Issue 2, Volume 18
When I think about the place that I grew up it is hard for me to not wax-lyrical about my desert town. I have been waiting a long time to write about where I grew up. Albuquerque. It’s a place that asks for resilience from its residents, I mean, even learning how to spell Albuquerque is a task. For people who have never been there, it conjures images of High School Musical or Breaking Bad. For the people who have lived here, it is the smell of chile roasting in the autumn, hikes to the hot springs hidden in the Jemez during the summer, and the mountains at sunset turning so pink that they’re called the Sandias (watermelon in Spanish).
I grew up next to the Rio Grande, a river that despite its name was more viscous mud and cattails than water. In the Spring, Salt Cedars on the banks would bloom a beautiful pink that attracts thousands of butterflies in swarms. As a child I thought it was the most magical thing in the world; more beautiful than the prickly pears or the Yuccas that bloomed in my front yard. It was only during my high school years that I learned the Salt Cedar was an invasive species. As a teenager, it felt oddly appropriate to imagine that, like my favorite plant, I too was somewhere I wasn’t meant to be. Technically, I grew up in the village of Los Ranchos, a place that prides itself on its 25 miles per hour speed limit and being forgotten by time. Even though New Mexico leans Democratic, it had remained infused with traditions.
New Mexico was the 48th state to join the USA, ahead of only Alaska and Hawaii. Unlike most parts of the USA, nothing about New Mexico really changed when it became a State. The border may have moved, but the people and culture in New Mexico have changed little over the past 300 years. Growing up as one of the few white children at my elementary school, it never occurred to me to question my ownership of the culture I grew up in. Why Feliz Navidad was the first Christmas song I knew all the words to, or if there would be luminarias (brown paper bags filled with sand and a candle in lieu of Christmas lights) outside of our house on Christmas eve.
When I moved to Seattle for university I tried to explain to my friends the things I missed the most about my hometown: going to the local grocery store to pick up tamales in the parking lot from someone’s car because those are always the best, the brilliant flashes of color from the papel picado lining old town during those first crisp days of November. In Seattle, it felt strange to talk about the culture in New Mexico not because it was bland, but because it is so vibrant and unique to the rest of the United States due to the heavy influence of Mexican culture. In many ways, I have struggled to find where the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation is in regard to New Mexican culture. It is strange to consider as an adult what my role is in my own experiences. Even now, I’m working through what it means to be white and New Mexican and where that line between appropriation and appreciation is for me.
While I lived in Seattle, I was a New Mexican, but here in Australia, I am asked to speak not to the unique facet of the USA that is New Mexico but instead be a spokesperson for the wider experience of The United States. As an American living overseas in the age of Trump, I find it much easier to be assured of my opinions on any national concern than I ever was giving a voice to the New Mexican experience. I can tell you without hesitation what I think about Trump's policies and his personality, and I am more than happy to have that discussion. However, if this could be a blanket plea to the seemingly dozens of Australian boys who, without rhyme or reason, feel the need to mansplain American politics to me, please stop embarrassing yourselves.
Riley Jackson is a third year JD student.