Sunday, July 18, 2010

New Mexico as a Cultural Tapestry at 2010 LULAC Conference in Albuquerque

I seldom try to broach serious subjects on Uncle Paulie’s World, mostly because there are so many hot-button issues in the world right now, we need a break to sit back and enjoy beautiful things like art. That said, as a former publicist for Scholastic in New York, I handled PR for one area of our Community Affairs Division dealing with Latino early literacy. It taught me the importance of parents reading with their children, which will, in turn, prepare them to do better in school and then become valuable assets to our country's workforce.

When a colleague of mine from Bromley Communications in San Antonio contacted me about attending the 2010 League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Conference in Albuquerque, it was logical for me to go and check things out. This year’s theme was “New Strategies for Community Empowerment: New Leadership Through Action”. While immigration seemed to be the hot topic on the tip of everyone’s tongues, there were some milder topics being discussed, and I was there to focus on the cultural richness stuff. 

Let it be known, though, that I attended a partnership luncheon on Wednesday, and I was very impressed and moved by keynote speeches given by Thelma Meléndez, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education, as well as Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor Hilda Solís. Both had important things to say, but it was Melendez’s talk that reminded me of the importance of getting Latino children ready for school.

Since my time was limited, I opted to attend a panel discussion entitled “Exploring New Mexico’s Cultural Tapestry”. It was a lively discussion moderated by guitarist, singer and songwriter Chuy Martínez, and featuring panelists Carlos Vasquez of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Gustavo De Unanue, Consul for the Consulate of Mexico in Santa Fe, Henry Rael, Executive Director of Albuquerque’s South Valley’s Valle Encantado, and historian and educator Rubén Sálaz Márquez. They all brought insight into the distinct diversity of the New Mexico cultural landscape and the land that is clearly a “prodigy of Spain.” I even learned some interesting facts during a discussion of Hispanic history in the "Land of Enchantment" led by Sálaz Márquez.

Did you know that it was the Hispanics who brought farming to America by way of México? Indeed, the word ranch in English comes directly from its Spanish predecessor rancho. Also, the word buckaroo, comes directly from English pronunciations of the Spanish word for cowboy vaquero. I also learned that the beautiful red flowers that we all enjoy around the holidays called pointsettias, are actually called Flor de noche Buena, which are just one of the contributions made to the United States by México. Did you know that New Mexicans were considered to be one of the three best horse riding groups? They found themselves in the same company with Arabs and the Comanche Indians. Of course, the Spanish brought the red chile that we all enjoy today via the indigenous populations of México.

One of the highlights of the panel was the brief discussion led by the Executive Director of Valle Encantado in Albuquerque’s South Valley, Henry Rael, who addressed the fact that agriculture is a huge thread that moves through New Mexican culture. Rael created a community farm in his South Valley neighborhood with the sole purpose of helping to create jobs. Historically, New Mexicans have farmed for survival, more than for business reasons, but Rael is hoping to change that by supplying consumers, who demand local products, with locally-grown produce. It’s already happening. His comrades at three community-based organizations have joined forces to create Agricultura Network, which is bringing this produce to New Mexico farmers’ markets and making a profit doing it.
One poignant moment came when an audience member recanted that her deceased father consistently admonished that “this land will probably go back to farming.” After all, it is in the roots of the people of New Mexico.  Ultimately, the goal of Valle Encantado is to grow enough to provide food for the entire city of Albuquerque—a very noble goal. ¡Sí se puede!

Rael took a few moments out his day to talk to me about this project, which is positioned to see a great amount of growth and even bigger successes. Watch his interview HERE:

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