From (His)story to Ourstory – Youth Lead Mural Art Project to Tell the Story of This Enchanted Land

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

Albuquerque – Empowered youth, hot summer sun, paintbrushes and the north-facing wall of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice. These are the ingredients of an ambitious mural art project that contrasts iconic images and struggles with their modern-day counterparts. The goal is to tell “ourstory”, the heroes, events, and cultures of New Mexico often forgotten in textbooks.

Liz Carrasco and Lillian Fernandez, two college-bound youth interns with the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) came up with the idea of the project through conversations with fellow SWOP youth.

Taking a break from the mural work being done outside, I had the chance to sit down with both students on the first day that the project began.

We envision the art as a space to come together as a community and represent  who we are,” says Liz, a graduate of the South Valley Academy who is headed to UNM to study political science.

Lillian sees the project as an extension of her love for art. “I think that this project, led by youth activists and artists, shows the power art has to improve our world.” A graduate of Nuestros Valores High School, she will be attending La Sierra University in Riverside California, planning to become a veterinarian.

“The mural is going to have images that you would not normally see together – the Virgin de Guadelupe reaching down to help a mother in need, an Aztec dancer who is break dancing…we will have freedom fighters from the past such as Dolores Huerta, Jeanne Gauna, and Geronimo alongside our struggles of today, such as the Statue of Liberty and a family on their knees, both detained by immigration,” says Liz.

Curious to hear about how the project got started, I asked them to explain.

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(UPDATED) Bills Threatening Cultural Properties to be Heard

By Tracy Dingmann

Here’s a legislative alert from our friends at Conservation Voters New Mexico!

SB421, a bill that would strip local communities of the right to protect significant cultural properties, is scheduled to be heard today (March 4) in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which convenes at 2:30 or whenever the Senate floor session ends.  The bill is sponsored by Sen. Rod Adair, (R-Roswell).

A companion bill, HB422, will be heard in the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Monday at 8:30 a.m. That bill is sponsored by Rep. Richard Vigil (D-Ribera.)

The bills are important because they would drastically reduce the power of local communities and residents to protect significant cultural properties by forcing them to register them with the State.

If passed, either of these bills would undercut the work of the Cultural Properties Review Committee and be a significant change from established process for nomination of future sites to the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties.

The bills would require that nominations to the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties include written notice of support from the majority of property owners, including those holding subsurface mineral interests.

This standard of owner support exceeds that required for nominating properties to the National Register of Historic Places – and would put extractive companies in the firmly in the driver’s seat.

If you care about this, contact Adair by clicking here or Vigil by clicking here and here.

UPDATE: The Senate bill has been tabled; but the companion bill lives on in the House.  Read more here at Democracy for New Mexico.


Community Rallies at Roundhouse for Anti Racism Day

Poet Hakim Bellamy performing in the Capitol Rotunda on Anti Racism Day. Photo by Claus Whiteacre.

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

The most important piece of health legislation in this year’s session might just be one without the words Medicaid, health insurance, or the names of any disease conditions in it.

Instead, it is a bill addressing institutional racism, the practices and policies within institutions (e.g schools, courts, hospitals, businesses) that lead to unequal access to resources based on skin color.

A week ago, the health professionals, educators, and community activists of the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group (NMHEWG) rallied for the bill at the first-ever “Anti Racism Day” at the legislature.

House Joint Memorial 32, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque) and Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) passed its first test, being approved by the House Labor Committee at 8pm on Thursday, February 17th.

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Teach-in on Racism Allows Youth to Pose Tough Questions to School Board Candidates

By Anthony Fleg

As the room got quiet, the high-school student asked with confidence, “Does Albuquerque Public Schools have an anti-racism policy and if so, are you aware of it?”

Many of the professionals seated at the front, all running for the upcoming Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) school board election on February 1st, appeared unprepared for such a question.

This was the energy on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday when over one-hundred people gathered at University of New Mexico’s Law School for the “Teach-in and Candidates Forum” hosted by the Critical Race Theory (CRT) Working Group.

Youth from local high schools, UNM students, staff, and faculty and community members gathered to enhance their understanding of racism and CRT, and then to use the “teach-in” to inform a school board candidates forum.

The program will be broadcast on KUNM’s Youth radio this Sunday from 7-8pm.

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In the Wake of the Giffords Shooting, Civility and Self-Reflection Should Be Our Guide

By Tracy Dingmann

U.S Representative Gabrielle Giffords tweeted the news Saturday to her constituents far and wide:

“My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”

And why wouldn’t she let everyone know? The third-term congresswoman from the 8th District of Arizona flew back from D.C. nearly every weekend and was proud of her strong record of constituent service. Colleagues say the 40-year-old Congresswoman was driven by noblest aspects of the American democratic ideal.

In March of 2010, when Giffords’ office door was smashed in the wake of a contentious partisan debate over health care reform, she told MSNBC:

“Our democracy is a light, a beacon really around the world, because we effect change at the ballot box, and not because of these outbursts — of violence in certain cases, and the yelling, and it’s just … you know, change is important, it’s a part of our process, but it’s really important that we focus on the fact that we have a democratic process.”

But what happened instead of “Congress on Your Corner” last Saturday was an American nightmare.

Outside Gongresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office on Jan. 11, 2010. Image courtesy Meredith Shiner, POLITICO.com

In a premeditated attack, a madman shot Giffords in the head and fired on the crowd.  A congressional staffer who worked for Giffords was killed, along with a child, a federal judge, and three senior citizens, all of whom were exercising their democratic right to talk to their congresswoman. Fourteen others, including Gifford, remain seriously or gravely wounded.

As The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Huevel wrote so movingly in “The Arizona Horror:”

This was an assassination of democracy, an armed assault on citizens gathered to exercise the most precious of American rights—the right to free speech and assembly. Rep. Giffords was doing the essential work of politics, meeting with her neighbors and constituents outside of a grocery store in a “Congress on Your Corner” gathering. This small “d” democratic act is so central to our Constitution and our republic that its protection is enshrined in the First Amendment, the same amendment that Giffords read aloud on the opening day of Congress.

Nothing is more corrosive to democracy than the use of violence to terrorize the public square, to shut down speech, to slay those seeking its exercise.

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If You Missed It: The Future of the Internet Town Hall

By Tracy Dingmann

If you missed Tuesday’s town hall in Albuquerque with Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Copps on the Future of the Internet, you can catch up right here with these links.

The event was sponsored by the organizations The Center for Media Justice, Media Literacy Project and Free Press.

Writing at NMFBIHOP.com, Claus Whiteacre said:

Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps spoke to hundreds of supporters about the need for net neutrality Tuesday evening at the Albuquerque Journal Theater at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Net neutrality is the principle that all content on the internet should be treated equally, and that internet service providers cannot discriminate between different types of content.

“When broadcast came about the corporation said ‘trust us.’ When previous FCC commissions removed limits on media consolidation we were told ‘trust us.’ With this new medium they are saying ‘trust us,'” Copps said.

Andrea Quijada, the Executive Director of the Media Literacy Project, served as the MC for the evening. She shared how an open internet is needed for the most basic of services.

“With 30 of our 33 counties being medically underserved, we know that the internet is not just about civic participation,” Quijada said. “With a state poverty rate at 19 percent we know that the internet is not just about access.”

“America cannot have a digital divide, this is an injustice for those that have been too long denied,” Copps said in his speech.

George Lujan of the SouthWest Organizing Project gave his account at ElGritoNM.org:

Perspectives from the community included single mothers explaining how the internet allows them to provide a strong sense of family; students detailing how far they have to drive just to finish nightly assignments; local artists and slam poets offering a cultural perspective; professionals trying to bring the online world to offline communities.

The point was clear- we need an open internet, we deserve an open internet, and now we demand an open internet.

Finally, those who would like to see an accounting of the entire event can visit this link to the webcast at SaveTheInternet.com.

Think “Expulsion” Sounds Harsh? It’s Where We’re Headed

University of New Mexico Political Science Professor Gabriel R. Sanchez

By Tracy Dingmann

“Expel” isn’t a word we hear often in these United States.

It’s a harsh, ugly word that literally means “to force out.”

For people like me who love words and appreciate their every connotation, “expel” brings to mind vermin or trash – something so vile that it must be hurled violently away.

But I was forced think about that unpleasant word the other day when I came across this story, headlined “France To Seek Support For Roma Expulsion.”

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Native Youth Lead The Way At Local Health Conference

Youth presenters at the AAIP meeting. Back row (L to R): Leon Paquin, Nick Felipe, Emmit Yepa, Mark Panana. Front row: Tiffany Faustine, Leroy Paisano, Lindsey Toya and Tianie Toya

A Clearly Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, NM – A week before the school year began, a group of American Indian youth in New Mexico were not only working hard, they were teaching the class!

Earlier this month, the 39th annual conference of the Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP) featured nationally known speakers, including Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, the current director of Indian Health Services.

Alongside such speakers were three groups of local youth presenting on their efforts to create healthier, more sustainable and empowered communities.

The Walatowa (Jemez) Green Stars talked about their activism to create a full-scale recycling program in their community, with group member Lindsey Toya pointing out that “we know that our trash will be here for the generations to come, and it is our job to teach the elders in our community as they have taught us.”

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Welcome, El Grito!

By Tracy Dingmann

On Aug. 4, our friends at the SouthWest Organizing Project launched “El Grito: News and Views from New Mexico’s Grassroots.”

The exciting new website aims to use digital media to evoke the deep cultural traditions of New Mexico communities as well as the rich legacy of struggle through alternative media for justice, equity, and opportunity that exists in New Mexico.

In English, El Grito means “The Cry,” and in this context it refers to several things, including the traditional shouts made during cultural celebrations and dances in New Mexico, as well as to El Grito de Dolores, the battle cry of the Mexican revolution for independence from Spain.

El Grito also refers to El Grito del Norte, a community newspaper founded in Espanola in 1968 that chronicled the grassroots struggles of traditional New Mexico communities.

Writers and activists from El Grito del Norte later moved to Albuquerque’s Los Duranes neighborhood, where they founded the Chicano Communication Center to advance grassroots communication across the state.

As explained on the site:

SWOP’s roots in alternative media extend back to those days at the Center, and the spirit of grassroots powered media lives on in our work today through blogging and our magazine, Voces Unidas. We hope that spirit is embodied here at El Grito, where we’ll bring community based analysis about the burning issues we face today, as well as news of the happenings in our communities.

In an interesting nod to history, two of El Grito’s writers, George Lujan and Clearly New Mexico alum Juan Reynosa, are from families that were well represented in the Chicano Communication Center.

The site will have several sections, including space for community event notices and for short pieces on current events El Grito finds noteworthy. There will also be longer articles from El Grito writers.

Submissions from the public are encouraged and welcome.

From the site:

Our lens is critical analysis of our society, our focus is the landscape experienced by New Mexico’s traditional and low-income communities. We reserve the right to only publish those pieces that further the debate in a constructive and positive manner.

El Grito is strictly non-partisan, and will not publish any content referring to political elections or written by a person seeking elective office.

From the site:

We pledge to offer a space here for the diversity of voices that exist in New Mexico, and to continually seek out and share the stories and views of New Mexicans who may not always have access to a medium that will let their cry be heard across the state. And we sincerely hope you’ll check in often and add your “grito” to the debate.

Please join Clearly in welcoming this much-needed voice to the New Mexico blogosphere!

Rep. Antonio Maestas’ Seven-Point Plan For A New Mexico Boycott of Arizona (UPDATE)

Rep. Maestas

Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque was already outraged about the state of Arizona’s decision to pass a law requiring state and local law enforcement officers to ask for identification from people they believe are in the country illegally.

Maestas, an Albuquerque attorney, and many others believe the law gives police the right to stop and harass anyone they choose, based only on the color of their skin.

But news that Arizona has now banned ethnic studies in public schools as well has convinced Maestas that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her supporters are finally showing their true colors.

“They’re all really showing their hand as to what the real issue is,” said the two-term Democratic representative from the city’s West Side.

“It’s not about illegal immigrants – it’s about Mexicans, whether they are legal or illegal. It’s about people from Mexico who are brown and speak with an accent.”

How New Mexico Is Different Than Arizona

Maestas said he believes the law passed in Arizona because so many Arizonans are “culturally disconnected “from Arizona’s demographics. Arizona’s population includes a high number of Anglos who have moved there from somewhere else, have never encountered Hispanics and feel innately uncomfortable around them, he said.

“They have formed their own demographic reality,” Maestas said.

In contrast, New Mexico’s history includes the long and established presence of Hispanics who own land and vote – which translates into political power for Hispanics in New Mexico.

“Nuevo Mexicanos are a different breed – They own land and they vote, unlike a lot of Latinos elsewhere in the country,” Maestas said.

According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, New Mexico’s legislature is 44 percent Hispanic, a contrast to 16 percent in Arizona. New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics of any state — 45 percent, compared with 30 percent in Arizona.

Hispanics United Behind Opposition To Law

Historically, immigration has been a wedge issue for Hispanics, many of whom are socially conservative and favor strong government action to limit illegal immigration.

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