Sunday, April 8, 2012

Once The Revolution Begins

Part of the Pueblo Revolt display at the New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe

Does it seem like times are very strange? A between-times?

I went to a book signing yesterday, met some of the authors whose work is focused on New Mexico, northern New Mexico specifically but not necessarily exclusively (this is New Mexico and one does what one inclines toward...) and it was odd and rewarding at the same time. Which things tend to be around here.

One thing I noticed at this book signing is that the authors were mostly older and Anglo, which isn't that surprising, but yet it seems a bit odd. This isn't like Florida, and it does snow here. Sometimes quite a bit.

And many of those I run into at events and memorials I attend in New Mexico are originally from California, often enough from Southern California, from around Los Angeles or the Central Coast area, places that I know very well, places I left long ago yet have returned to many times over the years. It never occurred to me to eventually settle anywhere but here, though.

Here in rough and hardscrabble high-desert New Mexico where I thought I saw a white buffalo yesterday, but it was only a rough and hardscrabble white bull out in the field that seems to go on forever until it touches the mountains on the west. There ought to be buffalo around here, and I assume there once were, but there never were any in California; too many mountains to climb and deserts to cross to get there.

Ranchers run cattle on these high desert plains. One ranch close by has a herd of prized Angus which they feed with the hay they grow on their irrigated fields. Irrigation is not unknown around here, but most of the ranches rely on the highly variable and often unreliable monsoon rains to grow enough forage for the stock, or in some cases to grow crops. Yes, beans and corn and squash are grown around here and they grow very well when they get enough water, but there has been a several year drought -- again -- that has made stock raising, let alone crops, somewhat chancy to say the least.

I have not known the ranchers in these parts to complain about it very much, though, unlike ranchers and farmers practically everyplace else I've ever been who complain about everything all the time as if they had nothing else to do.

Drought is part of the cycle here, and when I was talking to one of the authors yesterday, she made a profound observation: "You adapt."

Yes. Well.

You do.

And once the revolution begins, you can't control the outcome.

In 1680, for example, Popé led the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish colonists who had been abusing the Indians for generations, since they first penetrated El Norte under Coronado in 1540, stealing, slaughtering and destroying with abandon in their mad quest for gold -- which the Indians here did not have.

There's a large Pueblo ruin just west of Albuquerque that I didn't even know was there until I read about it in the Archaeology magazine last month. The exact site has been kept secret from the public since the City of Albuquerque acquired it in the 1980's.

They say that Coronado laid siege to this site called Piedras Marcadas and ultimately destroyed it, but views differ on that point. Many metal items and weapons parts dating from the 16th century have been found at the site, so it is likely that Coronado did indeed assault the place, but he and his people assaulted many Pueblo sites along the Rio Grande, destroying some but taking over others so as to have shelter and food during their travels through the region. Or simply because they wanted to.

The Indians have always fought back in their own way. Even when such gross slaughter and plunder as that of Coronado and then Oñate was going on, the Indians did not simply yield. They fought back, and it made a difference. Fighting back is a way of life among the Natives and the locals.

There are some in the "nonviolence" community who simply can't grasp the thought and the theory of fighting back. Especially when faced with overwhelming force arrayed against you. Submission, it is declared, will lead to victory. Except it doesn't. Not always. Nor does fighting back. The trick, if there is one, is knowing what to do when.

They say that Popé's Revolt was in essence a religious crusade against the alien and cruel Spanish invaders, particularly the Franciscan priests and their vicious ways of stamping out Native observances. First, the rebels killed all the priests, then they went after the settlers, and eventually they drove them all out of New Mexico... for a while.

It has been pointed out that Popé, for all his drive and determination to cleanse the Rio Grande Valley and the rest of Occupied New Mexico of the Spanish, was himself a highly Hispanicized Indian, and his revolt was very much like something the Spanish might have done under similar circumstances. This is not to disparage him in any way, nor to discount what he and his comrades were able to do. Nothing else like it happened in the history of relations between the Indians of North America and the European invaders over all the hundreds of years that those relations have been going on.

And yet the Spanish came back. The mythology says that the "re-entrada" -- or rather, reconquista -- was peaceful. Hardly. Several thousand Indians are said to have been slaughtered and their pueblos put to the torch as de Vargas made his way up the Rio Grande in 1691 and 1692. They laid siege to Santa Fe and ultimately were able to reclaim the city, but not without considerable bloodshed among its Native defenders. Santa Fe was not much of a city in those days, and even now Santa Fe is hardly a metropolis, surprisingly perhaps, given its global romance and renown; when a novelist wrote about the "seven story building that overlooks the Plaza" not long ago, I had to laugh. Not only are there no "seven story buildings" overlooking the Plaza, so far as I know, there are no seven story buildings in Santa Fe at all.

It's not that kind of place. Now, Albuquerque, that's different. Skyscrapers galore. Well. What we would call skyscrapers in these parts.

That is of course an old and very famous photo of Central Avenue in Albuquerque looking east from Carlisle toward the Union Bank First National Bank Building on San Mateo (now Bank of the West).

Compared to the festivity of Central Ave seen in this picture taken in the late sixties, the street seems deserted today. There are remnants of the signage, but much is missing. It's been cleansed of the taint of what used to be; even the Aztec Motel is gone but for its sign.

Of course Central Avenue is the Old Route 66 through Albuquerque and beyond, and in the late 1960's it was still the main highway -- and main street -- through Albuquerque. Much of the allure of the Mother Road still endured, as in traces it does to this day.

The Spaniards came back in 1692, but there were more revolts of the Pueblos, right up until the American conquest in 1847, when the Taos Revolt (that included Taos Indians and their Hispanic allies) was brutally suppressed by American troops. Still Taos Pueblo endures (though much of it was destroyed in the suppression of the 1847 revolt, it was restored and is today a tourist magnet.)

Today's Pueblos are undergoing a transformation -- some would call it revolutionary -- thanks to the advent of tribal casinos which have helped provide the Pueblos and other tribes with revenue to improve their living standards. In other words, they can become as materialist as they want. The interesting thing is that most reject the Anglo form of materialism and individualism and maintain close connections with their culture and traditional ways. The casino revenue helps make life easier, that's all.

Who would have thought that this would be the result of the ongoing struggles of Pueblo peoples against their oppression? Or that the revolt/revolution of 1680-92 would lead to this, but there is a direct line from what was to what is, and unlike many other places in the United States, that line is easily recognized in New Mexico. People's memories don't fail them here -- though everyone makes up stories about their history.

As I was chatting with one of the authors yesterday, we found we had many things in common, surprisingly or maybe not so much, and we talked about Berkeley and the Free Speech Movement, the various radical and revolutionary aspects of the era, especially in California. And she said, "You know, a lot of what used to be in California is still present here in New Mexico." I said, "I know." She said, "Maybe that's why I was drawn here." I said, "I know that's part of why I was."

She said, "There are so many stories people tell here."

There are.

They are amazing and wonderful and some of them are true.


  1. Interesting. Although I've spent a lot of time in California and studied it exensively, I've never been to New Mexico, but from what I've read, both share the same fate, water-wise.
    Slow growth and the absence of skyscrapers is a good thing, to my mind.

  2. Most of New Mexico is much drier than most of California, and water is in shorter supply than usual thanks to recurrent droughts. This spring isn't so bad, but no one expects an end to severe drought conditions any time soon what with climate change and all.

    Albuquerque is the only city of any size -- and everyone agrees, it's too big to be sustained on the little bit of water available from the Rio Grande and the quickly depleting wells.

    What to do?

    It's a mystery. The city grew too fast and can't keep growing. It's physically hemmed in by mountains and Indian pueblos, and water is in critically short supply. Everybody knows it. Most of the rest of New Mexico has been on an enforced sustainability path for hundreds of years. Albuquerque is the anomaly.

    That said, I still like it.

    Our place is out in the country, though, and going in to Town -- whether Abq or Fanta Se -- is an adventure.