May 2012

Becoming Bicultural

A monthly column on Hispanic Heritage and Culture by
Richard Campbell

Author of "Two Eagles in the Sun"

A Tale of Two Cities—Again

Editor’s note:?Richard Campbell, who began this column in 1995, died April 17, 2012. He submitted this column at the end of February. Please see this month’s “El Paso Fishnet” column for more about him.

Soon after we moved to Albuquerque in 2004, I presented in the “El Paso Scene” a comparison between El Paso and Albuquerque, two cities so very important in my life. Now, nine years later, here is version two. Now I understand what the similarities and differences might mean.

Histories: Both have footprints of Native American tribes, Spanish conquistadors, Mexican settlers, Confederate soldiers, and American merchants.
Origins: El Paso began in the mid-1600s, Albuquerque in 1706, quite close together. Each had a wild adolescence until both grew into adulthood.
Location: Both cities straddle the Rio Grande. Mountains hover over both.
Size: The two cities are quite similar in size, neither sprawling metropolis nor small town.
Street names: Street signs everywhere sing picturesque Spanish titles.
Climate: Both cities celebrate bright sunshine, low humidity, mild winters, spring sandstorms and hot summers.
Water: Both desert cities face serious future water shortages.
Poverty: Large populations in each city live below the poverty level.
Social issues: Both struggle with crime, drunken drivers, gangs, and drugs.

The differences are significant also.
Name: El Paso began as El Paso del Río del Norte, or “The Pass of the River of the North,” after a Spanish conquistador crossed the river in 1598. Albuquerque’s name honors a Spanish duke from Alburquerque, a city in Spain, a name spelled later without the pesky first “r” — so Anglos could pronounce it.
Location: The Rio Grande meanders alongside El Paso and makes an international border. Juárez lies on the other side. From high elevations one can view three states and two countries. But Albuquerque is further north on the same river, far away from any state or international border.
Elevation: El Paso is only 3,800 feet above sea level, while Albuquerque rises to 5,312 feet, 6,700 in the foothills.
Crime: Despite nearby Juárez violence, El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation. A decade ago, Albuquerque’s crime rate was a true concern, but has improved significantly today.

One huge difference: That difference is Hispanic presence and influence. Instead of Hispanics (often called Hispanos in New Mexico) at nearly 48 percent in Albuquerque, in El Paso it’s 82 percent Hispanics, and rising.
Albuquerque: In one poll Albuquerque rates third best place to live in the U.S. for Hispanics. Hispanics, though, are not as widely scattered throughout the city as in El Paso and are most concentrated in the southwestern part of the city. That explains why, except for the southwest area, one hears very little Spanish on the streets or in the stores. When Spanish is spoken, however, it could be traditional Spanish, the caló of the Chicano barrio, Spanglish or northern New Mexico’s uniquely archaic 15th century Don Quixote Spanish. Some Hispanics neither speak nor understand the tongue of their fathers.
In small towns just north of Albuquerque, a small group of Penitente men conduct 200-year-old rituals and customs during Holy Week.
“Burque” boasts the internationally known Hispanic Cultural Center that presents programs in Hispanic arts, drama, music, dance, and film. Down in Old Town, the arrangement is Spanish colonial: historic central plaza, surrounded by restaurants and shops, with the San Felipe de Neri Church (est. 1793) across the plaza.

El Paso: Juárez refugees fleeing to El Paso have made parts of the city look even more Mexican. Sixty-one percent of the businesses are Hispanic. Spanish language Mexican radio and television are more dominant, including telenovelas (soap operas), commercials, news, and sports (especially boxing). Many store signs are in Spanish. Spanish is spoken everywhere.
Beyond the language, the city expresses an unmistakable Hispanic influence. Architecture might be Spanish style or Mexican-style adobe. In the barrios and with families who maintain their heritage, one will find the old traditions and customs, especially during the Christmas season. Bakeries always offer tasty Mexican bolillos (rolls) and sweet goods. Chile is the dominant flavor, and nearly every menu includes enchiladas red or green, tamales, burritos, chile rellenos, mole, tres leches, flan and more. Drinkers wash down the food with margaritas, Mexican beer or Mexican coffee.

Important? Acculturated Hispanics may not relate to these differences. They are comfortable in either culture or either city. But, what about those others who need a kind of community where they feel culturally comfortable? For them, this “Tale of Two Cities,” might help some Hispanics understand why they live where they do and why they “feel at home.”

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Copyright 2012 by Cristo Rey Communications.