Lament for La Cultura: Part I

By: Bill Whaley
2 February, 2017

On Friday, Jan. 20th, a small crowd gathered on Taos Plaza to offer an alternative to the inauguration proper in Washington D.C. Speakers lamented the rise of Trumpery and its xenophobia, misogyny, and hostility toward decades of social progress in term of human rights since the founding of the Republic, sine the New Deal, since the Civil Rights era.

Speakers referred to the inspirational experience of Standing Rock as well as personal and new age angst.

As I approached the copper-roofed Gazebo where the speakers addressed the crowd and the crowd soon joined the speakers on the permanent stage to avoid the inclement weather, I thought of the scenes and symbols extant on Taos Plaza, where Resistance to tyranny is memorialized.

I looked affectionately at Padre Martinez, the first educator and printer of El Crepusculo (newspaper), to which legacy, guaranteed by the First Amendment The Taos News clings while transacting business but publishing little local news of merit. According to legend, Padre Martinez possessed the first printing press in New Mexico and made it available to the territorial legislature so the laws of the Territory could be duly printed and bound.

Padre Martinez has been misrepresented as the outlaw priest in Willa Cather’s novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop. According to local legend and some research he is also suspected of helping organize the 1847 Bent Massacre of the first territorial governor, Charles Bent and Kit Carson’s brother-in-law. In reaction to the Taos rebellion, the U.S. Army massacred 150 men, women, and children at Taos Pueblo and hung the alleged conspirators—guilty or not—after a show trial, according to eye witnesses.

I looked up at the American Flag, which flies 24/7, and has since the Civil War, due to Congressional authorization and Abraham Lincoln’s recognition of Unionists, who defended Old Glory against Confederate sympathizers. Kit Carson was one of the unionists who stayed up all night. Regardless of contemporary views, one can see that Trump and Kit Carson are on opposite sides of the Blue-Gray divide.

The speech I was creating in my head to add to the melancholy response to the election of Donald Trump remained stillborn because there was no there “there” i.e. no flag. The rope to the top of the flagpole was tied off but only my ghostly memory surfed on the empty breeze. I called the town and a pleasant secretary called me back, saying the rope for raising and lowering it was being replaced. The rope looked all right to me.

For fifty years off and on I have looked up to see the ragged spectre of Old Glory marking time in the breeze and reminding me of the rag-tag resistance in Taos.

The Bataan Memorial to WWII veterans still presides over the historic Plaza and I thought of the Bataan veterans I had known and talked to: Tony Reyna, Robert Medina, Dow Bond, Jack Boyer, and the others I didn’t know like Valdemar DeHerrera and Mike Romero.

But where was the Flag that used to Fly 24/7 high above Historic Taos Plaza since the Civil War? The Town’s priorities have transformed memories of patriotic citizens into consumers of Christmas cheer. The conventional electric lights worship a different Kit Carson instead of the rag-tag representative of history and those who battled to save the union.

Trump is making good on campaign promises to tear the country apart just as the Town is memorializing the immediate gratification of flash and bang illustrated by  photo ops of an adored mayor and the sound of applause at concerts for a retro rock groupie. Rather than also invest in the legacy of history, which speaks to enduring survival and concern for natural beauty and the sublime spirit of the uncanny that can’t be named but can be felt, the Town buries its head behind their behinds.

As the Cerro philosopher said so many times, “I feel sorry for Taos County.”

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