Sister states! Noble pair in the great Southwest! Texas and New Mexico. Should be friends, compañeras, parecidas (meaning, “similar”). But often, not so much. I shall explain, through the telling of the story of my recent trip to Albuquerque.

On a previous skiing trip, Santa Fe basin, I encountered a fellow skier with a sweat-shirt featuring a cartoon of a risk-taking skier, zooming down white-with-snow Sangre de Cristo, knocking down trees and other skiers. The emblazoned caption read: “If God Had Meant for Texans to Ski, He Would Have Made Bull-sh** White!” I sensed some tension.

After this latest trip there is better news to report. Tensions have eased, but problems (e.g., how to share precious waters from the Pecos River, or the Ogallala Aquifer) remain. But travel, personal and family relationships are more numerous and more important than ever. So are notable differences. New Mexico boasts spicier Mexican food. New Mexicans call themselves Hispanics or Hispanos. Texans call our Mexican American population, well, Mexican Americans, or sometimes, (depending on the individual) Chicanos. Other differences? New Mexico is the winner, by far, in terms of progressive attitudes and leadership, especially in areas concerning civic policies.

The new New Mexico now hosts “The Most Expansive Higher Education Program in the Nation” (Ayisha Qamar, Daily Kos, 10 Mar 22). Their Governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, signed last Friday the “New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act.” It waives tuition for any in-state student at a public community or tribal college. Lujan said “we send a clear message to citizens of New Mexico that we believe in them . . . and in their families and in our future.” (She just reduced taxes; balancing those goals may prove difficult.)

Lujan is also an environmentalist, supporting New Mexican claims to their rightful share of the vast, but disappearing, waters of the Ogallala Aquifer. She must do so, for her state and for the nation. That is, after World War II, industrial-scale extraction replaced windmills, transforming “Brown to Green,” turning one of the poorest farming regions of the US into one of the wealthiest.

That “massive underground water source feeds the middle third of the country.” It supports the “Breadbasket of the Nation,” and should not be allowed to dry up further (Jane Braxton Little, “Ogallala Aquifer: Saving Vital US Water,” Scientific American, 1 Mar 09). Many Texas leaders appear not to “get it,” or do not take threats seriously enough. They often disparage environmental leaders and their concerns about diminishing sources of water or the need for alternative sources of power to oil or coal.

Also, I learned: the economy does not have to suffer, due to expenditures for the environment—or for art. All those important values can co-exist. The City of Albuquerque benefited from the leadership of my co-host and friend from UT graduate school days, Alan, PhD. and retired UNM Professor. During his time on the City Council he led a drive for the “One-Percent Policy,” funding large standing public works of art. They now exist, on full view for appreciative citizens, all over the city (viz: photo of “Globe of Fish,” alongside a lake reserved for “Children’s Fishing,” by the Rio Grande River, which flows through town.)

Other good friends, and other co-hosts—I shall call them Dan and Susan – are active in religious and civic projects. I attended their community church, “Hope,” in Albuquerque. Evangelicals are strong in New Mexico; many a sign along the highway to Santa Fe, asked if I was “Washed in the Blood of the Lamb.” An outsider, I felt welcome and was in wonder over the original songs, sung to full rock band, with big screen and extensive musical technology—sort of a mini-mega-church.

I responded to the clever sermon by the young visiting minister. He spoke of Jesus as the new, better “Joshua” (same name, translated from Hebrew to Latin). The idea was Jesus’ teachings of peace and acceptance are preferable to following the violent mode of the old Joshua, blasting down those walls of Jericho by force. This is perhaps another example of contrast of New Mexicans from more right-wing Evangelicals of, say, Dallas.

In other ways, citizen involvement has produced sound results for New Mexicans. Chief example: studies show the State, Bernanillo County, and Albuquerque have profited from the filming of the hit television series, “Breaking Bad,” through increased tourism. A more serious contribution is by Alan’s gifted spouse, Shari. She is with Temple Albert. Members, with the three other synagogues, built and maintain the well-curated Holocaust and Intolerance Museum of New Mexico, downtown Albuquerque. (The synagogue, with its many Hispanic members, is one of the main centers of the city’s political activity; it sponsors lively debates on various topics. The Mayor of Albuquerque, is Irish Catholic, but assists the synagogue with his wife, adding to the pluralistic nature of the city.)

The museum is a “must see” on a visit to the city. Perhaps you will make a pilgrimage on what was once called the “Mother Road.” So, “get your kicks on Route 66” on that trip.

Also, learn or re-learn a great deal of significant US history—meaningful not only if you are Native American, Mexican American, African American, Asian American, But if, as I am, you are Anglo or White American, you can also come to admit the involvement of that ethnic group in the darker, racist periods of US history—and do something about it.

I hope you discover New Mexico. There are some in Texas, sadly like Florida, who would bury history of our past. There, at that museum in Albuquerque, along the Rio Grande River, many of the state’s citizens proclaim their opposition to hate and racism; they embrace love and tolerance. Half the museum deals with the Holocaust. The other half focuses on well documented cases of racist aggression against so many Americans. Many still face discrimination, perhaps in ways different from the past, but nevertheless, as hurtful – to them and to the national psyche and economy.

Both states—New Mexico and Texas—have far to go. There is always room for improvement. But New Mexico is ahead of Texas. It is more progressive in so many ways: education policy; health policy (Covid measures); environmental protection; appreciation of historical roots; and progress in ethnic equality.

The Rio Grande River runs both ways, from its Colorado and New Mexico mountain sources to the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas, so much like its tocayo (meaning, “same name”) in Albuquerque. A blessing on both Valleys.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by UT-Rio Grande Valley Professor Emeritus Dr. Gary Joe Mounce. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Mounce can be reached by email via [email protected]

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