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The three-culture definition of New Mexico might be the wrong conversation.
Whoa! you say. Don’t go there. That’s an even bigger and more dangerous Box of Pandoras than seeking extensive revision of the state Constitution.
Well, true. But things change. Even the Constitution has a new bone of contention—what it says or doesn’t say about marriage. Some people care about that bone, while few care that the Constitution blocks unifying our university system.
So put the rocks away and hear me out.
A small but interesting example comes with the Spanish Market art event in Santa Fe. The market is mutating, I read. The senior event is the 62nd “Traditional Spanish Market.” It occupies the plaza. Around the corner is the 27-year-old “Contemporary Hispanic Market.” Somewhere within all this is a sensible sounding category called “Innovations Within Traditions.”
Within Hispanic New Mexico, two cultures exist: One, of the traditional northern villages, and the other, well, “Mexican,” for lack of a better word. The two are different. The majority trace to Mexico. I haven’t had the differences explained, but I trust my sources who also say that sometimes bad behavior exists between the two sets of folks.
Navajos are not Apaches and not the Pueblo tribes. Within the Pueblos there are differences, and the Mescaleros are distinct from the Jicarillas.
And anyway, what is Anglo “culture?” Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of such a thing. In any case, Anglos, by which I mean Whites, are the minority. Others are left out — African-Americans and Asians.
Ignoring change is just one of the little tiny detail problems with this culture-first, culture-only mindset. My example is a man in an economic development meeting a few years ago. He arose, gave his Hispanic name, said he was from the north and worked for a Native American umbrella organization, and then said: I’m all for economic development, just don’t affect my culture. Credit him for a concise statement of a nasty problem, a delusion driving our public conversation.
“Don’t affect my culture.” That’s impossible. Change affects everyone’s culture every day. To not deal with change is to be run over.
Chris Wilson, no conservative, nailed it in 1997 when, in “The Myth of Santa Fe,” he wrote, “The Pattern (of cultural and racial intermixing) is enshrined in the rhetoric of three separate cultures, a rhetoric that tends to heighten ethnic identification, pit one group against another, and obscure the degree of shared experience that forms the basis for common social actions.” Wilson is a professor of cultural landscape studies at the University of New Mexico.
Two paragraphs later Wilson touched on “the hybridization of the traditional with the modern, the local with the international (and this was before social media), which is necessary for the continued vitality and relevance of local culture.”
Some bubbling of new conversations seeks consideration of our shared experience and of the mixing of the traditional and modern. “Whither New Mexico?” is the question kicking around. That means “to what place or situation?”
I hope the conversations move forward. A few ground rules would help. Start with respect. Add a healthy dose of civility. Ban political talking points. Keep to the ideas.
Allow disagreement, respectful disagreement. Consensus, a la New Mexico First, means pabulum.
For a moral framework, the observations of an especially astute New Mexico offer a place to start. For Native Americans the focus is on community, he says. For Hispanics it is family. Anglos focus on the individual. To be sure, we all think about community, family and the individual. It is the order that counts.