of truce in the struggle was eventually called, but it was mainly between people in the upper layers of society and not among the working class, which in many ways is still very segregated by ethnicity, ever moreso as you descend in socioeconomic level. You don't see very much intermingling and intermarriage down here on the street, at all, and there's a continual low level tension, a mistrust, that sometimes is expressed in a low level of hostility or even more.

New Mexico, it seems to me, developed in relative isolation -- just look at the physical distances to other population centers and then look at the old roads, which were just pathways through the desert, that in many places are still out there alongside the paved ones -- and I think of New Mexico, which became a state relatively recently, as a remnant of the old west, not the Hollywood west but the place where cowboys wore sombreros, a place where, also, it was difficult to make a living. The background is rural, farming. In rural areas back east also, people in those kinds of communities are not the genteel country folk of myth and song. They tend to go for every advantage in every interaction, business and social, because they see every interaction as part of a struggle for survival, that only they have any control over. The population is centered in New Mexico's cities now, but the cultural norms were established earlier. There are people living today who were raised by people who were struggling to get by here as farmers and herders before New Mexico was a state. You hear people say "family is important here." I think family is community, for many people. New Mexico was once a series of land grants, and the patron economy must have had similarities to plantations in terms of the way society and community developed and were conceived of.

NM 371, right. An older road, left, took a shorter route down the hill

I've been moving around my entire adult life, always looking for someplace better, i.e., someplace that suited me better, someplace that was better for me. For a long time before I stopped here I lived nowhere. I've decided to stay here, to make my stand here, as it were. I wish it was friendlier. I wish I didn't have street punks, working class people of all ages and ethnicities, blowing by me in their cars and pickups if I drive a mile or two an hour slower than they want me to, often crossing double yellow lines to do so and making me think they're idiots for wasting all that gasoline and wearing out their vehicles that much faster just so they can do a little end zone victory dance in their head. I wish I felt like businesses appreciated my patronage by thanking me for patronizing them when I could have just as soon gone someplace down the street. Etc.

But if I don't like certain things about it here I can try to make things better. I can try to demonstrate why it's better to cooperate than compete. I can try to spread goodwill when I can. I can try to have the attitude that this, that life, isn't all about me, and that I don't know everything.

We are very self absorbed, we people. We buy self help books by the millions or if not we notice and read and listen to all kinds of things about how to improve our situation, our own life, in all its aspects; our financial status, our health and sense of well being, our peace of mind, our position relative to other peoples' on whatever concocted hierarchy we are imagining at the moment.

I spend most of my time in the same mind set, but at those times when I do find myself in a less self absorbed state of mind and reflecting on the whys and wherefores of the overall picture, I try to think of my responsibility as a member of the human race and not only about how I personally am doing relative to everyone else. People here deserve a good life, too, and I've resolved to stay here, to understand why I'm sometimes met with hostility here, to figure out their ways here, to do what I can to make things better here. I can do that anywhere. I might as well do it where there's nice scenery and good weather, in New Mexico.


  1. Excellent post. Very well thought out. Stated in a way most should be able to understand. New Mexico and New Mexican history is mostly unknown and misunderstood. It is not only refreshing but interesting and somewhat odd to have someone like yourself point out.

    New Mexicans in general and business people in particular need to understand at least some of the history. To me it seems New Mexico has always been a land that you either loved and would go through great lengths to get to or stay or a land that you could not wait to get out once you made up your mind about it.

    New Mexico is not the east, the Midwest nor the antebellum south. New Mexico is New Mexico is New Mexico. I take offence when I hear folks make rude remarks about New Mexico or New Mexicans.

    Once again, great post and thank you for the effort.

    1. Thank you, and thanks also for taking the time to read and comment.

      You've reminded me of something else about New Mexico, that I have thought about but neglected to include in the post. I've very rarely heard people refer to their status as native New Mexicans or express resentment about people moving here. Once was an Anglo woman and I don't recall who it was the other time. This contrasts with where I grew up, New Buffalo, Michigan, a small town on the shore of Lake Michigan an hour or so drive from Chicago. Many Chicago-area people owned the homes along the lake and in the lakefront neighborhoods - "summer people," we called them. Then in the 70s and 80s they began to move out there year around and also to buy houses in town and the township. Many of us "natives" resented these summer people or "Chicago people," fearing, I suppose, that our way of life was disappearing. It was one of the main reasons I didn't move back there after college.

      I've thought about that since then, and about being an outsider wherever I went. The population of the US has more than doubled since I first was aware of the number - 165 million in the 60s and now it's what, over 330 million? I read somewhere that there are three times as many semis on the road as there were in 1970. Anyway, those extra people have to live somewhere. Life is going to change. I wasn't thinking that growing up.

      There was resentment toward "outsiders" in the South, too, but as I say I don't hear here that here, only very rarely. In other words, New Mexicans are more accepting, more tolerant. That, too, is an aspect of the culture, I presume. In which people are more apt to live and let live? I don't know, but the lack of resentment toward me for not being from here is one of those things I'm seldom aware of because it doesn't happen. So thanks for that, too.

  2. Dead-on accurate assessment -- as is your response. Same 'journey' I have been taking as I start my retirement. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and for your kind comment. I like that, a journey.

  3. Me too. I'm staying. It ain't pretty but me thinks Bubba is on track when he says the rest of the country must be brutal and hostile. Not just New Mexico.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, and for hunkering down here!

  4. In Spanish, querencia describes a place where one feels safe, a place from which one's strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home. John Jeremiah Sullivan defines querencia as "an untranslatable Spanish word that means something like 'the place where you are your most authentic self.'"It comes from the verb querer, which means to desire, to want. In bullfighting, when the bullfighter prepares for the kill that will end it, a bull may stake out turf - querencia - a place in the ring where he feels strong and safe.

    1. Thank you for that enlightening comment, and for the link. That's an interesting article by Mr Sullivan. I think he's still on good terms with the in-laws.