Originally New Mexico Territory included Arizona and part of Colorado. The Gadsden Purchase three years later in 1853 created what is now those two states’ southern border with Mexico. Eventually the two split up, with New Mexico being admitted as the 47th state in 1912. Arizona was admitted a month later as the 48th star on the flag.
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New Mexico especially has a large Hispanic population — 46 percent of the population, with quite a few of those being descendents of the original Spanish colonists. It has the second highest percentage of native Americans after Alaska and the fourth highest total number after California, Oklahoma and Arizona.
When I travel to other states I like to pick up the local paper. Tha Taos News was particularly good. When we visited Taos they were having a four-part annual special edition of features about Taos people and attractions. Taos, at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet and with a population of about 5,700 people was worried about filling vacancies in its police department.
Taos News writer Andrew Oxford wrote, “One of the toughest cases to crack at the Taos Police Department may be the question of who will fill the agency’s four vacancies.”
Two paragraphs later he quoted the department’s sergeant, who is being promoted to police chief, as saying that agencies all over the state are having difficulty attracting qualified applicants.
One factor is the altitude. Both Taos and Santa Fe are high desert locations and both are nearly 7,000 feet elevation. Merchants we talked to relished the mild, sunny weather of late September, but were “bracing” for winter. It can get to 33 degrees below zero.
In northwestern New Mexico, Farmington’s police department is offering a $15,000 signing bonus for qualified patrol officers and $3,000 for uncertified cadets.
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The Republican governor and the Democratic attorney general are butting heads over gay marriage. Gov. Susana Martinez wants the voters to decide in a ballot measure. The AG, Gary King, is opposed to letting the voters decide and wants the New Mexico Supreme Court to decide if the prohibition against gay marriage is unconstitutional and that New Mexico should recognize gay marriages from other states.
Meanwhile chaos reigns at the county level. Seven of 33 county clerks have started issuing same-sex marriage licenses, either due to lower level court decisions or just on their own interpretation of the law.
King and Martinez will be competing for the governor’s office in 2014.
• • •
They don’t call the state New Mexico for nothing. Consider this fascinating story from the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Columbus is a town on the southwest border of the state, somewhat opposite El Paso, Texas. On the other side of the border is the community of Palomas, Mexico. Because there is only one hospital in the area when mothers give birth from Palomas they send an ambulance across the border to take them to the hospital 30 miles north in Deming, the county seat of Luna County.
That means nearly three out of four Columbus Elementary students live in Palomas. The students, whose mothers gave birth to them on U.S. soil, cross the border each day with U.S. birth certificates covered in plastic and carried in “Barbie and SpongeBob backpacks.” Their mothers can’t cross. As soon as they pass through border patrol officers a yellow school bus waits to pick them up.
Luna County is more than 60 percent Hispanic.
“In the 1950s the Palomas children didn’t even have to be Americans to attend Deming public schools. The principal of the elementary school simply admitted the children after one insistent Mexican father and the tradition began,” wrote Washington Post staff writer Lyndsey Layton. The Mexicans crossed the border to pick onions and chiles for New Mexican farmers.
“Twenty years later the county began requiring U.S. citizenship.”
Another fascinating aspect of this is the Columbus Elementary School uses a dual language immersion model, teaching in Spanish one day and English the next day. “They come in at such a low-level Spanish, they’re not even monolingual — they’re really non-language,” school Superintendent Harvielee Moore told the reporter.
It was left unsaid, but the implication here is that the language spoken at home is some combination of Mexican Indian and Spanish. There are more than 50 different indigenous languages in Mexico. Many of the children of Palomas come from unheated homes with dirt floors, have never held a pencil and have to learn to use an indoor bathroom. Others need glasses.
Despite the initial obstacles, the American-born children of Palomas learn English and many go on to be American success stories, paying taxes.
Michael Raffety is editor of the Mountain Democrat. His column appears biweekly.