The typical labels of Indians, Spanish, and Anglo are used uniquely in New Mexico. First, Indians: New Mexicans generally don’t use the term “Native American.” So you’ll see “American Indian” in formal situations, but even the “American” part is a bit laughable, considering “America” wasn’t so named until Christopher Columbus made his voyage west. In any case, “Indian” refers to a number of different peoples who do not share a common culture or language: Navajo on the west side of the state, Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache, and the Puebloans of the Rio Grande and west as far as Acoma and Zuni. (The latter term, Pueblo, is another problematic one, as it refers not to a particular tribe but to a larger group of people who speak four distinct languages but are banded together by a common way of living.) With about 10 percent of the population claiming American Indian ancestry, traditions are still strong—though of course they’ve changed, as neon-dyed feathers trim kids’ ceremonial headdresses, and wealth from casinos funds elaborate museums as well as new housing projects.
Spanish really means that: the people, primarily in northern New Mexico, whose ancestors were pure-blood Spaniards rather than the mestizos of Mexico. For many families, it’s a point of pride similar to that of Mayflower descendants. Through the years, particularly during the 20th century, a steady influx of Mexican immigrants has blurred racial distinctions a bit, but it has also helped preserve the local Spanish culture, in that it has reinforced the use of Spanish as a daily language and spurred pride in the culture’s music and other folkways. Increasingly, the word “Hispano” is being used to label New Mexico’s distinct culture with centuries-old Spanish roots, though this still doesn’t accurately cover the Basques, who came here both during the conquest (Juan de Oñate, the first Spanish governor, was Basque) and in the early 20th century as sheepherders. And the recent discovery of families of crypto-Jews (Spanish Jews who nominally converted to Catholicism but fled here to avoid the Inquisition) has added another fascinating layer to the Spanish story.
Anglo is the most imprecise term of all, as it means anyone who’s not Spanish or Indian. Originally used to talk about the white traders who came to hunt and sell furs and trade on theSanta Fe Trail, it still refers to people who can’t trace their roots back to the conquistadors or farther. If you’re a Vietnamese immigrant in Albuquerque, you’re an Anglo. If you’re a Tibetan refugee in Santa Fe, you’re an Anglo. And if you’re an African American farmer who settled here after the Civil War, you’re an Anglo. (According to the 2000 census, about 45 percent of the population is white; Asians are only 1 percent, and African Americans make up 2 percent.) But all Anglo culture is shot through with Spanish and Indian influence, whether among the organic garlic farmers from California who rely on their acequias for water or the New Age seekers who do sweat-lodge rituals.
Even with this liberal application of “Anglo,” the tricultural arrangement is a bit limiting, as it doesn’t assign a place to contemporary immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, and their numbers are growing steadily. It also doesn’t acknowledge the strong Mexican-American Chicano culture that’s shared across the Southwest, from Los Angeles through Texas. The U.S. census form lumps both newer arrivals and old Spanish under “Hispanic”—a category (distinct from race) that made up about 42 percent of the population in 2000.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition