One-on-One with Daniel Gutierrez - Albuquerque Journal

One-on-One with Daniel Gutierrez

Daniel Guttierrez,

Daniel Gutierrez fell in love with Barelas.

A California native by way of the University of Illinois, Gutierrez arrived in the historic Albuquerque neighborhood in 2007 as part of his dissertation research on Chicano identities.

What Gutierrez found was a home he didn’t know he was looking for, and he has stuck around ever since.

Gutierrez is now head of New Mexico MainStreet, a state Economic Development Department program that partners with local groups in a “bottoms-up approach” to transform downtowns across the state. The goal is to boost business, artistic and cultural activities in those areas.

It was a natural transition for Gutierrez, who stepped aside from his anthropology studies to co-found the Barelas Community Foundation and become a community organizer there. He describes MainStreet as similar to his Barelas work “only on a state level.”

“I just enjoyed the doing more than the talking about it or theorizing about it,” Gutierrez says of his decision to move away from his academic studies. “Engaging in the work just kind of created this bigger, larger family of people. They all knew I wasn’t from there. They just kind of adopted me.”

During the pandemic, Gutierrez has been working from his Downtown-area home in an office that displays his other passions: A pool table and an array of pool cues, including several featuring turquoise insets. Also, he has stacks of sound equipment and musical instruments.

“I have 19 or 20 guitars,” he says. “Way too many.”

Which Barelas projects are you particularly proud of?

“I can point to any number of things that … I’m super proud of. Seeing the Barelas Community Gardens over by the senior center. I raised money for that. Sweating out there, putting that stuff together. That’s where I learned just from other people, community members. The first four houses over there on Seventh and Iron. All little things that I’m just so proud of. They were something I was able to do, not by myself, certainly, but contribute to making happen.”

How did you first get to Barelas?

“It’s odd how I got here because I never would have been in New Mexico if I hadn’t gone to Illinois. I’m from northern California, and I wanted to go back to California. The whole reason I left was because I wanted to be a professor, and in California … they tend to recruit if you get your degree somewhere else. That was the advice I got, so I left. When I was doing my research for my dissertation at Illinois … I was really looking at Chicano identities – just all these different stratifications in terms of Mexican immigrant, Chicano and New Mexico in terms of way, way back with Spanish groups, Indigenous groups. My adviser went to New Mexico State for undergrad and he said, ‘Have you ever thought about New Mexico?’ Albuquerque specifically because there just wasn’t a lot of research on it. At least on the topic I was looking at – cultural citizenship and identity and how people claim space.”

And why did you stay in Albuquerque?

“I would say the diversity. Everywhere I look, I see raza (the people) everywhere. You never feel like you don’t belong somewhere. And Native people included. And that wasn’t the case in California, where I grew up. We were all kind of segregated into our own areas. And the same thing with Illinois.”

What were you like as a kid?

“We started off in San Francisco, and we moved to Vacaville, which is a much smaller community. The shock of moving was just crazy because it’s a farming community. The majority of Chicanos were Mexican immigrants, so from an early age I always had an interest in identity, social justice, those type of things, and I just read all the time. I found that I read a lot of anthropology books. I would make people mad because I was always the person trying to give them the other person’s perspective instead of just listening to theirs. I’ve always just tried to understand people.”

What do you do in your free time?

“I play guitar all the time. I played in a band – the Unknown – when I was maybe 20 years old. We were kind of like a grungy Doors type of thing. And pool. I’ve been playing that all my life, too, here and there. I still play (as part of) the APA (American Pool Players Association). That’s the sad thing for me. I have a pool team, but we haven’t played since last March.”

What are your pet peeves?

“When people waste my time, or that we just talk about something and don’t do it. Meetings. I hate long meetings. Just let’s get to the point.”

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

“Leaving California, I think. Leaving family was the toughest thing, the scariest thing because you don’t have the support group you had before. You worry about your parents, you’re not going to be there for them. Luckily, I have brothers and sisters, but …”

What makes you happy?

“People, beer. I love to go to all the local breweries, even when I’m traveling. I think they’re such great places because people are very communal. I love talking to people, trying to understand people, and I think that’s part of the anthropologist in me.”

What gives you hope for the future?

“There’s so many people that want to do the right thing. Not just what’s right for them, but what’s right for everybody, even if it means they’re not getting everything. And I know tons of people like that, especially in New Mexico and Albuquerque, who I’ve met just since I’ve been here. So I’m hopeful that we’re going to keep progressing forward and not kind of fall back into hate and divisions. You don’t have to convince anybody to think like you do. Nobody’s going to think like me. It’s fine. Just try to understand why they think that way.”


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