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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

I grew up in a small, traditional town. It was and still is, predominantly Hispanic and socially conservative.

Dad and mom taught us to dress well to attend church, to shake everyone’s hand, and to greet people with sir and mam.

I appreciate my upbringing and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. And yet, I missed something important in my rearing. Something that would have changed my thinking and understanding of communities, people, and society: meeting people that sounded, looked, and thought differently than I did.

By Abe Villarreal

At a dinner earlier this week, I sat next to an American flag that was beautifully lit and framed. Hanging on a wall inside the historic Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House, it gave me that little feeling of patriotism you feel when you hear the beautiful words of America The Beautiful, or see members of our military saluting Old Glory.

This flag had only 46 stars. I quickly started doing the math in my head. I knew that New Mexico became a state in January of 1912 giving the flag its 47th star.

And for only one month, the 47-star flag existed before Arizona gained statehood in February of 1912. So, I started doing some research.

By Abe Villarreal

David Vega told me that he has been going to jail since the age of 19. He told me this behind a glass window while wearing a red jumpsuit.

Now, at the age of 30, David is waiting to see a judge again. It has become routine for the Silver City native who has spent more time than most behind bars.

America's founding and what we can learn from each other today

By Abe Villarreal

When I visited the East Coast last week, I was looking forward to seeing new places and experiencing life outside of the southwest. I did, and I also found out how much we remain similar same as people to each other all across these United States.

By Abe Villarreal

Moving from one house to another is one of those things you look forward to and dread at the same time.

The packing. You always have more than you think. It's an opportunity to throw things away, but then again, it's hard to throw anything away.

For some of us, our grandparents grew up during the Great Depression. They threw nothing away and knew the value of a penny. Yes, a penny still stands for something. More than its literal worth, a penny saved is a penny earned. And it can still add up to something.

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.

Live from Silver City

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