In­dige­nous Albuquerque

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - by Myla Vi­centi Car­pio, Texas Tech Univer­sity Press, 178 pages — Kevin Can­field

This en­light­en­ing and provoca­tive work of re­search will un­doubt­edly ran­kle some and en­er­gize oth­ers. Com­bin­ing his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive and up-to-the-mo­ment anal­y­sis, the book de­tails vir­tu­ally ev­ery as­pect of life for Albuquerque’s Na­tive Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion, which was a lit­tle short of 50,000 when counted as part of the 2000 cen­sus.

Myla Vi­centi Car­pio’s as­ser­tions are bold. In a chap­ter ti­tled “De­col­o­niz­ing Albuquerque,” she writes, “In­dige­nous his­tory and world­views have been erased from the city’s con­scious­ness and his­tor­i­cal mem­ory.”

The book’s ar­gu­ments are rooted in Vi­centi Car­pio’s ex­ten­sive study of hun­dreds of years of re­gional In­dian his­tory, with a spe­cial fo­cus on mi­gra­tory pat­terns, so­cial con­cerns, do­mes­tic life, and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges. She per­sua­sively ar­gues that gov­ern­ment pro­grams that took root decades ago re­tain con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence on the con­tem­po­rary lives of ur­ban Na­tives. In New Mex­ico, for in­stance, the Bu­reau of In­dian Af­fairs urged Diné In­di­ans to move from reser­va­tion land to cities such as Albuquerque af­ter snow dec­i­mated tribal agri­cul­ture in the late 1940s. This was part of a broader ini­tia­tive by fed­eral of­fi­cials dur­ing much of the 20th cen­tury to en­cour­age Na­tive fam­i­lies to ex­change their tra­di­tional homes for the prom­ise of broader job pro­grams and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered in mod­ern ur­ban cen­ters.

But as they mi­grated to cities, Vi­centi Car­pio writes, Na­tive Amer­i­cans of­ten found it harder to ob­tain ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties like health care; they were left with­out ac­cess to com­pelling job op­por­tu­ni­ties and the ur­ban po­lit­i­cal ma­chine; and their chil­dren brought home text­books that paid lit­tle more than lip ser­vice to the In­dian ex­pe­ri­ence as they knew it.

In ret­ro­spect, re­lo­ca­tion had its share of sin­is­ter un­der­tones. As Vi­centi Car­pio notes, the pro­gram was ad­min­is­tered in the 1950s by Dil­lon S. Myer, the Bu­reau of In­dian Af­fairs boss who had pre­vi­ously over­seen the in­tern­ment of Ja­panese Amer­i­cans dur­ing World War II. “The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s for­mula,” she writes, “was to get In­di­ans off the reser­va­tion; if no one lived on the reser­va­tion, then no one needed funds or the land.”

Vi­centi Car­pio be­lieves the Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­nity’s con­cerns don’t get the at­ten­tion they should in part be­cause lo­cal, state, and fed­eral poli­cies are based on in­com­plete data. In the 1990 cen­sus, she writes, “es­ti­mated un­der­count per­cent­ages were as fol­lows: His­pan­ics, 5 per­cent; African Amer­i­cans, 4.4 per­cent; Asians, 2.3 per­cent; and Amer­i­can In­di­ans, 12.2 per­cent.” The over­sight, she writes, is at least par­tially re­lated to “lan­guage bar­ri­ers and dis­trust of the U.S. gov­ern­ment” as well as the ten­dency of In­dian peo­ple “to be mo­bile, mov­ing not only within cities, but also to and from reser­va­tions.”

In one of her more provoca­tive as­ser­tions, she chal­lenges the com­mon de­pic­tion of New Mex­ico as “the tri-cul­tural state.” She writes, “The term is mis­lead­ing be­cause it im­plies that all three cul­tures” — An­glo, Latino, and In­dian — “are equally rec­og­nized in state and lo­cal af­fairs.” Dis­cussing the hir­ing prac­tices preva­lent in Albuquerque, she adds, “His­pan­ics and An­g­los dom­i­nate most of the city’s work­force, and in­ter­nal hires main­tain the sta­tus quo. Such power dy­nam­ics ren­der In­dian peo­ple in­vis­i­ble.”

Vi­centi Car­pio’s work bears the un­mis­tak­able blend of pas­sion and de­vo­tion that comes from re­search­ing a sub­ject that has per­sonal mean­ing. As a child, she ex­plains, she spent some time liv­ing in Den­ver, but she re­turned to a place where her fam­ily has deep roots. “Even­tu­ally, my mother moved us back to Albuquerque,” she writes, “… to be closer to the Jicarilla reser­va­tion and to en­sure that I would grow up know­ing what it meant to be Jicarilla Apache, La­guna, and Isleta.”

In­dige­nous Albuquerque leaves the reader with the sense that while the au­thor is both dis­ap­pointed in and de­voted to New Mex­ico, she is also a clear-eyed re­searcher who sees the com­plete pic­ture. Vi­centi Car­pio notes that many Na­tive Amer­i­cans grap­ple with sub­stance-abuse prob­lems and “may have trou­ble find­ing and keep­ing em­ploy­ment.” To non-In­di­ans, she writes, these Na­tives “are the most vis­i­ble group.”

In a book of rig­or­ous schol­ar­ship, Vi­centi Car­pio in­jects some wist­ful­ness. Re­call­ing her days in Colorado, she writes, “In the In­de­pen­dence Day play, I was a Mas­sachusetts del­e­gate who sup­ported the new con­sti­tu­tion.” It seems that the per­for­mance was lovely, ex­cept that she was cast as a white per­son who had never laid eyes on a Na­tive Amer­i­can.

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