Taos Local: Strong at Heart

By: Bill Whaley
31 October, 2017

In an effort to answer questions of private angst and worrisome public stats, the lists and graphs posted on the walls of the old County Courthouse last night, suggested a grasp of community issues, expensive housing, poor pay, rural decline, lack of employment, the need for more compassion and fairness and more representative government with transparent politics, and better community relations among the natives and newcomers, which might solve these problems and implement solutions.

Indeed the facilitator mentioned that Vision 2020, the Town’s previous 1999 planning analysis listed many of the same “problems.” Since then a former town planner mentioned several similar gatherings aimed at resolving the same issues, including the 2012 community charettes and others.

With the exception of some Town Council members (one non-native County Commissioner), I saw no active native Hispanic community leaders from the Town or County, not to mention the absence of representation from Taos Pueblo (though there was a rumor that a young person from the village was present). There was a scattering of ten or fifteen Hispanic individuals with varying degrees of association with community among one hundred newcomer Anglos, also with varying degrees of connection to Taos, some years in the making, most not so much.

Though this process has been ongoing for a few months when I asked the facilitator about “outreach,” she mumbled about email, phone calls, media but seemed flummoxed or unfamiliar with the kind of intimate community relations familiar to Taosenos, where decisions to attend meetings are frequently based on who asks. Perhaps my question was unfair and my skeptical attitude might be considered cynical.

In Taos, its not about who shows up at meetings but about specific relationships or Querencia (affection for place), the oral culture and timely particulars that point toward the idiosyncratic creative and political expression of the people in response to the land, culture, and the zeitgeist or spirit of the times. But the responses are always peculiar and unquantifiable.

At this time in America when the elected representatives in Washington D.C. seem focused on a center that might not hold, Taos hosts a roiling and diverse people whose surprising survival skills in this retreat present an antidote to the mainstream angst. The culture retains its effect in one-on-one conversations whether at a used clothing store, tattoo parlor, yoga studio, village cantina, repair shop, grocery store line, studio or gallery, government office or utility, or while talking with someone fixing the plumbing, electricity, broken window, drinking coffee, or dining out. Best of all, attend a memorial service where history lives and one gets to know the departed better than he or she knew the living.

You can’t reinvent a community that already exists, whose people don’t like going to meetings. Taosenos are a stubborn people and you might not like the way it is but that’s the way it is.

The existing “community” in Taos, a mosaic of subcultures, families, individuals, whose communities, villages, neighborhoods, and political subdivisions whether Taos Pueblo, TSV, acequias, water and sanitation districts, schools, churches, local government, Town and County, municipal and charter schools, the so-called Electric Coop, endless numbers of non-profit agencies, state and federal agencies, fly fishers and rafters, artists and musicians, etc. etc. etc. form the community. (In one of my classes in university about Taos we once counted between 55 and 75 villages and neighborhoods, depending on criteria.) As for the above entities there are myriad cross-cultural and mixed familial relationships among neighbors, family, and friends employed or otherwise.

During the latest round of Fall Arts there were more events and openings than any single person could attend. From Pecha Kucha to Anita Rodriguez’s Quecha salons to neighborhood association meetings, more or less active, to community and Church groups that feed the hungry, the Taos community sprawls, bobs and weaves as the battles among families in neighborhoods heat up and cool down, while the famous and infamous drink craft beer and sip espresso side by side. And all this recognized as the home of luminarias and farolitos by U.S. News and World Report as the third best place in the world to spend your Christmas vacation. It seems as if we, per Karina and her p.r. colleagues, are doing the best with what we have.

The desultory stats which measure poverty and hunger don’t measure the hard-scrabble survival skills, wherein generous family members and friends, where acts of kindness keep body and soul together beneath the radar despite the emptiness, which is manifested in violence and crime, wherein, yes, some of our vecinos are criminals, whether of the blue collar or white collar variety. So what?

Strong at Heart’s expression of mainstream existential angst suggests its own misreading of what this community is. Despite the current changes and apparent transformation as native Hispanics, the majority culture, abandon Taos for urban lives, a kind of tragic arc, we are all witnessing per the decline in participation of electoral politics, yet, the natives also, both young and old, return and not just to celebrate Fiesta but to take their historic place whether in the surprising role of native visitor, retiree, second homer or diver’s license applicant. Taos Pueblo has endured for more than a 1000 years and plans on keeping on, keeping on “time immemorial” permitting.

Sociologists, planners, and economic development specialists analyze stats based on “calculations,” which as we know from experience do not work in New Mexico or the Soul of the Southwest as General Lew Wallace told us. Like Taos Pueblo, greater Taos has its spiritual pattern of death and rebirth, cycles of ups and downs. Planners and facilitators appear and depart. The documents left behind gather dust but as Shakespeare said, Hope springs eternal in the human breast. The Bard also mentioned that the Bridge waits for you to choose to be or not to be.

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