Two things are certain about living in New Mexico. First, no matter how newly you arrived, someone newer will arrive shortly. People have been moving to New Mexico for at least 13,000 years and that migration isn’t stopping soon. Second, no matter how long you’ve been here, someone has been here a lot longer. That’s really the other side of the same coin. Whether you arrived here 100, 500, 1,000 or 10,000 years ago, someone has been here longer. (Except for those first arrivers.) In geologic time, everyone got here yesterday or this morning — we’re all newcomers. Of course, people don’t think that way. Instead, we divide ourselves any way we can, including by longevity of residence. My 25 years loving New Mexico are meaningless to someone whose family has lived here for generations. We all would consider it absurd for someone who arrived on Monday to judge someone who arrives on Friday. When does absurdity become propriety? Does 100 years count if your family has been here 1000? How does 1000 stack up against 10,000?
I’m thinking about "rights" and "claims" because of an interesting issue that has recently arisen in New Mexico. We have a commuter train that runs from Belen, south of Albuquerque, to Santa Fe, to the north. Over a course of 100+ miles, the train passes through several Indian pueblos. (There are 19 pueblos and tribes in New Mexico.) Pueblos are semi-independent nations with their own laws and regulations. Most pueblos forbid people from taking photos on pueblo land with some exceptions. Now that the train passes through these lands, the pueblos have asked people to refrain from taking photos from the train along part of the route. A reasonable and polite request. The rub comes from the railroad asking people to refrain from taking photos. These are public right-of-ways run by the state. Does the state have the right to impose pueblo law on non-pueblo citizens on public right-of-ways? I’ll let the courts decide that, as I am sure they will be asked to.
When I finally ride the train to Santa Fe, I will respect pueblo requests to avoid photographing people and buildings on pueblo land. But what of the vista? Who can claim to own a vista that stretches 100 miles? If the conductor asks me to put away my camera and I don’t, will he or she consider me a jerk? Even if I am genuinely respectful of the pueblos up to the point of wanting, as a fellow citizen of New Mexico and the world, the privilege to photograph the long view or a roadrunner eating a snake?
I’m particularly surprised that the press doesn’t react more to the way this came to pass. Someone knows someone and gets a favor. An unelected official imposes his will on people without any discussion. There’s something outrageous there. Or would only a jerk think so?
Isn’t the press curious whether Isleta pueblo, which straddles the southern route that opened in 2008, made a similar request six months or more ago and, if not, why not?
In her front page story, Leslie Linthicum has two powerful paragraphs (no sarcasm):
But what separates good people from jerks is the ability to temper "I wanna" and "I can" with "do I really hafta?" and "I won’t." …
So, will you? That probably depends on whether you’re a New Mexican or whether you just live here.
But Leslie may be unfair in her harsh judgment. (Westerners often tolerate what they don’t really approve of.) She draws a line in the sand and calls anyone who even questions the line a jerk. I’ve lived here 24 years. I *love* New Mexico and want to live here until I die.
I’ll bet Leslie a Golden Pride breakfast burrito that one of the following things will happen in the next five years. First, someone willing to be considered a jerk will sue over this matter. A legally-savvy jerk will note that this appears to violate the anti-Establishment clause of the US constitution. Moreover, it probably violates the anti-donation clause of the NM constitution. Second, perhaps as a result of this lawsuit, the train will install automatic shades, which will drop at various points along the ride. Third, the pueblos will erect fences or other visual blocks where they feel they are necessary. (That’s the solution I endorse, short of miles of fencing.)