Who are we?
I spend a lot of time alone. Most writers, if they are lucky, do. I’ve been fine-tuning a memoir, facing into truths about myself I would rather forget. As I turn to national newspapers and magazines in the deluded effort to unwind after too much time in my own company, I find myself wondering who "we" are—the "we" our administration tells us stands ready to fight wars on two fronts; the "we" my local chamber of commerce says needs artificial snow on our desert mountains so that ski tourism will increase, but most of all I wonder about the privileged "we" employed by national columnists and feature writers.
I read a column last summer in which a San Francisco writer challenged the cynical notion that the violence of Sept. 11 had not changed "our" behavior. She talked of cozying up in her home and how the "new big thing" for New Yorkers and Bay Area folks is to "stroll through real estate open houses, picking up decorating tips." She said women were splurging on boutique kitchen products. Which New Yorkers? Which Californians? Which women? Which people?
Here, in the rural West, most of the people I know struggle to make ends meet. The young cashier in the supermarket tells me she works two jobs, goes to school and cares for her toddler. Most small ranchers are worried less about decorating their doubly mortgaged home and more about making the payment for the new pick-up they were forced to buy because the 20-year-old clunker wouldn’t go another foot. Young Hispanic couples wrestle with medical bills; middle-aged Navajos deal with the impossibility of good, inexpensive care for their aging parents.
While we do have our infestation of second-mansion owners and blithe, silver-haired boys intent on developing everything in sight, most residents of Flagstaff are trying to figure out how to make do with less. We are, if the slick media or our myopic government bothered to ask us, still reeling from the shock and the lingering terror of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We oppose war. We support it. We don’t know whether to trust the government. We don’t know who to trust.
We are Hopi, loggers, old-timers, newcomers, kids and elders. We are trust-funders and impossibly wealthy retirees. We—lots of "we"—just lost our jobs. We live paycheck to paycheck. Some of us can afford boutique soap. Some split a bulk buy of generic with our neighbors. We blast norteno music from our pick-up. We glare at the dark-eyed woman who does the blasting.
And, we know who we are, as I learned as a guest speaker in an anthropology class at Northern Arizona University. I gave the class the exercise of writing who "we" in the West were, using their particular identity as the ubiquitous "we." I expected lots of totally dude-babespeak. Wrong.
Here are a few of the voices from Miguel Vasquez’s class: "We are women who will graduate next semester. We are still learning how to be a better student, daughter, friend, money-saver, more forgiving person. We keep meaning to start this today."
"We are a single mother on welfare and living in a white trailer with two dogs...a young woman in an aging body...a 53-year-old sophomore at Northern Arizona University in electronic media." "We are strong-minded and powerful, except we don't know it yet.""We are descendents of survivors. We are educated and can't get a job because of our skin color. They don't say it to our faces, but I can read what is in their eyes."
This "we" business comes from all sides and easily flips into "them." Native American writer Sherman Alexie tells a local interviewer that he wants to be her—a white woman—because white women are lucky. But I remember the white homeless woman I saw crawling out of a pile of cardboard in downtown Phoenix.
Who are we? Who are they? The answers are not simple. Nor are the questions. And it is these questions that those of us privileged to have access to the media must ask more often. We, they, are as diverse as the West. Any other answer is insulting. To all of us.
Mary Sojourner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). She lives and writes in Flagstaff, Arizona.
re: thanks for your support
We, the Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade, would like to say thank-you to our community for all of their generous support during our recent fund drive. The community has been generous in these uncertain times, and all the members of the brigade are proud to serve our fellow citizens. Thank you, Signpost, for your help in getting this community-wide thank-you into print!
on behalf of the PVFB
I read in your recent issue of Signpost Web an article entitled "Presbyterian services thanks donation organizers." The article thanked the Young Marines of Rio Rancho High School for their donations to the Presbyterian Medical Services Sandoval County Head Start.
The Young Marines is not an organization affiliated with Rio Rancho High School. The only military program associated with Rio Rancho High School is the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Program.
The Young Marines is a separate youth-oriented community program well deserving of proper recognition.
—Lt. Col. Ingles
Senior Marine Instructor
Rio Rancho High School
re: on call 24/7
Last Sunday morning I was up early working in my darkroom. I turned on the water and discovered air, not water. A disturbing and scary matter for sure.
I immediately called Jacob Maes (Ranchos de Placitas water manager) and got a return call right away. Jacob and Johnny were on their way. They discovered a crack in a main line that had emptied the storage tank, rendering the whole south side of Ranchos without water for the best part of the day.
Being a curious individual, I ventured by to see how the progress was going at around 4:00 p.m., hoping to get a warm shower sometime that day.
As luck would have it, Jacob was fastening the last bolts to join the new pipe with the old.
Seeing these two men standing calf-deep in mud on a Sunday afternoon in the cold made me further appreciate the dedication that they and others like them bring to their jobs at a moment’s notice—with little regard to their personal plans—to keep us supplied with the necessities and the niceties that life in Placitas and America offer us. All I can say is “thank you” to Jacob and Johnny for their dedication and hard work.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the shower to the max.
re: freezing Medicare payments
A front-page article in the New York Times by Robert Pear (“Commission to Urge Freezing Some Medicare Payments, “January 18) reports, “To slow the growth of Medicare, an influential federal advisory panel will soon recommend that Congress freeze payments to nursing homes and home care agencies and reduce the cost-of-living allowance that hospitals are scheduled to receive next year.
“Republicans in Congress and Bush administration officials welcomed the proposals, saying they would save money for taxpayers and the Medicare trust fund. But health care providers expressed alarm, saying the proposals could reduce access to care for millions of the elderly and disabled.”
So, we work all our lives and contribute to the economy so that when we get old we can be hung out to dry? Is that it?
Well, here’s a counterproposal: immediately stop all government funding for research related to extending longevity. If we don't live as long, we'll require fewer Medicare payments, we'll all die sooner, and we'll be less of a burden to the taxpayer. What a world, eh?
—Gary W. Priester