Monday, October 10, 2016

Valencia County Observations


I'm in New Mexico for a week, enjoying some time observing life in the place where I grew up. Here are some of the moments that have stood out to me about Los Lunas and Valencia County, the place where my dad calls home:

This is a rural area about an hour south of Albuquerque. The scenery is serene and classically New Mexican: wide open fields of hay and corn, grandiose cottonwoods whose leaves have started turning yellow with the changing seasons, chile roasting on street corners, and dusty mountains in the distance. In the middle of this all runs the Rio Grande, currently a small trickle because so much water has been diverted into the irrigation ditches that criss-cross the landscape. The people here are connected to the land, to family, to tradition.

Driving around I am struck by the billboards along Highway 47, which fall into a few main themes:

- DWI (You can't afford it!)
- Anti Domestic Abuse (Elders and children are our heritage, our future!)
- Pro-Life propaganda (My heart beats 18 days after conception!)
- Personal Injury Lawyers
- Military Recruitment
- Indian Casinos

Tells you a lot about the problems people face and the values they hold...

As I write this I am sitting in a café in Los Lunas (the main town around these parts) that is part coffee shop, part Christian bookstore / religious supplies, and part guitar store. It is the closest wifi to my dad's house (he has no internet and my cell signal is practically nonexistent) so if I want to check email or blog or do some work, I come here.

Culture shock is an understatement. Not only is there all the religious paraphernalia and "church people" vibe from the staff and patrons, there is the political aspect. The people here like their guns. Next to the coffee creamer is an advertisement for Concealed Carry Training. I just overheard someone talk about how Obama was the best thing ever for gun and ammo sales, that they skyrocketed because of him. Another table over there is a guy loudly voicing his support for Trump and calling Bernie Sanders supporters "sheeple" for now supporting Hilary. He's all about the government conspiracies, too, talking about 9/11 being an inside job and how he just bought a $2,000 end-of-the-world survival kit because shit is going to go down.

The scary part to me is that everyone who walks in and overhears these conversations in progress jumps in and is in agreement! Guns and Trump and anti-Obama and God are the anthem over here! It makes me reconsider where I am spending my $7 for coffee and a breakfast burrito, but then again there's no guarantee that the owner of Starbucks on the far side of town (the other wifi option) is not cut from the same cloth, even though the corporate aspect of the place might suggest neutrality.

I don't identify with Valencia County as being home (I lived with my mom in Albuquerque from ages 5 to 15), but my dad has always been here so it is familiar and full of memories. Since my mom moved to California over a decade ago, my dad's house is now my base when I come to New Mexico. While I appreciate the hospitality he and his wife extend to me, I am struck by how anthropological these visits feel. I am definitely an outsider, observing "the other," gaining heightened perception of my own views and values as a result of the contrasts.