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6:20am — Happy Birthday, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Today’s the 94th anniversary of New Mexico’s statehood.

It sneaked right up on us. New Mexico became the 47th state on Jan. 6, 1912, beating neighboring Arizona into the union by a few weeks. It wasn’t until Feb. 14 that year that Arizona became a state, rounding out the contiguous 48 states "from sea to shining sea."

Gov. Bill Richardson, along with Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, Keep New Mexico Beautiful and the state Tourism Department, have proclaimed today "New Mexico Day" throughout the state.

And, yes, we do take American money.

There’s a fascinating, if somewhat melancholy, story behind New Mexico’s efforts to become a full-fledged state, beginning almost immediately after its forcible removal from the Republic of Mexico as a result of the Mexican War. According to State Historian Robert J. Torrez, New Mexico’s citizens tried as early as 1850 to gain statehood, but those efforts were squelched in the larger politics of the time.

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In his essay "The Quest for Statehood"  from New Mexico’s Blue Book Online, Torrez says efforts to break out of territorial status were hampered for more than half a century "by a general ignorance about the territory and suspicions towards its people." Statehood was opposed for years, Torrez says, "by those who felt that New Mexico’s predominantly Hispanic and Indian population was too foreign and too Catholic for admission into the American union."

Language, too, was felt to be a barrier — and when both Arizona and New Mexico were finally given the opportunity to vote jointly for statehood in 1906, provided both territories approved, Arizona voter turned it down in large part because bilingual New Mexico might overwhelm the largely English-speaking Arizonans.  Go here for a report titled "Language Rights and New Mexico Statehood" by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

At long last, then-President William Howard Taft approved a draft constitution that made New Mexico officially a bilingual state, and at 1:35 p.m. Jan. 6, 1912, signed the proclamation admitting New Mexico to the union. "Well, it’s all over," Taft told the New Mexico delegation. "I am glad to give you life. I hope you will be healthy."

And New Mexico is still officially bilingual.

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