The Rise of Las Taosenas
The most interesting element in this year’s wide-open election cycle affecting the Town of Taos, Kit Carson Election Cooperative (KCEC), Taos County offices, and 8th Judicial District races concerns the rise of the Hispanic Woman. One of the ironic benefits of the economic downturn may be an opportunity to refocus issues of political policy and public service. The typical male politico in Taos makes much of dealmaking–contracts for cuates—or power as an end in itself. He is less concerned with the care and nurture of community. Sure, the men in office can count on their own female relatives and lovers to support them against threats from “other” Hispanic Women.
Ironically, Gov. Susana Martinez is setting an example. She recently signed a new budget bill that improves salaries for state employees and allocates more money to the public schools. Her attempt to reform and draw attention to education—her photo ops and actions—contradict the nationwide Republican narrative. Personal experience has given her insight into the schools and tempered her ideas of governing. At the New Mexico Public Education Department entrenched policy is changing.
Employees with issues at KCEC or families with children in need at TMS frequently phone their elected female representatives with concerns. The men, in turn, generally pooh-pooh these “emotional” issues and punish the passionate voices for focusing attention on the failures of institutional fairness. But issues of fairness and dignity, abuse of women and children, and discrimination against the powerless in general are not just “emotional” concerns—but concerns that go to the heart of social justice and the community’s health.
We need look no further than Taos Pueblo to see the more obvious effects of male dominated society, wherein “culture” and “tradition” are used as a way for a paternal theocracy to control the general populace. The Hispanic community might be more progressive but the politicos manipulate the levers of elective office in more sophisticated ways.
Of course the Anglos complain about discrimination. Some defend the status quo or this particular politician because they have, as the native Taosenos like to say, “a Special Spanish or Indian friend.” They think they have the wisdom and knowledge of an insider because some native whispered in his or her ear. Few Anglos in the community listen to several voices and have more than two ears.
From a political point of view, Anglos as a class, serve as a useful scapegoat, as “threat” to the community and a way for political demagogues to win elections or focus attention on a particular issue. Most (99%) Anglos like most attorneys are tone deaf to politics—a vocation or avocation practiced by 99% of Hispanics 99% of the time. But, like the military, politicos frequently lose a sense of how the times have changed and new strategies are needed to achieve objectives.
The County Commissioners, my favorite and least subtle group of politicos, fell into this culturally anachronistic trap—blame the Anglo colonizers during the recent LUDC and La Martina controversies. Opponents of the LUDC raised the issue of an English only document that was based, allegedly, on Colorado (outsider) land use regs—as propaganda or a straw man–to gain time and stop the process. Due to real LUDC issues that negatively affected historic communities and, ultimately, county bungling, the preservationists won the battle for the delay.
Meanwhile the Commissioners voted for the hoary notion of prejudice and against La Martina–despite her restoration of an important historic and cultural artifact. One commissioner, a lovable eccentric, inadvertently bad-mouthed the use of Spanish for the LUDC, then voted against La Martina and called on the disagreeables to vote him out. Much as I like this eccentric, he who bad-mouths the hospitality trade and is lost in the prejudices of his lost youth may get his wish.
(Full disclosure: Some of my best friends and family members make a living in the hospitality trade. As a class, it’s the Yuppies, not the waiters, who have been screwing up America from Wall St. to the Roundhouse to Taos.)
Contrary to the greater Anglo view, neither the majority of native voters of Ranchos or members of the Coop support the prejudices of the politicos or the contracts for cuates program. The times have changed. Sure, as the Disappeared Barber likes to say, “The Chicanos will always run this town.” But machismo and Los Hitos are losing influence. There is nothing more threatening to the status quo than having more Hispanic women in office. Talk about a revolution!
Based on the record, we need more women like Stella Gallegos (TMS), Luisa Mylet (KCEC), Lorraine Coca-Ruiz, Evangeline Romero, Elaine Montano, and Darlene Vigil, or Judge Betty Martinez, who have all made their chops locally. A Southwestern studies student should write a Ph.D dissertation on the subject—something like an updated version of Suzanne Forrest’s The Preservation of the Village or How the Hispanic Women Organized a New Deal for El Norte.
Some of my favorite pop culture movies include Erin Brockovich, Norma Rae, and The Help. Check out Salt of the Earth for the real deal. Inspiration is where you find it at the cinema or in the confines of county offices.
Disclaimer: The general issues discussed above are not meant as an endorsement of any particular candidate. Women, too, oddly enough, have their failings. But the local political culture needs change and the men are boringly repetitious.