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A pretty young woman in a Harley Davidson tank top is describing to me in fine, enthusiastic detail the history of White Oaks, the one-time mining town and now satellite community of Carrizozo. She’s holding forth in the No Scum Allowed Saloon, where she works.
“I just love working in White Oaks, because the history is all around us,” she said.
I wanted to hug her. As it happened, a friend and I were returning from the annual meeting of the Historical Society of New Mexico held this year in Ruidoso.
Looking at its graying membership, I had wondered who will carry the torch – who will care about history?
The question took on greater urgency with the governor’s line-item vetoes of $75,000 in funding for a program of the New Mexico Humanities Council.
The legislature, after wrestling with the budget, decided to continue this modest support; the Education Governor thought otherwise.
In state-budget terms, this is pocket change, but its loss has consequences.
We’re about to lose History Day in New Mexico, a competition for students. New Mexico would become the only state without a student History Day.
On April 29 more than 250 students from schools across the state competed in the statewide contest; another 3,000 participated in local and regional contests.
Last year, two of our students won first and second place awards in national competition.
Additional fallout: NMHC just cancelled 75 Chautauqua programs already scheduled in communities around the state.
This is a kind of history on the hoof – people who speak or perform mostly in places without many cultural resources. (Disclosure: I participate in this program.)
Here’s the big one: We’re approaching the centennial of New Mexico statehood with no funding.
The governor also zeroed out funding earmarked for centennial activities through the Department of Cultural Affairs.
Can’t we celebrate the centennial without state funding? What about other sources?
Certainly, there are things we can do, but state or local governments usually seed these events, and organizers can then use this funding to leverage other monies.
The council raises money on its own, but this year the well is dry.
On a happier note, the conference took us to Fort Stanton for a half day.
You may recall that this historic post, carved from the Mescalero Apache homeland in 1855, has survived a variety of uses.
In recent years its defenders have worked tirelessly to preserve this grand old outpost. It became a state monument in 2007.
Since then ambitious plans have moved forward, with a number of government agencies stepping forward to preserve a piece of Fort Stanton – the latest proposal for one building being a retreat for returning combat veterans.
In 2008, I wrote of Fort Stanton: “Historic preservation may seem esoteric when we have so many pressing needs, but our historic places define us as communities, as New Mexicans.
They need money, but first, somebody has to care. Many people in Lincoln County care.”
Our meeting also took in the Hubbard Museum of the American West, an excellent facility whose future is up in the air.
In March the governor killed an agreement her predecessor made to take over the museum.
The Hubbards would donate collections valued at $10 million, and the state would front some $200,000 a year to help Ruidoso Downs.
Jose Cisneros, former director of state monuments, has argued that $200,000 is “ridiculously low for a museum of this caliber.”
He pointed out that the primary function of a museum is to educate. “They also engage people with their history and culture.”
I would add that understanding our past helps us define our future. We still have lessons to learn.
These piddling cuts have consequences that stunt us as New Mexicans.
© New Mexico News Services 2011