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.