Wednesday, July 28, 2010

and the runner-up is...

new mexico just might be the second most perfect state (after oregon, of course).

for starters, it's got solid cowboy sensibility, along with real ranchlands. but instead of libertarian cowboys with a veneer of homophobia & racism (wyoming), libertarian cowboys with a dash of white supremacy (idaho), libertarian separatist, cultish cowboys (montana), urban-style cowboys (colorado), the closest we have to a church-state (utah), or libertarian arizona (more on that later), it's cowboys with a multi-cultural, democratic flair. how refreshing! new mexico is one of only four states with a minority majority - which is to say, no majority at all. it's got diversity, without the mega-populations of california and texas; of the four most mixed states, it's the least populated. it's both bigger in size and less populated than oregon. native americans, hispanics, whites, and african americans are all mixed in a historical soup context of ancient puebloan culture, spanish conquistadors, western expansion, the civil war, and finally statehood.

there's volcanic landscapes and ancient puebloan ruins, including the graddaddy of them all, chaco canyon, one of the most extraordinary places in the united states. there you can step through carefully aligned 800-year-old doorways built by the original inhabitants of the land. there's art-focused santa fe and northern new mexico, where house styles run towards understated instead of ostentatious, and good food abounds. there's public lands, there's grasslands and mountains and rivers, ponderosa pines and desert in the south, and in new mexico one can be as close as you can get to big bend without actually being in texas. there's vibrant tribes and pueblos. there's a hispanic, democratic governor, featured in photographs with his custom made, new mexico-themed cowboy boots up on the desk ( there's conservative, anti-wolf ranchers (one billboard proclaimed, "lock up your children!") and liberal, obama-stickered cars. and it's all blended, mixed together, in a way that very few states are able to achieve.

and arizona? oh, arizona, what are you doing? it was to my dismay that my long-planned trip took me - with no possible way to avoid it - to arizona, right at this time. following the passage of senate bill 1070, even entities i don't usually find myself politically aligned with - like, the city of los angeles - were calling for a boycott of the state. arizona, where you can now get pulled over and detained for not having adequate proof of american citizenship. arizona, where a drivers license from another state and no accent whatsoever is NOT proof enough of citizenship. where the motto is, guilty until proven innocent. it's a new way of thinking in america! wonder why it hasn't caught on sooner?

governor jan brewer followed up that move with a much lesser-known action: banning ethnic studies  classes that "promote resentment toward a race or class of people," "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals" (—update). in reflecting back on my time in an ethnic studies program - designed primarily for pupils of a particular group, since it was at a tribal school, on a reservation - i find it interesting that those classes were the ones that taught me the most balanced view of native and white cultures. 

at first i tried to only spend money on indian reservations (which are sovereign nations, after all, not subjects of the state of arizona) and national parks. it's hard to do that though; i'm certain i scattered some dollars around the rest of the state. i don't know if i found it reassuring or disheartening to come across this passage in "The American West", by michael malone & richard etulain:

"An effort to join the neighboring southwestern territories into one state failed in 1905, mainly due to the refusal of Anglo-dominated Arizona to be joined with Hispanic New Mexico."

ironically enough, there's a new license plate you can choose that says, instead of "the grand canyon state" on the bottom, "live the golden rule". i'm not sure if that means the people driving are ok with children being separated from their parents, or if maybe there's something else they are referring to.

then one comes across this billboard of governor jan brewer:

way to go, governor. you've co-opted one of the most beloved iconic images in recent american history. an image that, at the time it was produced, stood for two things: solidarity among people for the greater good and an increase in opportunities for an oppressed group. you've used that - solidarity and equality - into a promotion for your nativist, anti-equality policies. i suppose it is very western to take the law into your own hands.

you're surely thinking, there must be something good about arizona. it's true, there are some fabulous landscapes. there is organ pipe cactus national monument, still a magically wild and lonely and beautiful place. there's the grand canyon, which can only be felt, cannot be described. there's also many vibrant tribal groups and cultures. of course, these are all the background of arizona; they don't reflect the tenor of culture and society there now. so what did i like in my recent visit, related to human works, not geographical?

well, i have to say i love the new font they are using on road signs. seriously. it shows life, and movement. look at that! especially, look at the snazzy, jaunty little tails of the a and l. have you ever seen a sans-serif font dance like that?!

so arizona, pluses for the landscape and the font choice. but negative, like, one thousand times over for the governor and the anti-immigrant policies.

1 comment:

  1. interesting tidbit from 1905. did not know that one! i guess arizona has been full of mavericks for a lot longer than i thought.