Raised in Northern New Mexico, in Mora County, I spoke Spanish as my first language. This was the only language I spoke at home and it was commonplace in our community to speak Spanish at the bank, the market, and among our neighbors.
Until I started school in the fall of 1955 I never thought of speaking English on a regular basis. It was a language foreign to me; I had heard my older brother and sisters speak it only in passing.
At home, I was addressed by my real name, Eliseo. But when I went to school, it was changed to Lee. Early in my school years, if a teacher caught me and my classmates speaking Spanish at school, we were made to write “I will not speak Spanish at school” hundreds of times on the blackboard.
I was raised by my grandfather on a one-horse farm, and he could not read or write in English and thought very little of speaking English.
Gov. Susana Martinez struck against our diverse population when she issued an executive order that orders police officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status. Upon reading her order, I thought to myself, “What if this order was in place years ago, and what if my grandfather or myself was involved in an incident? Would we have been deported or sent to Immigration and Naturalization Services? It is my great fear that this executive order will serve as support for a blurring of the police directive, and soon anyone who doesn’t speak English fluently will be targeted for questioning, even if they are doing nothing wrong.
New Mexico’s Constitution celebrates the multilingual diversity of the state, and provisions within it exist to ensure all New Mexicans are represented in our government. Not only does our “bill of rights” state that New Mexico is to follow the rights of equality outlined in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but subsequent articles and amendments have solidified New Mexico’s multicultural emphasis.
In Article VII, Section 3, it states, “The right of any citizen of the state to vote, hold office or sit upon juries shall never be restricted, abridged or impaired on account of religion, race, language or color, or inability to speak, read or write the English or Spanish languages.” Other articles decree that “Children of Spanish descent in the state of New Mexico shall never be denied the right and privilege of admission in public schools.”
When President Taft approved New Mexico’s Constitution, he stated, “The Mexican Americans of New Mexico succeeded in protecting their heritage by inserting provisions in their constitution which made Spanish an official language, equal to the English language.” History supports that this diversity and acceptance of various groups is New Mexico’s culture, and Gov. Martinez’s executive order is decidedly counter-culture. It alienates people, causes even law-abiding citizens to question their freedoms and safety and causes rifts in our culturally blended state.
I cannot believe in a state like New Mexico we are faced with a question like this. I just cannot accept it. I am a New Mexican, and am proud of that fact. Our state’s culture is unique, and this endearing diversity is why so many people have come from all over the world and made this state their home.
Eliseo “Lee” Alcon is a state representative for parts of Cibola and McKinley counties. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.