New Mexico — have it your way!
Question: How and why did those overseeing our state’s tourism interests shift from primarily touting the curative properties of New Mexico’s climate and its archaeological, natural, and multicultural wonders to putting little green men and Pepe Le Pew on a promotional float in the Tournament of Roses parade? Answer: “Progress” is hard to define when it comes to the way New Mexico’s identity has been manufactured for the pleasure of visitors, and anything is fair game if it means bringing more of them (and their dollars) to the region.
In Marta Weigle’s new book, Alluring New Mexico: Engineered Enchantment 1821-2001 (Museum of New Mexico Press), the mystery behind Pepe Le Pew isn’t solved — the cartoon skunk created by animator Chuck Jones didn’t appear in promotions for the state alongside the more understandable Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote until January 2010.
Weigle, a University of New Mexico Regents Professor of Anthropology, crafts a compelling and well-researched account of New Mexico’s evolution from what 19th-century explorer Capt. François Xavier Aubry called the Land Without Law — where “only the brave and criminal come” — to the Land of Enchantment — where science, technology, and the suggestion of military conspiracy draw in visitors as handily as art and architecture do.
Addressing state identities that are at odds with each other — as revealed in incidents such as the 1990 conflict between supporters of Pecos National Historic Park and developers who had plans to turn nearby Forked Lightning Ranch and other Pecos lands into a sprawling golf resort and retail/vacation playground — Weigle walks the reader through the controversies, conflicts, and hardships that helped to shape a booming tourist economy in our once-rough neck of the woods. Special attention is given to printed promotional materials used to hawk everything from the Fred Harvey Indian Detours experience at La Fonda in the mid 1920s to a lovely afternoon at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant nuclear-waste repository in Carlsbad.
Weigle discusses and signs copies of Alluring New Mexico at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St., 988-4226).