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Abe Observes

abe villarrealAbe Villarreal is the Assistant Dean of Student Support and Civic Engagement at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

By Abe Villarreal

On a recent trip to the Arizona border, I stopped by the tiny town of Rodeo, New Mexico. Founded at the turn of the 20th century, the town is as open and as dusty as its name implies.

The kind of town where you see real tumbleweeds lazily making their way across the unpaved main street. The right side of the road is mostly empty. The left side has the necessary essentials for civilization, a corner store/restaurant, and a bar.

By Abe Villarreal

In the book Chasing Dichos through Chimayo, author Don J. Usner presents a marvelous collection of stories told by the elders of this Northern New Mexican town. The stories recount times of yesteryear, often represented bilingually through dichos, or sayings, that tell the history of the area’s people and traditions.

I love dichos because they are more than just sayings that you hear growing up. In their simplicity, and often-rhythmic nature, they tell us people’s feelings and sometimes their principles.

Dichos teach us lessons, and they help fill empty moments when you are looking for something to say that has just the right amount of meaning.

Every culture has its clichés. We’ve all been told all that glitters isn’t gold. We’ve seen the embarrassed fellow walking with his tail between his legs. Don’t know what to say? Maybe cat got your tongue.

As a Mexican-American, for me dichos have an extra layer of meaning. Like a cebolla, you hear one of these poetic sayings and you can go on and on peeling back the connotations.

In the first chapter of Chasing Dichos Through Chimayo, Usner tells the story of two older cousins, now in their 80s, living in the small town known for its heirloom chile and El Santuario, a Catholic Chapel.

The cousins go back and forth remembering people of the past, their upbringing, and participation in traditional rituals. Seamlessly, they interject dichos such as no hay bolsa mas quieta que una bolsa sin dinero. It means that there is no purse more still than a purse without money. So the cousins were hard workers. There was no other way.

What a beautiful way to share memories and deeply embedded philosophies. People don’t speak this way anymore.

I love this book because it achieves the important accomplishment of preserving the history of a community. For people from poor, or underprivileged, as it is said today, backgrounds, documentation of genealogies and historic moments are often lacking.

We tell our stories orally, from grandparents to children. The achievements and groundbreaking moments that made a difference to our families and neighbors are told through the beautiful tradition of storytelling. Cuentos and dichos are what have helped us know today about our past.

Little moments, not just the big ones, are significant enough to pass along to the next generation. The times our uncles were in bar fights. Stories of kids riding bikes along dusty arroyos and overseeing a horizon that seemed endless.

Now more than ever, culture is becoming, like everything else, homogenized. This is why the arts are such an important part of capturing and memorializing the important differences we bring to each other as peoples.

I suggest you read Mr. Usner’s book and for the kids, take them to see the new Disney animated movie Coco. It is bright, colorful, fun, filled with music and adventure. And most importantly it teaches us.

I’ve seen Coco three times. Like no other animated film before, it spoke to me in meaningful ways. And like its central theme Remember Me, it reminded me that there is no more valuable lesson to pass on to my future children than to let them know from where they came.

So tell your stories and tell them again and again. Like the saying goes, la memoria es como el mal amigo, cuando mas falta te hace, te falla (memory is like a bad friend, when you need it the most, it fails you).

By Abe Villarreal

In the book Massacre on the Lordsburg Road – a dramatic recounting of the death of two parents and the kidnapping of a six-year-old boy is told in great detail and in high drama.

It is one of the everyday tragedies of the Apache Wars during the late 19th century, and most of us don’t know about it. What most of us may know comes from a small description of the event, on those side-of-the-road signs in the long and flat road between Silver City and Lordsburg.

By Abe Villarreal

A new year is an amazing opportunity to reset your internal clock. Just the other day I was asking myself if I accomplished enough during the last 365 days. The answer was no. It seems always to be no.

More and more we become a complacent society. In New Mexico, my adopted home State, we tout that we live in the land of mañana. The slow way is the good way because it’s easier. We should enjoy life. It’s too short.

Sometimes we wake up from our enchanted slumber and realize that tomorrow might not come and life seems a little too short to get anything done.

By Abe Villarreal

My favorite memories of the holidays are listening to cuentos, stories told by dads and moms, uncles and aunts, and mostly by grandpas and grandmas.

Like the kid in a classic Norman Rockwell painting, I remember sitting with my legs crossed on the floor, hands holding up my head, and eyes wide open. Grandpa Abram told the best cuentos.

By Abe Villarreal

Everyd ay a reminder pops up on my computer at 2 pm. It’s a daily notification that I set up titled Do Something Nice For Someone.

Lately, I began to feel guilty about ignoring the reminder. A simple click and it’s gone in a blink of an eye.

When I first set it up, the idea I had was to stop everything I was doing, leave the office, and do something nice for someone. The sad reality is that it became more difficult than I first imagined.

By Abe Villarreal

Lately, I’ve been learning to write without words. There is so much you can say without putting pen to paper, and I’ve been doing it in the form of art.

An empty canvas can be so liberating. When I found myself staring at one, a rush of thoughts came to mind. Why is this happening to me? Why can’t these problems be solved? Why can’t things be like they always were?

Because I couldn’t find the answers that set me at peace, I turned to a paintbrush, acrylics, and an empty canvas. It was the only way I could speak my mind.

By Abe Villarreal

All families have their highs and lows. Times of unity, and times of separation. And when you hit a valley, a flood of childhood memories fill your brain.

Like the time you stayed up all night because you couldn’t wait to open your first Christmas gift at the stroke of midnight. Latinos celebrate Christmas during the Noche Buena, at midnight.

My mom always put out a single candle in each window. We didn’t need strings of colorful lights to hang from roof corner to corner. Just that simple candle in each room.

Live from Silver City

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