In today's print edition of the Reporter, I have an interview with Frances Levine, director of the soon-to-open New Mexico History Museum
, as well as an extended version
of my interview with her online. Below is a review of the new Museum of New Mexico Press book, Telling New Mexico, A New History
, which is a companion to the museum's core exhibit. If you can't tell, I really liked the book and I'm pretty psyched about the museum. I got a little tour last week, but it's still pretty much in the—how do I say—prep stage. Still, it's a really beautiful building. The grand opening, btw, is May 24, and it looks to be a pretty fun shindig
Telling New Mexico: A New History
Edited by Marta Weigle with Frances Levine and Louise Stiver
Museum of New Mexico Press
May 15, 2009
It may be impossible to live in New Mexico—even to visit it—without learning about, or at least appreciating, its natural beauty, cultural resources and historic depth.
Telling New Mexico: A New History pays tribute to all these components of the state's visage, but in such a way as to reinvigorate even the most accepted of New Mexico's narratives.
In putting together this anthology, editor Marta Weigle and her collaborators have struck a very interesting balance; the book feels both seminal as well as completely fresh in its creation of a multifaceted tableau that charts New Mexico's evolution on numerous planes.
Organizationally, the book reflects what visitors will find in the core exhibit of the forthcoming New Mexico History Museum, which opens in Santa Fe on May 24. It is divided into thematic and chronological sections, and includes previously published essays, as well as new articles, on topics that range from New Mexico's volcanoes to the origins of the Jicarilla Apaches to Japanese internment camps to Taos hippies to the Roswell incident to Mexican immigration (and that's just a sprinkling).
This topical span and the collection's diversity of voices (approximately 50 authors contributed to the book) converge to create a book that is much more than the sum of its many parts. In total, Telling New Mexico transcends its purposing as an accompaniment to the forthcoming museum. It could quite easily be used to teach New Mexico history in classrooms across the state, as a primer for visitors and as reference for future scholarship. Stylistically, the essays are accessible, authoritative and, in several cases, revelatory.
The seventh section, My New Mexico, makes history personal, and two of its essays are particularly noteworthy. In “Finding American World War II Internment in Santa Fe: Voices Through Time” Gail Y Okawa discusses her discovery that her grandfather was imprisoned in an American internment camp in Santa Fe during World War II, her research to understand those events and her attendance, in 2002, of the creating of the stone marker at Frank Ortiz Park in Santa Fe memorializing the events and actions that took place there. In “Tricky Mirror: Mexican Immigrants in New Mexico,” María Cristina López also places what she calls the “psychological frontera” between the US and Mexico, between New Mexico and Mexico, and between native Hispanics and Mexican immigrants into a context that is again both personal and long-viewed.
The concept of “new history,” as museum director Frances Levine describes it, is one in which history is seen in layers, it is gleaned from multiple sources and it evolves over time and through understanding. Telling New Mexico captures that sense of discovery and multi-layered storytelling, and is sure to provoke numerous discussions about the state's past, present and future.