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Abe Observes

abe villarrealAbe Villarreal is the Director of Communications 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

At a funeral this week, a stranger asked me my name. She wanted to reassure herself that I was the chubby Hispanic guy she recognized in the paper each week.

It’s a strange thing for someone you don’t know to feel comfortable enough to talk to you and ask your name. It’s also personal, and something you regularly experience in a small town like ours.

At the Independence Day parade a few days ago, each float seemed to jump out like an inspirational piece for a Norman Rockwell painting. Kids were laughing, jumping up and down. Military veterans dressed in their perfectly creased outfits. Displaying their appreciation, and humility, for a service we all appreciate.

Moms were pushing babies in strollers. Dressed in red, white, and blue. The day felt unifying. For a moment we were all proud to be Americans.

There were no protests, just happy looks, and friendly faces. It felt very small town, and it was.

These days, the division we read about, and see on TV is less prevalent in rural communities where we have no choice but to collaborate in order to survive.

Churches continue to help the poor. The local mission faithfully feeds the hungry. An organized PTA is still in existence and making a difference. That means that moms still care, and kids, sometimes, still listen.

When a baby in a nearby town is found out to have a debilitating disease, people rally. All we have to know is that someone needs help. Canned goods are donated. Enchilada sales are announced in different neighborhoods. Everyone cares.

At my place of employment, employee retirements are reasons for everyone to deliver thoughtful recollections. Just last week, a lady named Vivian was honored with a cake and touching tributes by her longtime colleagues. She gave 25 years of her life to the same company. That is something to applaud.

One by one, friends shared tears and funny stories of workplace happenings. It felt like a family reunion for everyone in the crowded corridor. Our small town felt even smaller.

Driving through the maniacal rush hour of downtown El Paso, or the slow-moving crawl of a busy Phoenix highway means that you are living amongst people who are going places and in a hurry.

Time for hellos and goodbyes are hard to find. Prolonged lunch hours or afternoon get-togethers at the local coffee shop are not thought of when you are in a hurry to get going.

Moving so fast, you find yourself missing out on the things that matter. A scenic beach front image, or the architectural beauty of a major city’s skyline captured on your camera phone, will never come close to a game of cards with friends. The kind of game where no one remembers who won. You only remember who ate too much of the guacamole, and who spilled the first drink.

I wouldn’t change those kinds of moments for the convenience of having a shopping mall down the street. I like living a small town. A place where everyone knows your name.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications 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

Like no other form of communication, the written word, whether it be through proclamations or a simple text message, has had the power to bring us together, and also to divide.

On this Fourth of July, red and white stripes, and the beauty of 50 stars will be seen waving all around. Families will get together. Floats will be paraded. We'll feel a sense of patriotism, knowing that we have the privilege and blessing of living in these United States.

Our country is young and continues to experience growing pains. Our leaders argue about things, mostly because they care about how America will look tomorrow, for us, and for future Americans.

We've had many ups and downs, but somehow we've come together and for the most part, have progressed towards that more perfect Union.

The road has been tougher for some than it has been for others.

It was in 1777 when she was first called The United States of America in Article 1 of the Articles of Confederation. In the State of Pennsylvania, in the city of brotherly love, the document was signed by our four fathers, many of them of strong Christian belief. Some ministers.

As a Christian, I'd like to believe that our country was founded on the spiritual beliefs that I hold deeply. Unfortunately, history would show that our most revered leaders did not always practice what they preached.

One hundred years after the passing of the Articles of Confederation, the surrender of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce took place just 40 miles South of the Canadian border. Chief Joseph had been on the run, along with 750 of the Nez Perce tribe. They were fleeing the American government, which with all its power had sent 2,000 soldiers to force the movement of the Nez Perce.

America had broken its treaty with the tribe who were residing in Wallowa Valley, Oregon, and the U.S. government demanded they relocate to a reservation in Idaho. The disagreement sparked a 1,000-mile chase where the Nez Perce became known for their acts of care towards prisoners.

Finally captured on October 5, 1877, a century after the Articles would initiate the founding of a new country - a shining city on a hill - Chief Joseph and his tribe would have to surrender. They were prisoners in the only land they ever knew.

We are a great country, even though we have not been perfect. As we remember the ideas and the values that helped form our union, it is important not to forget how many suffered during this democratic experience.

Chief Joseph's speech of surrender:

Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead. Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are - perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

I pray that one day we all reach true independence, the kind we've been trying to reach for 241 years.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications 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 remember spending those long summer days at nana and tata's house, during hot, Arizona weekends in the 1990s. They put us to work, shining the bulky wooden furniture, and meticulously cleaning the complicated crevices of their bigger than life, vintage stereo console.

The thing was huge. With two doors that opened in the middle, the solid wood design was filled with curves and backed by red velvet material. It was a sight to see.

After a day of cleaning, I sensed a headache on the horizon. After complaining to nana, she cut up a potato, stuck one-half on each side of my head and wrapped it with a wet towel.

Lying down and looking up at the ceiling, all I could think of is how strange I must have looked in what was one of nana's many methods to fix life's discomforts. While I can't remember if my headache was gone with this spud of a cure, I do remember feeling comforted by the assurance that she gave me.

Because we have the power to Google anything and solve most things with a fast-acting drug, funny sounding homemade remedies are becoming a lost art. Still, it seems that grandmas had answers for almost anything, and in many cases, they worked.

A couple of days ago, I told a friend to lay out a container with beer on his front porch. He was having an annoying cockroach problem. The next morning, a handful of the drunken insects were lying on their backsides.

The only mistake he made was using his wife's tortilla warmer, a sacred dish in a Mexican-American household.

Speaking of overdrinking, did you know that Vicks VapoRub cures hangovers? It's true. Maybe. Actually, to a Mexican, Vicks VapoRub is a magician's tool. It will eliminate dry skin, chapped lips, achy joints, coughs, sneezes, and colds.

The feeling of a mother's hand as she rubs the cooling rub on your chest is a feeling every child should experience.

I'm not sure science can prove this one, but abuelas have been known to eliminate baby hiccups with a piece of red yarn.

I read somewhere that a penny on a forehead can stop a nosebleed.

Do these funky remedies work? If they do, it's because they are combined with a warm hug, a quiet prayer, and the loving look of an abuela or mom who cares enough for you to try anything to make you feel better.

I like homemade remedies because they teach us that our ancestors were thinkers. With little resources and much more imagination, they found answers when we needed them. Forget the almost instant need to head to an emergency room for the smallest of problems. Our grandmothers showed us that when you can't afford a quick fix, you quickly fix up a solution.

They also showed us their respect to their parents and the parents who came before, who have been passing down traditions for generations.

Next time you have a little one that's feeling blue, before you head out the door to the pharmacy, lay him down and look him in his eyes. Hold him close and then whip out the old Vicks Vaporub.

That time together may be all that he needs.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications 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

In a society where we remain on the journey to achieve equality on all measures, dads continue to get a bad rap.

Terms such as “deadbeat dads” seem to comfortably roll off our tongues.

Google the phrase single mom and you'll get far more results than searching for single dad.

For decades, television shows have portrayed fathers as clumsy, overweight, the weaker parent. The last time a popular TV dad was the responsible, level-headed leader in the household, his wife was the goofy redheaded comedienne who relied on him to save her from her wacky antics.

Dads are better than we portray them. Dads are necessary.

In my adult life, I've had the blessing of volunteering for local non-profits such as the Silver City Gospel Mission. The organization serves the homeless and disadvantaged. Most of them are men. Many of them are fathers. In Silver City, we have a home for battered women and a second refuge for homeless women. No such place for dads.

When the going gets tough, dads are supposed to be tougher. Dads should just shake things off and come back stronger. Dads are meant to figure things out, but sometimes life can be complicated without easy answers.

Dads are more likely to be serving their country in desolate places. There's a good chance that dads can be found digging underground, climbing tall buildings, and chasing criminals in fast-paced vehicles.

What's really amazing is that dads are the kind of people who quietly make things happen. Not through hugs and kisses, but through blisters and scrapes. Not with long talks, but with immediate action. Dads won't tell you they love you as much as moms, but they'll show it in ways you may not realize.

Growing up, there was a good cop and bad cop in my household. Mom would give us the evil eye; dad would ask us to listen to her. It's not because dad didn't want to make decisions. It was because he respected her decisions, and wanted us to learn to do the same.

For some time I resented my parents. They were overprotective. Asked too many questions. I thought they didn't trust me to make my own decisions. They were correct.

Is it possible to care too much? Not for dads.

Dads have a much more powerful role in society than we often notice or appreciate. They not only teach us the basics of driving and fixing a flat tire, they teach us the importance of considering others when we are behind that wheel. Looking both ways, stopping and going, slowing down when necessary - these are life's most fundamental lessons, applicable to far more than driving down a busy road.

When I'm making my way through a rural dirt path in the middle of nowhere, sometimes I don't care where I'm going, and I know I'll end up in just the right place.

All I have to do is look both ways. Slow down before deciding. Respect someone when he has the right of way. Pick up others when needed. Help those that can't make it on their own. Ask for directions. Appreciate the view ahead.

If I do all those things, I'll be doing just what dad asked me to do, and I'll be OK.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications 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

Turning 35 years old last Friday felt like any other day of the year. I went to work. Had lunch with a friend. Attended a graduation party. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except for this: I committed to doing something new every day of my 35th year.

Impossible? I don't think so. You can do it, too.

Your new thing doesn't have to be a big thing. Tasting a new food. Meeting a new person. Visiting a new place. It's all achievable.

What may be challenging is the commitment. I'm doing it because the journey is undoubtedly going to be life-changing.

Saturday was Day 1. My new thing was simple. I ate shrimp tacos at a new taco shop in Deming, New Mexico. They were yummy! Ok. I'm in. Only 364 days to go.
Day 2 was a lot more exciting. The usual Saturday hike with my buddy Dezmond Wheeler became a fun adventure. Mostly because it was a decision to go out into the unknown.

Life's most memorable moments are unplanned.

We drove out from our small town of Silver City, passed the even smaller Pinos Altos, into the mountains of the Gila National Wilderness. We drove, and drove. And then we stopped just past a cattle guard.

We didn't know where we were. A sign said #232. We looked at each other and started walking.

With no idea on how far, or how steep, the trail would be, we just kept walking.

Our traditional Saturday hike location is Gomez Peak in the Little Walnut campground area. It's a good hike, but it can become routine.

This new spot, #232, was filled with tall pine trees, different kinds of vegetation, and fallen trees to climb over.
There were steep areas, and flat ones too. The freshness of the air, the smell of the environment, and the sound of wind making its way through the trees all added to make for an enjoyable hike.

Only one sign greeted us as we made our way up the mountain for more than an hour. We weren't sure how far it kept going, so we decided to turn back when we encountered a tree and some brush that blocked the trail.

During a break on a rock that we reached climbing over a barbwire fence, we decided that on an upcoming Saturday hike we'd make it a day-long experience.
So next time, we'll pack the water, a few protein bars, and a sandwich. The journey will need to be a little different. We'll go farther and step through unknown areas, so I can keep on my challenge to accomplishing 365 days of new things.
So far, it looks like my 35th year is going to be the best yet.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications 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

Life can be tough. Today my best friend's dad passed away. It was unexpected. A slip in the bathroom and a cry for help. Suddenly a man's life is over.

He left behind a family of young and old kids. A loving wife. A lifetime of memories. Most importantly, he left behind the permanent imprint of a big smile.

A couple of week's ago, I wrote to you about David Cota. The guy that faced a world of challenges with a great big smile. I forgot to mention that his cheery disposition was passed down from his dad.

They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. What a wonderful trait to pass down to the next generation. At 63 years of age, Joshua Cota's tree blossomed with abundance. His kids are richer than they could ever imagine.

Only a short week ago, I was staffing the outdoor graduation ceremony at Western New Mexico University where David was receiving his Master's degree. You know David's story already. What you don't know is that his father was the loudest guy on the field.

Hundreds of people were gathered to celebrate the happy occasion. Graduation ceremonies can be particularly emotional, especially for a guy that was born in the kind of poverty you read about but rarely get to experience.

Joshua Cota raised five kids. For many years, he worked at Church's Chicken while his wife dishwashed her way through several restaurants. The couple did what they knew to do, with limited education, but love for their children.

David's graduation ceremony was the appropriate closing chapter in the 63-year-old's life. At least it seemed that way to me from the field. I didn't see him at first but I heard him loud and clear.

Even before his son David walked out to the familiar commencement theme song, Joshua was cheering him on. He wanted everyone in Silver City to know that he was David's dad.

The Bible says that we should make a loud and joyful noise. Joshua took this scripture to heart. I'm convinced that many of us are happier than we realize. Sometimes it takes the passing of a loud and joyful person like Joshua to make us realize how happy we can be, if we want it.

Joshua wanted it, not just for himself but also for everyone around him. He was a man of faith, family, and community. He never let his smile turn upside down and it was a testament to his love for the Lord.

St. Francis of Assisi once said that we should preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.

Joshua didn't need words. His life's example, through the success of his children, the love of his wife, and the impact that he left on others, were not through words but through actions.

Not big actions that are meant be showed off in newspaper pictures or in front of groups of people. It was the little actions. The turning on of a smile. The handshake and hug that anyone could have. The look into your eyes no matter how much of a stranger you were.

That guy with the smile you learned about two weeks ago, he got it from his dad. What a wonderful legacy.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

Live from Silver City

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