Decolonizing New Mexico

Remembering, Reimagining and Recovering


On the home page of this site is displayed a photograph by Miguel Gandert. It was taken in 2006 in the Fiestas of Santa Fe. On the surface it shows three children who are perhaps community participants in the annual Fiesta. The young girl in the background is wearing a tiara, imagining herself a participant in the actual royal court of the Fiesta. In the forefront two young boys are pictured, each clad in plastic armor, including the iconic conquistador helmet. They are all not only caught up in the performance of identity, but in a narrative wholly encompassing of the violence of conquest. Children all over the world have long enacted winners and losers. There is, however, something more painful here. In this photo I see the whole of historic trauma, children who do not know the beauty of their past. As with every photo, there is context that is unseen and this image is evocative of how deeply entrenched the narrative of a community that was imagined long ago remains so in the present. It is, for me, perhaps one of the most poignant representations of the tremendous harm that exists in our communities. This image reveals the complexity of the issues at hand.

Being proud of a cultural and ethnic background should not be dependent upon a story of domination, whether for children or adults. Beyond simply the performative element underlying colonial domination is the issue of identity, the complexity of which is completely erased or obscured in the symbols, language, events, sites and narratives that say who we are. The reflections in this website are my way of contributing to a process to recover a fuller, deeper, more complex understanding. In this way, several issues remain definitive as we work toward a collective vision for future portrayals of history: certain interpretations of the past are not defensible and cannot withstand any standard of historical credibility; while colonialism served the colonizers, it did not benefit those who were dispossessed of their stories, including both Hispanos and Native American people and their heirs; and the representation of these people, including the deeply flawed “tri-cultural” framework, monuments to individual colonizers and the unsound understandings of identity that have long defined the populations of New Mexico, obscure the complexity and diversity of these historic and contemporary identities.

This work will require both imagination and hope, the one thing that remained at the bottom of the jar opened by Pandora. Every thing in New Mexico is different, of course and this Greek tale is here perhaps even more complicated. Indeed, Governor Bruce King, once said of a legislative proposal, “That will open a whole box of pandoras.” It may, but in optimism, I recall the 2008 work of` the renowned philosophy scholar, Jonathan Lear, who in “Radical Hope,” writes about Crow Nation Chief Plenty Coup leading his people through traumatic change with “imaginative excellence.” I am not naive to understanding that addressing historic trauma in all of its many manifestations, tangible and intangible, is more than simply a story of hope or the metaphor of aspens, but it is a frame that I believes gives us a start. It is the type of work that will also require time and energy. My goal in this website is to provide a platform upon which to build, to advance this effort, moving from a critical understanding of how historic trauma is revealed to transforming it; and from that transformation, to reconciliation and finally healing.

an image of a stand of aspen tress as seen from the forest floor

There is no way to fully measure the depths of the cultural wounding that came from colonialism and imperialism. While statistics in part measure the impact of the devastation, particularly of poverty, homelessness, suicide, hunger and a devastating dependence on drugs and alcohol, none fully capture the harm to the spirit of a community as whole, especially when calculated across multiple generations. As I think about the idea of a cultural wounding, at the metaphorical level, the ravages of a fire that impacts a forest comes to mind; and how over time, there is also healing from the conflagration that occurs organically.

In this way, another metaphor that has become meaningful in my work, particularly around trauma, is that of a grove of aspens, which offers a way of thinking of our community around three key concepts: roots, resilience and radiance. Roots provide an opening for dialogue about being and belonging to a community, but also about connectedness. While a grove of aspens appear as separate trees, it is actually one huge organism linked by a single root system. Resilience describes the capacity of our community, to navigate through experiences that devastate; and similarly, though at first glance, aspen trees appear as picturesque, what should not be lost is that the grove’s very presence reveals a forest healing following a disturbance to the land. Lastly, to experience the Radiance of a grove of aspen trees, to hear their “quaking” leaves whispering and responding to the wind —a sound like no other — or to absorb the magnificent sight of the grove, standing resolute and alive in all seasons, nourishes the body and soul, but also serves as a reminder of the very nature of life - beautiful and always changing. I think of the quaking also as an aching consciousness, rising voices and an emergence. In summer, aspens capture and reflect the sun, only to reveal a majestic performance in the fall, sunset colors that were there all along, hidden only to the naked eye, a process that we describe as the leaves “changing.”

New Mexico is more than metaphors, however, and more than the stories that are compounded daily by long-standing and ongoing challenges. Emerging from these realities will not only take a time and energy, but will require imagination. The people of this place hold tremendous wisdom and a history, all of which reflects the possibility of transcendence. The velocity of this imagination defines the promise of our humanity, not just the delicacy, but the strength of what we do to collectively change what we are.

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