SE New Mexico: The Drunk Uncle Who Is Never Invited To New Mexican Family Dinners
What story can I use from my own life experiences to apply to my organizing in hopes of connecting with the community that I’m trying to serve?
For the last 15 months, that’s a question I’ve been asking myself on a daily basis. I’ve been working on my story of self and it’s been a major challenge. As an organizer, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to work on because it’s a story I want my community to relate to and this is critical.
After months of thinking about my own story, it finally came to me a couple of weeks ago during my first class with Emerge New Mexico in Albuquerque. I won’t elaborate on the specifics because I don’t want to give too much away, but the focal point of my story is me, sitting in front of the television at the age of nine years old, watching George H. W. Bush give his State of Union address and me translating what he’s saying to my monolingual, Spanish-speaking parents. As a nine year old, translating the English language to my Spanish-speaking parents isn’t unprecedented. Many families, who come from immigrant ancestry, either generations ago or just recently, experience this all the time. It’s not a unique situation. It does happen and in some places, it really pisses a lot of people off.
Roswell, New Mexico is one of those places.
As much as I love southeastern New Mexico, I can’t help but become overwhelmed with frustration knowing that a small fringe, help to define who we are as a community to the rest of the state. Although more than half of Roswell’s population is Latino, according to the 2010 United States Census, and many of which speak Spanish, there is also a zero-tolerance attitude for diversity among a very small group of people living along the the Pecos Valley.
Today, my friend approached me and told me that his mother had an appointment at a doctor’s office here in Roswell. His mother was shocked to find some questionable propaganda hanging from the door and walls of this particular doctor’s office, mostly geared to our Black President (shocker) but also a range of questionable English-only paraphernalia Neither one of us was exactly sure how bad things were, so we decided to take a drive this afternoon, down to 1600 SE Main Street in Roswell. Here, in Suite 3, is the office of Dr. Jackie Graham, MD and at the entrance of the office is this sign, which states,
We do not speak Spanish in this office. If you do not speak English or have a qualified translator to help you, we have some requirements you must meet before being seen:
- find a translator that speaks English well and will come to your appointment.
- learn the language
If you cannot do either of these
- see another physician.
My apologies for the picture and its poor quality. I took the picture with nervous hands, scared that someone from the office would come out with a loaded gun. Because you know? We liberals are all out to get your guns.
On the right hand side of the flier is a very poor Spanish translation of what is stated on the left in English.
Dr. Graham, if you or your staff need any help with that translation, please feel free to contact me and I can help you out with that, ok?
Which brings me to my point. Although I truly believe that my community has great potential because it is represented by a very diverse and wonderful group of citizenry who embrace the diversity that exists within our great state of New Mexico, we, unfortunately, also have some racists. While some will be pretty blatant about it, others will go in the direction of Brad Paisely’s “Accidental Racist” mumbo jumbo and attempt to “defend” their racism and make excuses for it.
Bottom line is that racism exists in our community and people should be called out for it.
Let’s take Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young, for example. Just a few weeks ago, he described workers at his father’s farm by saying, “My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatos.” He later apologized for using the slur, but defended it by saying, “it’s a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California.”
By the way, if you’re sitting there not sure which word Congressman Young used as the “slur,” then you’re part of the problem.
Listen, I would love to live on the planet you’re living in if you think that racism died back in the 1960s.
What I am writing to you today is real and it’s happening in our own community. A small minority of people in Roswell, wish to have things the way they were back in the day…when people of color and women were suppressed and old, white men made all the decisions.
This country is diverse and will continue to evolve into a more diverse nation as more immigrants come into this great nation. There are tens, if not hundreds of languages being spoken in this country each and everyday because every nation on earth is represented in our communities, and that is a beautiful thing. But while I think this is incredibly awesome, we have the Dr. Graham’s of the world who are frightened by this idea of an “invasion of foreigners,” who will trounce on the greatness that is “Americuh” and turn it into the third world country they left behind.
This is false.
Because it’s the Dr. Graham’s of the world, who remind me every day, that while they spew their hate, intolerance and ignorance, it’s also a dying fad. There will be a time when our children and grandchildren will never understand or comprehend how any of this could have even been possible because they will not define a person based on their race, color, gender, language, sexual orientation or creed. Instead, they will define a person on the content of their character. A philosophy that may not hold true today in Dr. Graham’s office, but does in the hearts and minds of countless others in our community, which will hopefully sustain our humanity for generations to come.