Seeing the big picture

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Leadership Los Alamos class gets an overview of the area’s history

By Kirsten Laskey

“If you’re looking at quality of life … (and) not looking at a cultural context … you’re going to miss the boat,” said Mimi Roberts. Roberts administers the partnership between New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and the Media Arts Program at New Mexico Highlands University. She spoke to the Leadership Los Alamos class Friday at Bandelier National Monument.

So how do you catch the cultural boat? With a little bit of awareness, sensitivity and curiosity.

Apparently this is a lesson that Los Alamos is skilled in. Roberts noted last year the county applied and received an Arts and Culture District title. The program, which is part of Gov. Bill Richardson’s Arts and Culture Initiative, had previously chosen Silver City and Las Vegas, N.M., as Arts and Cultures Districts. She added Los Alamos is the first to apply and be selected for this distinction based on history as opposed to the arts. However, the title is not exclusively for history.

“It’s really competitive to be selected,” Roberts said.

Los Alamos Leadership got an overview of the area’s famous history from Georgia Strickfaden, a docent at Los Alamos Historical Museum and owner of Buffalo Tours, and Andrew Ortega, a seventh-generation Chimayo weaver and owner of Galeria Ortega.

Strickfaden took Leadership Los Alamos students on a visual tour of Los Alamos’ many transformations throughout history.

The ruins from ancient times, the quiet bucolic lifestyle during the Ranch School period before an industrialized landscape came with the Manhattan Project.

Ortega presented a hand-woven piece made by early members of his family and discussed how the parents passed their knowledge of weaving to their children. In the late 1800s, things changed, he said. The railroads brought a new market to the family and it also introduced commercial yarn, before hand-spun materials were utilized. In the 20th century, Ortega said things changed again with automobiles. This invention brought tourists to the area.

Another big factor in the area during the 20th century was WWII. “WWII changed things a lot up there,” Ortega said. He explained many would enlist in the military or went to California to work on naval ships.

Los Alamos National Laboratory was another major impact on the area, Ortega said it provided steady jobs.

So how does one respond to all this history? It’s an issue that Bandelier National Monument, which seems like a time capsule to past periods of history, is dealing with everyday.

Do you display artifacts that hold a strong significance to certain people? How do you deal with sacred places that are located in public land? What should be implemented to prevent defacing of different sites or pocketing shards of pottery?

The Los Alamos Leadership Los Alamos students put their heads together and discussed the options. One of the common solutions for many of the issues they were asked to consider was education.

This is seems to be a reasonable solution. The more that is known, the more that is understood and therefore, people will be able to accomplish more across history and cultures.