11 July 2007

Looking south (and deeply)

One of the attractions of living in New Mexico, as opposed to elsewhere in the United States, is that our geographic and cultural perspectives are titled south as well as east or west. The historical development of the United States has traditionally been viewed as occurring east to west with the arrival of the European immigrants and their movement west across the continent in the fulfillment of the nation’s “manifest destiny.” That perspective, however, fails to account for the people who were already here and had to be removed or exterminated to make room for westward expansion, Mexicans and others from the south and Asians from the west. Most of the country still looks to the east (New York City and eastern seaboard) or West (California and the “Left Coast”) for direction or the standards by which to define themselves (often against).

It’s a little more complicated and hell of a lot more interesting in New Mexico, the state with the highest percentage of Hispanics and the second-highest rate of indigenous Americans after Alaska. Nineteen Pueblo Indian reservations, two Apache tribes, and parts of Navajo Nation are located in New Mexico. We are as likely to look south to Mexico, the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean or deeply into the Southwest, as east or west for insight.

That became especially evident in the music when I arrived in Albuquerque last month after almost a year in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. Latin jazz, hip-hop, tejano, ranchero, banda, Brasilian, norteƱo, salsa, merengue, cumbia, Cubano, samba, folk and whole host of urban Latin pop music is part of the daily public and private airwaves. “The African Presence in Mexico” is a visual art exhibition currently at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in ‘Burque. “How the West is One” is a show of multicultural New Mexican art at the state Museum of Art in n Santa Fe. The International Folk Art Market is this weekend in Santa Fe and when I arrived last month the Festival Flamenco Internacional was in full swing.

Meanwhile, Billy the Kid, one of the nation’s most famous outlaws, is the subject of the “Dreamscape Desperado” exhibit at the Albuquerque Art Museum. The Kid, alias William Bonney, has been the subject of more than 60 films (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid with a soundtrack by Bob Dylan is among the best). The Kid was said to have avoided capture in the late 19th century because he was well accepted, and often protected, by the Nuevomexicano locals. The Kid was also reputed to have had a weakness for Hispanic women, a fate that has befallen many a gringo in these parts.

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