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New Mexico Marks Centennial

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Give her a minute, and Frances Armijo has no problem ticking off, one by one, the things she loves about her native state, New Mexico.

The arts. The clean air. Don Diego de Vargas. And, of course, red and green chile.

“The music, the colors, the arts, it just brings joy to your heart,” Armijo said.

She showed her love Friday by attending a “birthday party” for New Mexico at the Capitol. The celebration, complete with six large sheet cakes, commemorated 100 years of statehood for the Land of Enchantment.

New Mexico officially joined the union as the 47th state on Jan. 6, 1912, when President William Howard Taft signed the statehood legislation.

One hundred years later, Gov. Susana Martinez declared to the Capitol crowd, “the beginning of the second century of statehood offers an opportunity for all New Mexicans to envision the future and strive to realize new achievements in education, economic development, cultural expression and social well-being for the people of New Mexico.”

Her vision was part of a proclamation celebrating the 100th anniversary. Martinez also proclaimed the day “New Mexico Centennial Day.”

The birthday party was just one of several events that kick off the state’s centennial. Other happenings Friday included the issuing of a special U.S. postage stamp at the New Mexico History Museum and a Grand Centennial Ball.

And Armijo wasn’t the only New Mexican ready to declare her devotion to her home.

Recent transplants Joe Abbatacola and Joann Toms, camera in hand, said they came to the birthday party because they wanted to “be part of the celebration.”

The couple said they haven’t looked back since packing up their car and moving to Santa Fe from Chicago two years ago.

Abbatacola praised the Land of Enchantment’s beauty and “healing” abilities, but said the kindness of its residents might just be the best thing. “The people are the nicest I’ve ever met,” Abbatacola said.

“Even though we’ve only been here a short time, two years, we feel very connected to New Mexico. It’s a special place,” he said.

Claudia Gabaldon mused that she hoped the year ahead celebrating the centennial will provide a boost to a culture that she says has been a little bit lost in recent years.

“We can grow but we can still value our culture, our roots and where we come from,” Gabaldon said.

Down in Las Cruces, all that was missing was a birthday cake topped by 100 candles.

The city marked the state’s entry into the Union a century ago with a re-enactment of the Oval Office ceremony when President Taft signed the proclamation granting New Mexico statehood.

The Ohio man who portrayed Taft repeated the words the president reportedly said, like a proud parent, after he signed the proclamation: “Well, it is all over. I am glad to give you life. I hope you will be healthy.”

About 500 people attended the re-enactment at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, which has an exhibit of historical items in recognition of the centennial year.

Seated at a desk on a stage in a museum auditorium, the actor portraying Taft was surrounded by a group in period dress portraying the small group of New Mexico and federal officials who witnessed the signing.

After Taft’s signing ceremony a century ago, the departing territorial Gov. William J. Mills received notice by telegram that statehood had been accomplished after decades of delay. According to a panel on display at the museum, Mills called his daughter to the capitol to raise a 47-star flag, New Mexico represented by the 47th, to symbolically announce that New Mexico was a state.

On Friday, to mark the occasion, the Mesilla Valley choral group Voz Vaqueros led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday, New Mexico,” first in Spanish, then in English, in recognition of a state that is officially bilingual.

“And 100 more,” Voz Vaqueros director Gerry Schurtz said to the crowd.

Rene Romo of the Journal’s Southern Bureau contributed to this report.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal