What Is “Other?”

The Old Pecos Trail Standoff


I’ve watched the ethnic drama unfolding on Old Pecos Trail for over a month now.  It’s been rather like watching kids on a seesaw.

First a property owner who supports pro-Palestinian commentary, Guthrie Miller, allowed the Navajo artist Remy to erect a mural depicting Israeli troops threatening Palestinian women and children on the wall surrounding his property.  Then some neighbors objected and started ripping down Remy’s powerful images.  I was accosted myself when I arrived to take photos shortly after the images appeared. The young mother who stopped me wanted to know whether I was responsible for the images.  When I told her no but I appreciated the message, she informed me that “this sort of thing should be displayed downtown or somewhere else—not in a neighborhood where it can upset children and young families.”  Hoping to arouse her sympathy, I noted that her own children were about the same age as those depicted and said so—but that comment fell flat as a burnt pancake, so I let it go, continued shooting the photos, and the “young family” departed in a cloud of righteous indignation.  Next the City of Santa Fe ordered Remy’s art removed from Miller’s “historic” property.  All but one of the images had been torn down by then—there wasn’t much left to remove.  Then a few days later, a banner (made out of a sheet and painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag) appeared:


After that, there was about a week of silence while Miller apparently initiated an appeal to reverse the City’s decision.  And today, as we drove past the controversial site, the entire mural was back up, thanks to the efforts of Miller, Remy, Jewish Voice for Peace, Friends of Sabeel, and Red Nation from Albuquerque.

I have no idea who’s going to win this battle, but I do applaud it, on four points.

First, highlighting the plight of Palestinian women and children in the face of Israeli oppression does not constitute anti-Semitism.  I was raised Catholic.  That doesn’t make me someone who hates Jews, though I do happen to be someone who deplores and resists oppression of any minority in any form.

Second, if the Navajo artist Remy sees a correlation between the oppression of the Palestinians and that of his own people, he has every right to express his views.  Anglos have suppressed Native beliefs, religion, and practices for centuries—six centuries to be exact, ever since 1492.  High time someone spoke up about it.

Third, what happened to free speech?  Just as Remy is entitled to express his views, so too is Guthrie Miller, on whose property the mural appears.  Should the opinion of his neighbors (several of whom, I dare say, have pressured the City’s historical preservation society to address their complaints) outweigh his right to speak out in his own way?  After all, he didn’t urge Remy to put the mural on his neighbors’ walls—only on his own.

Fourth, and finally—citizens of the City Different (my home for the past 30 years) now have an opportunity to engage in an honest and open conversation about differences—who is “different” from whom, and why?  For decades Anglos, Indians, and Hispanics have danced around the issue of who got here first and who gets to make the rules.  Thanks to our Mayor Alan Webber, the Entrada standoff was eventually and peacefully resolved—perhaps not to the liking of all parties, but as Abe Lincoln is said to have stated:  “You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time.  But you can’t please all of the people all of the time.“

Humans are tribal by nature.  Tribes have many faces:  there are tribes based on skin color, on religious practices, on cultural background, on wealth (or the lack thereof), on politics, ethnicity, professions, etc..  As a mixed blood person, I belong to several tribes myself:  I’m Irish, Scots, French, and Native American.  I’m a former Catholic, a “born-again” Pagan, and a shamanic practitioner.  I’m an artist, author, publisher, psychologist, healer, wife, mother, grandmother, and so on.  Which group, should I choose to do so, would I affiliate with?  Who would be “my people?”

Wake up, Santa Fe.  We’ve become much more than we were 30 or 50 or 300 years ago.  We are truly a melting pot now, with more people coming as the world around us changes.  It’s past time to acknowledge our responsibilities as global citizens—not as Jews, Palestinians, Natives, Anglos, Blacks, Christians, or anything else.  The world’s children, no matter where they are, are as much our responsibility as that of their parents. When one is hurt, we are all hurt.  It’s time to listen to each other, not just with our ears but with our hearts—to truly hear each other, to acknowledge the cultural pain and begin to heal the generational wounds we have all sustained.