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Happy 98th birthday, N.M.

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE ­— Happy 98th birthday, New Mexico. You’re getting up there in years. What in the world are we going to do for your 100th?  The answer is not much. We don’t celebrate such things as grandly anymore. It has become so complicated. We still feel pretty free about celebrating Christmas, New Years and athletic victories. But anniversaries of events are something else. It’s not that we don’t know how. New Mexico had a huge celebration in 1940 for the 400th anniversary of Coronado’s Expedition. It was truly statewide. And it happened despite a depression and an impending war.  Our biggest celebration of all was the 1883 Tertio-Millennial Anniversary (very approximately) of European influence in New Mexico. The 45-day celebration attracted tens of thousands of visitors from throughout the nation. The Associated Press covered it daily for all its outlets nationally. How could such a huge celebration have been possible? The railroad had recently reached New Mexico and the business community wanted to take full advantage. The Santa Fe Railway was more than willing to help out with special excursion rates from major cities throughout the United States. So New Mexico knows how to party. It’s just that other things have gotten in the way.  One of those changes came in 1992 with the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. The Native American population of the hemisphere, led in part by New Mexico newsperson Diana Reyna, of Taos Pueblo, made a major impact. Reyna’s television documentary “Surviving Columbus” reminded us there was a downside of European colonization. Then there was the 1996 sesquicentennial anniversary of Gen. Kearny’s arrival in New Mexico, making us part of the United States. The Hispanic community reminded us there was a downside among Hispanics throughout the hemisphere to us forcibly taking half of Mexico.  Yes, the victors get the spoils and they get to write history. But the vanquished do remember and their voices have become louder. So our society has become more sensitive to those remembrances. It is political correctness, but it is also reality and it demands to be taken into account. Besides, 100th anniversaries of statehood have become rather common. They’ve already occurred in 46 states. So it isn’t going to get us the notice of our 1883 exposition. Our uniqueness lies in our over 400 years of European colonization. But our 1998 observance of that event didn’t get much attention either. Had a few things gone differently, we might have been celebrating our 160th anniversary of statehood this year, as California is. The United States took California at the same time it won New Mexico and Arizona. But slavery issues prevented us from gaining statehood out of the Compromise of 1850.  Presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore wanted to make us a state as soon as possible. But the more Congress observed our state, the more it felt we were too Hispanic, too Indian, too Catholic, too politically corrupt and too violent.  The January/February issue of True West magazine has a delightful feature on the violence impediment to our statehood. It is the story of a shootout between Republicans and Democrats on the La Mesilla plaza in 1871 that killed and wounded dozens. Certainly New Mexico should celebrate its centennial of statehood anyway – for ourselves, if nothing else.  Gov. Richardson issued an executive order in 2008, creating a task force to promote statehood commemoration activities in communities throughout the state.     The focus is on presenting our state’s colorful past while also imagining its future. The NMCentennial.org website lists 14 community projects already being undertaken  Check it out and get on the bandwagon.  E-mail Jay Miller at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com