Gang activity has been increasing in the little village outside the Pueblo. The village was founded by descendents of the Spanish conquistadors who made the Pueblos terrace the side of the mountain outside the Pueblo for farming. Then over time the Pueblos and Hispanics intermarried until their cultures were intertwined. Graffiti is showing up in the village on the shops, restaurants, and bars frequented by tourists and the new breed of settlers – artists, computer scientists, and retirees – who have come to live on the land with many of the comforts of the city. Subsequently, real estate and food prices are going up and up so that it is getting harder and harder for the locals to survive even though many of them live on valuable land. They could sell their land and make a big profit, but that would be for many of them like selling their heritage and families.
Like many of the “anglo” (white) youth who live in the area, many Pueblo and Hispanic youth are angry with their elders. Their parents' connections to the past and in some cases their broken English embarrasses them. They don’t want the “old” ways. They want TVs, new cars and the latest video and electronic toys. A few weeks ago a couple youths broke into the police chief’s house to take his pistols and riffles. Huge rocks from the mountains have been put in front of a gravel parking lot in the village where they used to hang out at night in their cars, drinking whisky and taking drugs. They have moved down the road. The locals and new arrivals to the community are up in arms.
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There is an empty building that could be turned into a youth center, but a rich real estate speculator from California has his eye on it for condos, which will increase the tax base whereas a youth center will not. When speculators buy up land, the locals call it being “Californicated.” The police, mostly Hispanic, know the parents of many of the youth who cause the problems and are suspected of turning a blind eye, hoping that the gang activity will scare away some of the outsiders who are driving up the prices.
Yet, despite these contradictions and changes in the village and Pueblo, there is still much warmth in the old adobe homes. At times it is as if the warmth from the ancient fires has lingered and created a strong sense of belonging and connection. There is history here and it is present in everyday life. Even the poor are rich with a sense of tradition and a lifestyle rooted in the land.
Wealthy and young whites have come here to experience the old ways of living off the land. At one point they came in droves to form communes, most of which have died off because the lifestyle of free love and communal living they promulgated could not survive. A few communes still dot the dry landscape on the mesa. They are referred to as the dusty people because of the way they look when they hitchhike into the village and the town down the road. Many of the Pueblo and Hispanic escape from the village and Pueblo, but many come back after they venture out into the traffic of the big cities. Their longing for the mountains and vast mesa that border their little village and Pueblo calls them back.
In recent years, economic times have gotten a little better for some of the Pueblo. Like many of the other tribes, they built a Casino, just outside the edge of the Pueblo, on Indian Land right next to the larger town about ten miles from the village. Gamblers have come and left their money. It is part of a cycle “a cycle in which the resources once taken away by outsiders are now being returned, though in another form. In Pueblo culture it is seen as spiritual, the coming around again of what belongs to them. Most of the members of the Pueblo, however, are still waiting for their share to flow to them the way the waters flow down from the sacred Blue Lake high in the mountains.
We drive past the Casino to the beautiful Pueblo, which sits at the base of the mountain. It’s a sunny day. The smell of fry bread is in the air. Everything is much the way it was 800 years ago, except for the tourists who have come to buy the fry bread and trinkets. Getting a piece of fry bread from a Pueblo grandmother is like being attached again to something deep and profound, a place where mothers once went underground with their sons for days to mark the rites of passage.
The Catholic Church is in the center of the Pueblo, the church from which the procession marches on Christmas Eve, circling the huge bonfires in the courtyard that is filled with locals and tourists, who have come to pass their wine bottles and joints to one another, and to have another Christmas experience – a religious experience that somehow transcends religion on a night when everyone is welcome.
I stood here on Christmas Eve a few years ago next to a warm fire looking at the huge, star-filled night sky as the procession passed by with the Baby Jesus and Mother Mary in the arms of the Pueblo Women dressed in their beads and gowns and moccasins, with the men walking alongside firing their rifles – firing like a salute to the maker (God, Buda, the Great Spirit). When the crack of the rifles was followed by deep silence, it seemed like something long ago, yet very present. I have never felt like that in a community. Warm outdoors on a cold winter evening, I experienced religion for perhaps the first time.
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But today is not Christmas Eve, it is just another sunny day in Northern New Mexico, a day much like many days 800 years ago and now. I look up towards Blue Lake where only the Taos Pueblos can go on their horses. I wish I could go, but it is their place to care for, as it always was, not an owned place, but a place to be honored as a gift from the Great Spirit, the way all the land used to be honored, or so the story goes.
As the sun dips a little lower on the horizon, warming the other tourists and us as we sit in doorsteps enjoying fry bread, suddenly the dogs begin to run to the edge of the village where the silhouettes of youth can be seen weaving and bopping their way back home from school in the town outside the Pueblo. It is a majestic scene, children coming home, greeted by their dogs beneath Blue Lake, the warm sun in their faces, mothers and grandmothers waiting.
As they approach their faces and clothing gradually become visible. Sort of like in movies where you see people slowly marching up over a hill toward you as you sit in a dark theatre trying to make out their faces. They are wearing team jackets and headphones that channel rock and Hip Hop into their heads, and carrying books that teach them about math, English, and computers. They have the saunter, dip and bop walk of kids in the big cities and look like Home Boys, but I suspect they are mostly “wannabees” who are pretending they are in a gang. The past and present are in stark contrast in this moment as the youth move from one place to another on their journey to discover “who am I?” I wonder what they will be up to tonight? What kind of trouble and sense of liberation will they find as they search for self?