MI PUEBLITO

CLAIRE  O’BRIEN 2011

Realmente no es mi pueblo,  y no es tan poco.

It isn’t really my town and, by New Mexico standards, it isn’t really little.

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 7,500 people live here, but since there are towns of four, six and even just two or three hundred and less in this region, it isn’t as small as it would be in other parts of America. It is also the county seat, which makes it even bigger, but the presence of Las Cruces an hour south, and El Paso/Juarez 30 minutes beyond it, prevents “my” town from getting too big for its britches. Okay, it’s a little big for it’s britches, but that’s good because it’s poor.

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BLUE AND BLUE / CLAIRE O'BRIEN 2012

BLUE AND BLUE / CLAIRE O’BRIEN 2012

Old, small mountains surround the town, covered with tough desert vegetation. The huge sky and the particular quality of the light make the barren mountains seem softer. They aren’t really barren; in fact, they are brimming with life, but they are tough. One doesn’t just go a-wandering up there – desert mountains are nothing at all like the lush mountains of the east nor the practically tropical Ozarks. What grows here is incredibly important – it holds down the loose sandy soil, and deer, rabbits, lizards, snakes, and feral hogs eat it. Coyote and mountain lions eat them.

THE MYSTERY OF GAS STATIONS / CLAIRE O'BRIENH 2012

I’m perched here indefinetely, having made the town the center of a sort of rectangle I want to tell a story about: from Juarez to Santa Fe, and from the western third of the Oklahoma panhandle as far west as – I haven’t decided.  So far, I’ve only crossed the southwestern New Mexico mountains.043

When I first came to the town, I thought most of the people were Anglo, but 80 percent of them identify as Hispanic. They are Spanish-Americans, descended from the Spanish colonists who trailed after the Conquistadores. There is a certain element of racism in this identity, but it has been significantly eroded by the broader racism of American culture, which lumps everyone named Gonzalez, Garcia, Montoya, Hernandez together and thinks that Madrid is somewhere in southern Mexico.

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 Other people in ‘my’ town are Latinos, descended from both the Spanish colonists and the Native peoples of  Mexico and New Mexico. A significant percentage of the latter claim a sole Apache identity, although almost everyone here speaks Spanish.

The land in the county is either public, or it is owned by descendents of colonists – Yankee or Spanish -who grow huge crops of chile, quite a few walnuts, and produce much of the hay needed by the cattle.  It’s hard to imagine how anyone came up with the idea of  raising cattle for beef here, because the cattle must be fed year round. In between rounds of hay, the cows destroy the land, mournfully grazing it into dust – because grazing animals must graze.

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    Most of the rest of the town, ie, the non-landholders, are poor. The city workers earn about a dollar above minimum wage, and it seems as if everyone is on food stamps. There are an amazing five housing projects – that’s a lot of projects for a community of 7500. The case worker assigned to one of them told me that although he works another job, his family of four children is still eligible for food stamps.

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EDDIE MONTOYA

The dense political life of the community is complicated and outrageous enough to satisfy any reporter who has covered Chicago politics. People have little patience with those who preach about corruption. As an Irishman from Boston, I’m right at home with this kind of political machine. From a working class perspective, it’s the kind of corruption viewed as equity.

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Hay Farm 2012-07-10 009 (1024x676) (1024x676)

I don’t know what kind of story I am going to tell. I’m just learning the contours of the land and trying to pay attention to everything around me. There’s a story in every shift of the desert light: you just have to pick one.

ALL PHOTOS BY CLAIRE O’BRIEN 2012

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30 thoughts on “MI PUEBLITO

  1. Nice work, as usual. Last year I travelled across Canada to promote a book, and found all too often that our small towns are suffering as yours seems to be from neglect and decay. In my own village, graduation from high school means having to leave if one wants to work. The new culture of the 21st century seems to be urban-centric, where all the political power resides now, and these elites have no interest in “middle America” or small-town Canada. We’re hoping that will turn around in Canada with PM Trudeau but we’ve had a decade of devastation from Canada’s version of Trump, Stephen Harper, to recover from. That’s a helluva lot of damage to repair. At least there is hope now, the first I’ve felt for my own country in a decade. But it’s arguable whether the collective entropy of collapse in industrial civilization can be turned around at this late stage.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s no population to warrent elite interest as far as they’re concerned. Sometimes land factors have enough economic interest for small towns to squeeze a bit of help from them. What makes me sad is when it turns out that no one owns any of the land that surrounds their community.
      Was your guy really as bad as Trump? That’s hard to believe! Trump is hard to believe too. I mean who is really like that? Cape Breton Island has invited Americans to immigrate if he wins. But I know they’ll only make it possible for rich people. Fuck ’em. That makes Canada just like us. If you have to have so much money, you might as well just invite Trump himself.
      I’d love to drive across Canada. I imagine the middle looks much like North Dakota, which I’ve driven across – Nebraska, Minn.? I never get lonesome under a huge sky. Are the people reserved but quite kind? That’s true of North Dakota, but it may be different for a woman. I love barns, grain bins, silos and tractors.

      I don’t hold out hopes for the kind of recovery you describe. Both our nations turned a corner with no way back. But maybe rural areas can become self-sustaining.

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  2. My aunt owns a motel in Chama – last time I was there was 2012. New Mexico is absolutely beautiful and you’ve done a brilliant job of capturing the diverse beauty of it’s landscapes, communities and people. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ‘What grows here is terribly important..’loved this statement of yours about the seemingly barren hillsides around the village.The colonial legacy is interesting as across the world in India, I live in Goa which was a Portugese colony and where many people still speak Portugese, at home, and baroque Roman Catholic churches dot the landscape.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bom dia! Obrigado por suas amáveis palavras.

      Imperialism’s legacy is so complex. Overall, it’s been a devestating scourge. But when you take something like language: people make it their own. For most of Latin America, Spanish was long ago transformed into a deeply rooted expression of cultures that have little substantive relationship to European Spain. Do your churches still have Catholic congregations, or do the Hindu and Muslim (and Bhuddists?) preserve the churches for their beauty?
      Obigado y Adeus!

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      1. Goa does have a sizeable Catholic population and the churches are very much in use. The Portugese also brought the Inquisition to Goa which caused much sufferring to both Hindus and newly converted Christians. However that chapter is long closed and now both communities live in amity. Interestingly, it was a Pope (Pius?) who divided the world into halves and parceled them to the two Catholic Empires, the Portugese had the Eastern Hemisphere and the Spaniards the Western hemisphere, to avoid any clashes.

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    1. THANK-YOU! I have noticed that everyone who wants to come to New Mexico eventually DOES: it’s a possible thing. Especially in rural areas and NOT near Santa Fe/Taos, it’s so affordable (we only have two cities in NM anyway.
      Let me know when you are coming so I can drop by and pester, I mean welcome, you when you are trying to write. Hee hee (-:

      Liked by 1 person

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