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New Mexico, New and Old



     Steve Buergi lives in New Mexico┤s big city, Albuquerque, modern despite the name. When I visited it at Christmas 1941 I went a few miles south to Isleta, where I saw Indians dancing in the church in a pre-Colombian ceremony before the midnight mass began. As one goes south down the Rio Grande, old New Mexico takes over. Steve reports:
     "The case [of multilingualism in Do˝a Ana County] didn't cause much discussion in New Mexico. I think everybody is waiting to see what the state Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court have to say. The basis of the issue is the clause in the state constitution declaring New Mexico's official languages English and Spanish.
     By contrast, current Republican Governor Gary Johnson's recent campaign in favor of legalizing marijuana and possibly other drugs caused a big debate. I conclude that we New Mexicans are more interested in pot than patois."


     My comment: What about pot among the Indians? Linda Nyquist brings up the U.S. treaty with Mexico which she says makes bilingualism a treaty obligation. Tim Brown, until recently a resident of Las Cruces, gives us this picture:
     "We lived in Las Cruces from 1990 to just a few months ago. I knew many of the judges there, and none of them spoke Spanish well, although a few thought they did. A couple of the country judges couldn't actually do all that well in Engish, either, but that's another story. Las Cruces was a delightful find for us after Honduras. The life-style, weather, and living conditions - Hispanic flavor, American standards, were great. It's the county seat of Dona Ana country that straddles the Rio Grande from the Mexican border northward to almost Truth or Consequences. It's also the second fastest growing municipal area in the US after Las Vegas, Nevada.
     There is also a town of Dona Ana, which is actually off the Rio Grande, although not far. It's the oldest settlement in that part of New Mexico, dating its origins back to about 1598. Today it's tiny, perhaps 500 inhabitants. The country is about 60% Hispanic, and all the Crucenos we knew were bilingual. The only ones who needed interpreters [I did a little of this myself] were recent immigrants, virtually all from northern Mexico, mostly Chihuahua.
     I agree entirely that California went wildly overboard on languages, teaching, or rather not teaching, in dozens of them in some schools. I also agree that language and culture are indispensable social glues. But I do not agree that bilingualism and biculturalism are incompatible with the nation-state. There are too many contrary cases - Switzerland, China, India, Paraguay, and on and on. The problem in the US is that without the general populace knowing what was really happening, we have virtually adopted the one-worlder position that nations should have no boundaries and people should be totally free to live anywhere they want. The consequences here have not been to exacerbate historical local bilingual issues in places like New Mexico but to create Towers of Babel in places like Washington, DC, where we have been visiting for some time. A trip to the mall is like visiting the UN on a busy day, with English as a native language the exception not the rule. That is/is a problem."

Ronald Hilton - 2/24/00


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