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A Taste of Enchantment in D.C.

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New Mexicans who live and work in Washington, D.C., have always been enthusiastic about promoting the state in the nation’s capital.

There’s something about New Mexico’s unique identity – the Native American and cowboy culture, the stunning vistas, and of course, the green chile – that captivates Washington wonks from all parts of America who are grinding it out inside the Beltway.

No group is as visible or does as much to promote the state in Washington as the New Mexico State Society, a dynamic – and really fun – group of New Mexicans who live and work in the D.C. area. The society, which includes people of all ages and political affiliations, not only represents the state’s warm personality in Washington, but it also gives homesick New Mexicans a place to socialize and network.

The group regularly hosts happy hours at restaurants and bars around the city, organizes an annual trip to the Gold Cup steeplechase horse races in Virginia, participates in public service projects and even hosts occasional congressional lectures. And if your freezer is running low on green chile, chances are someone at an NMSS event can hook you up. The society’s kickball team, which competes in games after work on the National Mall, has racked up an impressive 5-1 record against other state societies.

Coming up next month, the society is planning an extra special event in Washington: a big ol’ fiesta to celebrate New Mexico’s centennial.

New Mexico State Society President Michael Mendoza, a Las Cruces native and 2005 NMSU graduate, said he expects 150-200 New Mexicans to attend the June 20 event at the elegant Sewall-Belmont House Museum on Capitol Hill. All five members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, as well as former Sen. Pete Domenici, are confirmed to attend, Mendoza said.

And yes, there will be green chile, courtesy of Mateo’s Santa Fe CafĂ© in Dumfries, Va. New Mexico’s celebrated wines will be available, as well.

Tickets go on sale May 21. They are $25 for NMSS members and $35 for nonmembers from May 21 through May 27. After that, they jump to $30 for members and $40 for nonmembers. If you’re living and working in Washington and you miss New Mexico, consider joining the society. Dues are only $20 per year for individuals and $30 for families. You can join and check out the group’s website at www.nmstatesociety.org.

“We have something to offer for everyone and you never know who you may run into at an event,” Mendoza said.

Did you hear that a United Nations investigator looking into discrimination against Native Americans this month suggested that the U.S. government give back some of the land it took from Indian tribes to help remedy what he described as continuing racial discrimination?

James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, recently toured the United States and Indian County as part of a study of living conditions for Native Americans. According to Indian Country Today, Anaya made stops in Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and South Dakota. He did not visit New Mexico. Anaya completed his tour with a May 4 press conference in Washington.

He said he plans several suggestions in his report, expected to be delivered to the Human Rights Council of the U.N. in September.

Anaya said giving some land back to Native Americans – he cited the Black Hills containing Mount Rushmore in South Dakota as an example – would help foster reconciliation between the U.S. government and Indian tribes. The Black Hills are public lands but considered sacred by the Sioux tribes, who have refused a financial settlement from the government.

“I’m talking about restoring to indigenous peoples what obviously they’re entitled to and they have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not divisive but restorative. That’s the idea behind reconciliation,” Anaya told the Associated Press.

Anaya’s suggestion was met with alarm by some conservatives, who view the U.N. as largely anti-American and Anaya’s proposal as an absurd land grab. A headline on Fox Nation said “U.N. Goes After Mt. Rushmore.” Opponents of his proposal contend the logistics of returning land long since owned and parceled out by the U.S. government to be a totally unreasonable nightmare.

Anaya told the London newspaper The Guardian that he briefed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and some members of President Barack Obama’s administration. Not a single member of Congress, however, agreed to meet with him individually. That tells you how much chance his proposal has in America’s national legislature.

E-mail: mcoleman@abqjournal.com.

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