Since I’ve arrived in New Mexico four weeks ago, my topic has been continually shifting and evolving. I knew coming home to do my research might be challenging but I never anticipated how difficult the process would be. Not only am I faced with the daily distractions of a large and close family, but the pressure of writing about my own hometown continually hangs over me.
Las Vegas, the town I’m primarily focusing my research on, is historically one of the most influential towns in Northern New Mexico. It is also the town I call home, and my family has inhabited for over 125 years. Now, Las Vegas is an often forgotten town, its legacy swept away with the memories of the wild western frontier. Ever since I moved to the east coast I’m continually faced with the question “Where are you from?” People are continually surprised to learn that there is another Las Vegas about 700 miles east and more than 75 years older than the Strip. Furthermore, people are continually confused by my claims to be “Hispanic, or Latino” yet American.
The culture of Northern New Mexico is unique in having little if any influence from recent immigrants, which many Americans associate Hispanics and Latinos with. But the cultural practices and lifeways of Northern New Mexicans aren’t based on any one race, yet a strong and old heritage passed down through generations. Growing up in a town modeled in Spanish Colonial style yet fueled by a true mix of Spanish, Mexican, and Native American traditions, I grew up with a strong sense of my cultural heritage but a lack of a term to define myself. As people ask me to explain this, I find myself struggling defend myself, and really trying to legitimize an entire culture that should be able to stand on its own. Why is it that this culture is lost to the rest of the world? The truth is that this culture is slowly being lost to itself. Talking to people from my hometown I’ve come to find a lack of interest in our history and traditions met with an increasing concern for the ways in which people are engaged in their own history. It is my belief that museums are a vital part of keeping people interested in their history as well as informing others. The National Museum of the American Indian features various Native American groups from New Mexico. If the proposed National Museum of the American Latino opens, this is where Northern New Mexicans can teach the world about their history while instilling pride in their decedents. Surprisingly, many people who work daily with projects to promote and preserve Las Vegas history and culture were unaware of the debate surrounding the National Museum of the American Latino or even its existence as an initiative. It is my hope that I can help to bridge this gap through my research and writing. In the coming week I will be interviewing several historians, activists, and community members to find out how they feel about preserving Northern New Mexico culture and identity through a national museum.
Posted by Esther Elyse Mares — MA Candidate in CLACS/Museum Studies atNYU