Katie and I got the chance to take a vacation deferred last week, delayed since the shutdowns of March 2020. Exploration is how I unwind and New Mexico has been on my list of ‘go-see’ for 15 years. Here’s what I can report: New Mexico is not only fabulous and deeply interesting — it is quintessentially ‘American.’
There is a picture of the United States of America that we all have in our mind. We think it’s this sort of country, or feel it’s that kind of country, or that its secretly a third type of place. Most of the anguish we cause each other in society here in the US is because our various narratives clash into each other. All of those various narratives disconnect from reality at some level, truthfully. The US of A is a big unwieldy thing to hold in one’s mind. However, New Mexico is what America truly, actually is, I feel.
The larger culture of the States feels like a melting pot, I suppose. That’s what they tell us, right? But as a friend and New Mexico resident told me this week, it is a melting pot that likes homogeneity. It cooks everything down to a plastic, uniform Velveeta. But in New Mexico, he says, that melting pot is more like a rich, hearty stew. All the ingredients are still distinct. The flavor is complex. And on the ground in the Land of Enchantment, you can see that complexity, taste it, feel it.
So many cultures are all still solidly present in the state and intertwining like slow-growing vines around each other, but never losing their core identity. Indigenous, colonizer, Spanish imperial descendants, Yankee capitalists, folks from Old Mexico, a plethora of Hispanic peoples from all over Latin America, and, of course, tourists from all over the planet all dwell in the same space. The food, the music, my gods, the art! It is vibrant here and all the characters of the American experiment are still here, still on the ground, in the flesh, growing and changing and celebrating.
I am keen on understanding more of Native America and so spent time in those spaces, in the various Pueblo lands. No where else in the United States do indigenous peoples feel so present and so positively championed.
Now you might feel that New Mexico isn’t perfect in this regard. You’d be right — Native peoples here have had very serious struggles in the region. Those struggles continue in serious ways throughout the state and are, at times, still existential. And historically, Puebloans and other Native Americans have had to fight, on multiple occasions, for their very lives. But, compare New Mexico to a place like North Dakota, where settler populations still feed an active racism against Native Americans. Or a place like Alabama, my home, where ethnic cleansing has removed the Native populations altogether so thoroughly that people routinely ask in classrooms if Native peoples even exist anymore. New Mexico is so much different than the rest of the empire. And, in many ways, this New Mexico is a snapshot of an America of yesteryear, too, of the way it’s cities and territories used to be, perhaps. Maybe New Mexico is a path of being that America should have taken.
There’s a richness here in New Mexico, a complexity, a real on-the-ground kaleidoscope of humanity less pressured by the evil powers of white supremacy and ethnic conflict, a complexity that is more conspicuous than in other US states. New Mexico wasn’t always like this — it has had to earn this current incarnation. But, it’s enough to make you think that maybe, just perhaps, things will be okay. If you haven’t been to the Land of Enchantment, I recommend spending some time there. I was certainly enchanted.
New Mexico did not pay me to write this. But they should have =)