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In troubled times, we can celebrate cultures of NM

Reynaldo ‘"Sonny" Rivera’s sculpture "La Jornada" commemorates Don Juan Oñate and the Spanish colonization of New Mexico. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Reynaldo ‘”Sonny” Rivera’s sculpture “La Jornada” commemorates Don Juan Oñate and the Spanish colonization of New Mexico. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

I am horrified that a shooting recently occurred at a protest near Old Town. I pray each day for the victim. The events that gave rise to the shooting remain on my mind, and the heavily armed militiamen who intimidated protesters trouble me greatly.

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland

Americans are acting to do right by our communities of color. Massive protests across the country push for change to rules and laws that govern policing. I’m inspired by this movement as I work in Congress to pass strong and effective legislation to treat everyone with respect. Additionally, root causes of these injustices go well beyond law enforcement and are manifest in systemic racism that excludes communities of color from experiencing the true promise of this country.

Both Hispanic and Native Americans have experienced systematic racism. Native children were carted off to boarding school, separated from their families. Generations of Hispanic students were punished for speaking Spanish in school. But we haven’t allowed those injustices to derail our drive to move our state forward.

We acknowledge that Don Juan de Oñate perpetuated murderous acts against the Pueblo Indians and influenced others to do likewise. As a result of Spanish colonization, many Pueblo Indian villages were decimated. Franciscan priests Catholicized us and enslaved my ancestors. As New Mexicans, this history belongs to all of us, and we must work together to heal and move forward.

During pueblo feast days, our homes are open for everyone to share a meal and join conversation at the table. It’s not lost on me that pueblo feast days are Catholic saints days. We have mass, honor the saints from the church, and we dance, sing, and pray. We care for our mission churches as if they were our own homes.

Our feast tables are flush with traditional pueblo oven bread, which we have because the Spanish brought both wheat and hornos. Our families raise cattle and sheep, which are part of the cultural exchange of our ancestors. Squash and corn, pueblo farm staples, are cooked into calabacitas that seemingly every Hispanic household calls their own. Our food makes our state unique, a combination of Spanish and Pueblo Indian.

I know our history is painful, but we are all New Mexicans, and we accept each other into our families, we work together and converse in each other’s languages. When I sit down with Spanish land grant communities, I feel like I’m sitting with my aunties, uncles and cousins because we share history and deep spiritual connection to the land.

Should we remove statues of Oñate? Perhaps we should erect statues of local heroes who have been a strong voice or remedied injustice. Would removing the statues erase the pride that Hispanic communities should feel? No, their generations of families have made our state what it is today. We all should be proud of the Hispanic heritage in New Mexico.

We are in tumultuous times. Native, Black and Hispanic communities have the highest rates of coronavirus per capita; Asian American communities face racist attacks. Stark economic inequities abound. Some Native communities face 40% unemployment, and some Spanish land grant families have an average annual income of just $16,000. We are in the same struggle to lift up our communities and demand the health care, education, and equity that all our children deserve. We must be united.

When I ready myself to dance for feast day, I don’t think about the injustices my people faced centuries ago. I think about being in the field with my grandfather, picking worms off the corn and helping him irrigate. I think about my grandmother making homemade blue corn tortillas, and the deep friendships I have made across this state and how I cherish them all; I have to believe that many of you think about those things also. This is our state, and we must celebrate who we are: New Mexicans.

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