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Central plaza—el zócalo—in Oaxaca, Mexico
Bring back our plazas
The day after I came home from a trip to Oaxaca City, Mexico, The Taos News ran an editorial endorsing the efforts of the Taoseños (organized as the Taos Project) to rejuvenate the Taos plaza. The editorial listed some of the topics the project hopes to address: automobile traffic, congestion, and parking; scarcity of bathroom facilities; beautification and cleanliness; lighting and signage. In Santa Fe, the main topic of debate concerning its plaza has been whether to close it to traffic.
While these are all issues that need to be dealt with if we want to bring back some kind of life to our sterile plazas, this alone isn’t going to make them real zócalos again. Because what that requires, as I saw in Oaxaca, is a community whose heart is the zócalo. And I’m afraid we long ago lost the defining qualities that Oaxaca still retains: a community where all economic and ethnic populations rub shoulders in the streets; where people actually walk through a central district of offices, shops, churches, government buildings, and restaurants; where all services—cambios, banks, liquor stores, farmacias, clothing stores, and cafés—meet the needs of locals and tourists alike.
The zócalo is a microcosm of all of this, where everyone gathers to watch the human parade, where stalls serve indigenous indio and mexicano food, and venders sell crafts ranging in price from a few pesos for a black pottery chicken to a thousand-peso huipil, where every celebration and observance, secular or religious, fills the square with participants and observers.
On Noche Buena afternoon, hundreds of activists demonstrated against the incarceration of political prisoners, and that evening, twenty brilliantly lit trucks paraded through the zócalo loaded down with children, goats, shepherds, manger tableaus, and church scenes that captivated a crowd ranging from the elegant oaxaqueña with her toy poodle to the vendors taking a break from their work.
This range also reveals the inequities of Mexican life, of course, which are ever present in the zócalo: the impoverished Indians from the surrounding pueblos who come for a day’s work to sell food and crafts on the streets. If they make enough money for the day they can pay for a night’s lodging. If not, they sleep on the street. The poverty is never hidden behind the trappings of tourism as it is here. In Oaxaca one sees life for what it is: here, in the Taos or Santa Fe plazas, we see only what the city fathers want us to see.
Although Taoseños recently won the fight against Super Wal-Mart coming to town, ironically enough, the current Wal-Mart, that omnipresent symbol of corporate globalization, functions as the Taos zócalo. Wal-Mart is where we all run into each other, buying our school supplies and dog food, and where we stop for a few minutes to visit and to gossip. Maybe we should forget about the plaza renovation, which sounds suspiciously like an expanded tourist trap anyway, and get Wal-Mart to bring in some taco stands and licuado bars to provide refreshment and some ranchera bands to provide entertainment and recreation. Then we can once again be part of an integrated community that talks, eats, sings, and dances together, even if all our money is going straight to corporate headquarters.
Kay Matthews is copublisher and co-editor of La Jicarita, a nonprofit newspaper published monthly in conjunction with the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition, established in 1994 by citizens dedicated to protecting and enhancing the clean and plentiful waters that sustain the rural communities, culture, and traditions of northern New Mexico. This editorial appeared in the July/August 2003 issue of La Jicarita.
A couple of weeks ago, on my way into Albuquerque from Placitas, I made the blind left turn onto I-25 South (the left lane of oncoming traffic stops to let people turn left onto I-25, but because of the grade of the road, it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell if there is any oncoming traffic in the right lane heading east); one of those big four-door pickup trucks was barreling along in the right lane and we collided—his left front corner hit the right front corner of my Outback. Fortunately, no one was riding with me. Anyway, he spun me around and pushed me back about thirty feet. The collision totaled the Outback, and I walked away with only a rib contusion in my lower right back.
I'm very lucky. It could have been a lot worse. Another second or two into that turn, and it would have been a broadside collision instead of a "tailbone," as they call it. Given the size and speed of the truck, he probably would have flipped me over and crushed the Outback.
The sheriff didn't issue a citation to either of us. We really need a stoplight for the turn onto I-25 South, like they have for the turn onto I-25 North.
Last week our family attended the Sandoval County Fair in Cuba. The drive to Cuba is one of the most majestic in New Mexico. Cuba is surrounded by mesas that are perfect for camping, hiking, and hunting.
The fair was a children’s paradise. Besides the professional rodeo cowboy events, children could ride, chase, and even keep pigs, goats, chickens, and rabbits.
For a great family adventure, see you next August at the county fair.
—Laura, Donnie and Katie Martin
Can TV, radio promote participation in local politics? Town-hall meeting and public-radio special
Recent surveys have determined that most people get much of the news of their own communities from their local TV newscast and local news-radio stations. These programs continue to draw high ratings in most markets, and the producers of these programs maintain that their work is guided by a public-interest imperative.
However, some critics charge that these news operations, in general, could do a better job of informing local citizens about local issues and political candidates in a way that helps people participate more actively in their democracy. These critics argue that broadcast deregulation and commercialization have led to the deterioration of local broadcast journalism that has contributed to apathy and cynicism in citizens.
Good Radio Shows, Inc., a nonprofit media production company in New Mexico, in association with the New Mexico Media Literacy Project, and public-radio station KUNM, will address this question by presenting a panel discussion and town-hall meeting entitled “Local Broadcast News and Local Democracy,” on Saturday, September 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Simms Center Auditorium at Albuquerque Academy, 6400 Wyoming Boulevard NE. The program will center on a panel discussion among media analysts, educators, and broadcast-news professionals from around the country.
The program is free, but contributions will be accepted at the door to support the New Mexico Media Literacy Project and KUNM. For further information, contact producer Paul Ingles at 771-8295 or www.paulingles.com/democracy.
You may have seen me around the middle of August. I was the while-haired guy in shorts walking along the street with a black plastic trash bag. I was participating along with many of my neighbors in the Placitas Community Clean-Up Day.
And if you did see me, you may have noticed me babbling away as I reached into snake-infested undergrowth collecting the bottles, beer cans, coffee cups, Big Mac wrappers, and other junk that seems to fly out the windows of your car. If you stopped, you might have heard me rant, "Where do these people think they are—at home, or some other pigsty?
Most appalling of all are the hundreds of cigarette butts along the side of the road. It's bad enough you smokers have to inflict your noxious fumes on the nonsmoking world, but then you have to add insult to injury by flinging your butts out the window. Didn't your mother ever teach you how to use an ashtray?
I know this is futile fuming. Because anyone thoughtless enough to toss his trash out the window is obviously too ignorant to read this message. But in case I'm wrong, keep your windows rolled up and your butts either on the seat or in the ashtray.
—Gary W. Priester
I have been living in Placitas for two years and appreciate its beauty, size, and sense of community. Lately, however, as I pass the signs questioning former resident Carla's death, I feel uneasy.
Obviously, Carla's tragic death three years ago brought sadness and grief to many Placitans, and there were reasons people made her loss public. Perhaps posting signs about the tragedy was a way to find healing. But as time as passed, I have felt that such a public display has become less appropriate for the community.
There are many ways of mourning and searching for peace amidst tragedy. I invite other Placitans to comment on their feelings about these signs that dot our landscape and the ways in which they have mourned Carla's death.
Maybe the majority of our great community will feel as I do: that the time for community notice of this terrible incident is over.
[Comments may be e-mailed to the Signpost at: firstname.lastname@example.org by September 20 for publication in the October issue.]
Wagging the tongue
The Bush Administration seems to have substituted “wagging the tongue” for “wagging the dog.”
In a flurry of news reports, speeches, and talk-show appearances the president and his closest advisors have provided us with an impressive array of language tricks redefining reality and blaming the messenger for everything “bad,” while painting rosy pictures of the war, the intelligence community, the economy, and the state of the environment. A glance at the New Mexico press—from conservative newspapers to the liberal freebies—demonstrates an interest in the manipulation of language by all of our politicians across the political spectrum.
The El Dorado Sun piece in July discussing “Newspeak” and George Orwell’s “On the Politics of Language” tells it all. As Orwell says “Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give appearance of solidity to pure wind.” For Orwell, the decadence of language presages decadence of a culture and his famous novel 1984 posits a new language, which, The Sun tells us, is”newspeak—a language of contradiction (war is peace, freedom [is] slavery) used by the government or Party to control the masses. Language records history. But if a new language like Newspeak has the power to alter history by distorting its meaning, it also has the power to create the future.” It appears that Orwell’s 1984 is as relevant today as it was in 1946, when it was first published.
Psychologist Renana Brooks recently articulated on C-Span how President Bush is a master of “emotional language—especially negatively charged emotional language—as a political tool.” In an article in The Nation titled “A Nation of Victims,” she details her study of the president’s “uses of dependency-creating language.” Dr. Brooks documents how “Bush is a master at inducing learned helplessness in the electorate; his language makes people feel they cannot solve their own problems.” Brooks analyzed the speeches of many presidents and found that Bush uses negatively charged statements regarding national issues to create feelings of vulnerability at a higher rate than any President of either party in the last hundred years.
Bush also uses more “empty language” than any other recent president of either party. Empty language is defined by psychologists as “broad statements that are so abstract and mean so little that they are virtually impossible to oppose.” According to Brooks, “Empty language is the emotional equivalent of empty calories. Just as we seldom question the content of potato chips while enjoying their pleasant taste, recipients of empty language are usually distracted from examining the content of what they are hearing. Brooks says that "Dominators [like Bush] use empty language to conceal faulty generalizations; to ridicule viable alternatives; to attribute negative motivations to others . . . and to rename and “reframe” opposing viewpoints.” She points out that “Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech contained thirty-nine examples of empty language.”
Now we have discovered that the speech also contained at least sixteen words that were not true, or, as Secretary Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condy Rice put it, were “technically true”: they were provided by British Intelligence, but were factually untrue and based on forged documents. As Maureen Dowd noted in the New York Times, with this gambit the Bush administration rose to the level of President Clinton’s infamous statement “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” It now remains to be seen which is the bigger lie: false pronouncements about fellatio in the corridors of the White House or mendacious distortions about the existence of weapons of mass destruction as an imminent threat to our national security.
In her article “National House of Waffles,” Dowd muses on how quickly the Bush administration lost its “plain speaking” anti-Washington stance and became as secretive, stonewalling, and dissembling as if they had been in the beltway all their lives—which, of course, they have.
In their article “Postwar Iraq Rebuilding Plan Was Pie in the Sky,” Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel writing in the Albuquerque Journal underscore the extent of the current use of Newspeak by the administration in national discourse. The authors cite documentary evidence that DOD operatives predicated postwar planning on erroneous assumptions about the region which the CIA and the State Department felt were “flawed and impractical.” Yet these insiders prevailed and contributed to the difficulties plaguing “winning the peace in Iraq” and for which our young are dying and for which our taxpayers are paying at the rate of almost a billion dollars a week.
The use of “empty language” voiced through the press by the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and William Luti, a former employee of Vice President Cheney, causes great pain at home and abroad. Sufficent reason to start paying attention to what we are “eating” with our ears and to stop mindlessly letting the wagging tongues of Newspeak fill our brains with the vacuity of empty language and misleading distortions of truth.