In Other Words

En­chant­ment and Ex­ploita­tion: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mex­ico Moun­tain Range by Wil­liam deBuys and All the Sin­gle Ladies: Un­mar­ried Women and the Rise of an In­de­pen­dent Na­tion by Re­becca Trais­ter

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Casey Sanchez

Orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1985, En­chant­ment and Ex­ploita­tion: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mex­ico Moun­tain Range was a book far ahead of it s time. In his at­ten­tive study of the Na­tive Amer­i­can, An­glo, and His­pano cul­tures that call the San­gre de Cristo Moun­tains home, au­thor Wil­liam deBuys takes eco­log­i­cal his­tory as se­ri­ously as cul­tural his­tory, ar­gu­ing that it is im­pos­si­ble to un­der­stand New Mex­ico’s three cul­tures with­out un­der­stand­ing t he forests and deserts that shaped them and that they, in turn, shaped. Thirt y years on,

En­chant­ment and Ex­ploita­tion has be­come a clas­sic work of re­gional his­tory and cul­tural anal­y­sis. DeBuys wrote t he or i gi­nal man­u­script on a type­writer. “Today,” said the au­thor in a phone in­ter­view with Pasatiempo, “a lot of the peo­ple read­ing En­chant­ment

and Ex­ploita­tion have never even seen a type­writer.” This win­ter, the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico Press rere­leased the book, with deBuys adding new chap­ters on cli­mate change and wild­fires in con­tem­po­rary New Mex­ico. And in a new chap­ter, “Trails,” he sounds the alarm on the shock­ing state of child wel­fare in New Mex­ico. “To put mat­ters bluntly, New Mex­ico, on av­er­age, is the worst state in the union in which to be a kid,” he writes. He but­tresses his as­ser­tion by cit­ing a 2013 study from the An­nie E. Casey Foun­da­tion; it put New Mex­ico at the bot­tom rung of the 50 states when it comes to ed­u­cat­ing, rais­ing, and sup­port­ing the health of chil­dren and teens un­der the age of eigh­teen. “It edged out Mis­sis­sippi, which slightly bested it in the cat­e­gories of ed­u­ca­tion and health, to take sole pos­ses­sion of the most dis­grace­ful place in the list of all fifty states,” he writes. (In the lat­est re­port, New Mex­ico had inched up to 49th, with Mis­sis­sippi in last place.)

DeBuys s aid, “The new chap­ters on cli­mate change and child wel­fare at­tempt to fill in some of the blanks be­tween 1985 and t he 30 years of New Mex­ico life that has gone by. Ei­ther sub­ject would prop­erly re­quire a book of its own. In­stead, this is a proxy I could briefly touch upon.” DeBuys’ writ­ing on the state of New Mex­ico’s child wel­fare is echoed in a re­cent me­dia ini­tia­tive by Catholic Health Ini­tia­tives St. Joseph’s Chil­dren, the non­profit be­hind the vi­ral in­ter­net cam­paign New Mex­ico Truth. Bor­row­ing im­agery and sat­i­riz­ing the catch­phrase of the state Tourism Depart­ment, New Mex­ico True, the group has at­tempted to out­rage and in­form res­i­dents about the state’s rate of child­hood poverty. Though deBuys is not con­nected with that cam­paign, he ad­mires it s back­ers “for rais­ing the level of con­ver­sa­tion around child­hood poverty in New Mex­ico.” As he writes in his own chap­ter ad­dress­ing the sub­ject, “You can’t eat en­chant­ment.” By that, he means that the state’s much vaunted nat­u­ral beauty has lit­tle to do with the qual­ity of life for its most at-risk res­i­dents. “Some­thing is gravely amiss,” deBuys writes, “if in spite of the state’s leg­endary en­dow­ments, life is go­ing badly and dis­ad­van­tages are mount­ing for so many of its youngest and most vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens.”

Rather than launch a broad­side at­tack on state ser­vices to chil­dren, the writer said he is in­ter­ested in un­der­stand­ing why child­hood poverty is so per­sis­tent in the state. “How much of it is built into the char­ac­ter of New Mex­ico and how much of it is some­thing we can get our hands on and change? There are struc­tural rea­sons why that num­ber [child­hood poverty in­di­ca­tors] may be so low. We’re a very ru­ral state. It may be very dif­fi­cult to de­liver so­cial ser­vices. Or is it that we are ad­min­is­ter­ing schools poorly?” deBuys asked. “What is the low-hang­ing fruit that New Mex­ico, work­ing with re­gional and fed­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions, can do?” DeBuys feels we would do well to study the eco­nomic out­puts of child­hood poverty to find out if New Mex­ico’s poor ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem is pre­vent­ing top ta­lent from mov­ing their ca­reers and fam­i­lies into the state.

In his book, deBuys sug­gests the state’s ram­pant child­hood poverty rate may be con­nected to the state’s grow­ing in­come in­equal­ity. Cit­ing a 2012 U.S. Cen­sus Bureau re­port, he notes that New Mex­ico has in­come in­equal­ity more se­vere than that of any other state. At the time of the re­port, the av­er­age in­come of the wealth­i­est 20 per­cent of the state’s house­holds —$161,162 — was nearly 10 times greater than the av­er­age an­nual in­come of the state’s poor­est 20 per­cent — $16,319. “This is a new phe­nom­e­non,” he writes. “In the late 1970s nei­ther New Mex­ico nor any other state had a ra­tio greater than 8.0, which is to say that over the past forty years the gap be­tween rich and poor has widened con­sid­er­ably.”

Reread­ing the orig­i­nal parts of the book in light of New Mex­ico’s cur­rent t rou­bles with i ncome in­equal­ity and child­hood poverty is re­veal­ing. For in­stance, in the chap­ter “Man­i­tos,” deBuys re­counts the in­ti­mate, com­mu­nal na­ture of New Mex­ico vil­lage and sheep­herd­ing life in much of the state for decades be­fore World War I. With the post-war ar­rival of cheap, plen­ti­ful barbed wire, the state ush­ered in a new, in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic ap­proach to graz­ing sheep. The quick and wide­spread adop­tion of barbed wire to sec­tion off land tracts ut­terly trans­formed the com­mu­nal spirit of shared land that per­sisted in New Mex­ico for cen­turies. While by no means di­rectly re­lated or even trace­able to our cur­rent im­passe with in­come equal­ity, deBuys’ ac­count goes a long way in show­ing

how through his­tory, New Mex­ico has shred­ded a much older sort of safety net for fam­i­lies — be­ing able to feed a fam­ily through com­mu­nal use of graz­ing lands — that func­tioned in com­mu­ni­ties that were oth­er­wise short on house­hold wage in­come, schools, or med­i­cal clin­ics.

DeBuys is cur­rently work­ing on an­other book to be pub­lished next year, though it’s not one he wrote. The ti­tle in ques­tion, First Im­pres­sions: A Reader’s Jour­ney to Iconic Places in the Amer­i­can South­west, was a work in progress by deBuys’ close friend David We­ber, a vaunted and path­break­ing his­to­rian of the U. S.Mex­ico border­lands, who died in 2010. To be re­leased by Yale Univer­sity Press, the book will be com­pleted by deBuys us­ing orig­i­nal drafts, notes, and es­says that We­ber fin­ished be­fore he died.

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