Printed MemoriesArts Friday, January 20, 2017
Yesterday, Manuela Well-Off-Man, chief curator at IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native American Art, walked SFR through the group exhibit New Impressions, which opens tonight. The expansive exhibit, which includes prints from 12 contemporary artists, was still in the process of being hung. As we wandered the show in its final moments of preparation, Well-Off-Man shared the inspirations and histories behind many of the prints.
One in particular stood out.
It is a black and white etching by Lynne Allen, a Lakota artist, featuring a woman’s shoe above a photograph of her great grandmother and the words “my grandmother was an Indian, can you tell?” Allen often uses pages from her grandmother’s journals in her printmaking works.
“She’s coming from this long line of female Lakota family members who moved away from the reservation to get the best education they could at the time, and also then married white men,” Well-Off-Man tells SFR. “Because of that, as a result, she now feels so removed from her own family traditions and culture.”
The heeled shoe in Allen’s piece is covered in a tiny intricate pattern. When you look closely, you can identify Native American imagery in the pattern, which represents Allen’s own hidden Lakota identity. “With this piece she invites viewers to think about themselves, how they judge other people from other cultures. Allen does not look like a Lakota woman because of her family history and marrying people from outside the tribe. It’s a reminder about how we tend to make a judgment about people and often it’s only a person’s memories or family stories that create this identity,” says Well-Off-Man.
The Native American content in this print may be minute, but it tells the whole story. “It’s small, but yet so important,” she says. It seems more important than ever to honor identity as a sacred thing, and as something that is never fully evident on the surface.
Many of the works in this show have elements rooted in modern pop culture. Brad Kalhamer’s print, "Cherokee Princess," which has a heavy metal feel, features a boney Native woman with braids and a gun in her lap, surrounded by animal heads. Or John Hitchcock’s "Storms of War," which features bombs and colors that could have jumped off the page of a psychedelic poster.
“I think this exhibition really shows how contemporary Native artists embrace both historic influences, but also influences from contemporary daily life, pop culture and urban life influences,” says Well-Off-Man.
These printmakers delve into their own histories through their work. They include autobiographical details or memories from childhood stories in each print. Well-Off-Man says she believes this self-discovery and introspection is a symptom of the medium, “I think it’s this mood of experimentation that invites the artist to think about their own stories and history. The main thing here is that printmaking has this long tradition of making important statements, about yourself and society and history in general. It is known as this medium to make a statement.”
New Impressions Opening Reception: 5-7 pm Friday Jan. 20. Free. IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, 108 Cathedral Place, 983-8900.
‘Constitutional crisis’ could dominate criminal justice debate at state legislatureLocal NewsFriday, January 20, 2017
Criminal justice reform will burn up some of the oxygen at the Roundhouse during the 60-day session. But what “reform” means depends on who you talk to.
The problem is repeat criminal offenders who get out of jail and prison too easily and public safety should be the state’s first priority, Republicans say. Democrats respond that for too long legislation has focused on punishment without addressing underlying causes of crime such as poverty, drug addiction and, in some cases, mental illness.
Reform to Republicans appears to mean increased penalties for certain crimes and reinstating the death penalty for people who kill police officers and children after a review of legislation. Republicans also want to expand the number of crimes that earn a person a life sentence after a third conviction.
Not surprisingly, Democrats appear to favor a different definition. Legislation they have filed would prohibit private employers from automatically excluding job applicants for felony convictions and provide legal immunity to people seeking assistance after a drug overdose. Another bill would shift the burden for how parole is decided to the state from some prison inmates. Currently, certain offenders must document why they should be paroled versus the state providing reasons why they should remain behind bars.
The competing approaches to reform can’t escape reality, however: Like every other issue before state lawmakers this year, criminal justice will be debated and decided through the lens of New Mexico’s budget problems.
Sharp decreases in oil and gas revenues have led to nearly across-the-board cuts in state government during the past year, including a recent 3 percent decrease in the budgets for New Mexico’s courts, district attorneys and public defenders.
“As a result, the courts and the criminal justice system are on the tipping point of a constitutional crisis,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat, said in an interview before the session began. “Public safety is very important, and I don’t want to minimize that. So is a true, balanced vision for our system. But the most pressing criminal justice issue right now is having a court system that’s able to address the laws that we’ve asked them to enforce. Nothing gets done before we attend to that.”
Chief Justice Charles Daniels reinforced that point Thursday in a speech to a joint session of the New Mexico House and Senate.
“I wish I could tell you that New Mexico is providing the functioning justice system promised in the constitution that created the ground rules of our government, but I can’t,” Daniels said.
A justice system requires enough money to make it function, Daniels said.
“For year after year, we’ve been penny-pinching in extraordinary ways, in hopes that we were dealing with a temporary crisis, and all would be well next year if we just held on treading water for a little longer,” the chief justice said, sounding the alarm that even the basic constitutional right to a jury trial is in jeopardy in New Mexico’s cash-starved courts.
Fallout from cuts to the criminal justice system — most recently during a special legislative session concluded last fall — has been immediate and striking.
During a legislative committee hearing in November, judges described staffing shortages and other hardships that have been especially tough on the state’s smaller magistrate courts. Reduced budgets also are likely to result in an inability to pay jurors and cuts to specialty court programs aimed at nonviolent drug offenders and people living with mental illness.
Two weeks after that hearing, the state’s chief public defender was held in contempt of court after his office failed to appear on behalf of five clients in Lovington. The office, Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur said at the time, could not effectively represent clients because of financial constraints.
The incident dramatically illustrated a constitutional problem: all criminal defendants in America are entitled to legal representation, regardless of their ability to pay.
“Criminal justice reform during this 60-day legislative session — whether you think that’s increasing penalties or addressing the issues in a more balanced, complete way — probably isn’t going to happen,” Wirth said. “Issues like jury trials and representation are right on the edge of collapsing because of these across-the-board cuts. And the courts are getting close to stepping in and saying: ‘Enough’s enough. You have to give us the tools for constitutional mandates to be enforced.’”
Daniels started down that road with his speech on Thursday.
“The inescapable bottom line is that we have to first honor the constitution, then the statutes,” he said. “Then we can divide up what is left among the desirable programs you choose to keep. The constitution absolutely requires those fundamental priorities.”
How these realities fit with the state’s overall budget crisis will play out over the next 50 some-odd days.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers plan to pursue tweaks to the justice system through legislation that isn’t necessarily budget-focused.
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said he plans to introduce bills creating a new tier for felony crimes — aimed at ensuring violent criminals are sentenced more harshly than non-violent offenders — and allowing people to have certain offenses expunged from their records.
Still, the top priority for the session, Maestas said, is ensuring the chronically cash-strapped Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office is fully funded.
Rep. Bill Rehm, an Albuquerque Republican and a former Bernalillo County Sheriff’s captain, said public safety has to come first, even in times of financial difficulty. He pointed to rising crime rates in the state’s largest city.
“I think there are a lot of issues with the overall safety of the community right now,” Rehm said. “And when you look at that, you see that the repeat offender is the problem. My legislation almost all goes to the repeat offender. The only way we’re going to make our communities safe again is to put some of these people in jail. Yeah, there’s a cost with that, but I hope we can get some of it passed.”
Jeff Proctor reported this story for "The Justice Project" with New Mexico In Depth.
Morning Word: Courts in CrisisMorning WordFriday, January 20, 2017
The Courts on Life Support
It's time to make the right choice, outgoing New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels told the legislature Thursday as he argued for a bigger budget for the court system. Years of politically popular anti-crime laws coupled with reduced funding for court programs and public defenders have left the state's judiciary bordering on a constitutional crisis.
New Mexico would become the seventh state to ban so-called conversion therapy, a controversial faith-based response to homosexuality, if a new bill becomes law. The practice has been roundly criticized by professional medical organizations and gay rights advocates.
New Mexico congressman Steve Pearce has landed a seat on the House Natural Resources Committee. The republican has long favored the rights of private citizens to profit off public lands, supporting ranching and logging and opposing the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf to New Mexico. NM Political Report takes a deep dive to look at what past performance means for future results.
Sun, Sun, Go Away
The city of Aztec is pondering a moratorium on generation agreements with customers who install solar panels. That option has become increasingly popular, but the city's electrical utility is concerned about how that affects backup power capacity and how much improvements to the grid will cost.
A pair of reports suggests the investments the state has already made in early childhood intervention programs like home visitation are working. How and how much to invest in such efforts has been the subject of much teeth-gnashing over the past few years. Proponents have argued taking a bigger chunk of New Mexico's multibillion-dollar permanent funds would pay big dividends down the road. Others say taking money now would threaten the funds' permanency.
Too Good To Be True
Matthew Sample called his investment plan the Lobo Volatility Fund. Considering six investors saw $1 million disappear, he may have been honest about the "volatility" part. Federal prosecutors say that's about it, and now Sample has pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges. Weird, you wouldn't think someone who hung wallpaper woven with gold in his Santa Fe mountain home would be involved in an investment scheme.
Milo, When I Was Young
Some students at the University of New Mexico are growing increasingly anxious about next week's visit from alt-right darling Milo Yiannopoulos. Minority groups and others have asked the school's acting president to bar the appearance.
The End of an Era
There was a time in New Mexico legislative history when lawmakers would breeze into town after a holiday weekend, then take another long weekend to let bill printers catch up with work they'd created through all their highfalutin' legislating. No longer. At least not in the House, where the new speaker is bringing representatives to work today to address bills expected to patch the hole in this year's budget. The august body known as the Senate? They'll see you Monday. And so will we.
Thanks for reading! The Word wonders if you have brunch plans this weekend.
It Can’t Happen Here
Sinclair Lewis classic predicts life under TrumpLee on LiteratureThursday, January 19, 2017
Donald Trump’s ascendency to the American Presidency is strikingly similar to the rise of Buzz Windrip, a fictional politician in Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here (1935). The first half of Lewis’ story describes the social conditions that contributed to Buzz Windrip’s improbable rise, while the second half of the book outlines the devastating impacts of his revolutionary leadership.
Sinclair Lewis, the first American novelist to win the Nobel Prize, wrote It Can’t Happen Here during the early 1930’s, at the heart of the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe. The main character of this story, Buzz Windrip, is an unconventional politician who upsets FDR and the Democratic Party establishment. He wins the presidential primary by tapping economic and social fears of common citizens.
Buzz Windrip gains great popularity with a revolutionary yet vague platform of ideas. Buzz is against big banks, but for all the bankers (except the Jews who need to be driven out). He has unspecified plans to make all wages high while keeping prices for products low. Windrip is 100 percent for labor, but against labor unions and strikes. He wants America to produce its own products instead of importing them and correct a trade imbalance, and if any country disagrees, “he might have to take it over and run it properly.”
Buzz Windrip urges America to arm itself, both locally and nationally, pointing to the words of his advisor, General Edgeways: “A great nation must go on arming itself more and more, not for conquest, not for war—but for peace.” At campaign rallies, local “Minute Men” (MMs) are inspired by General Edgeways and throw punches at those who disagree politically. These MMs band into informal militias.
As for social issues, Buzz Windrip strongly condemns the “un-Christian” attitude of progressives. He condones policies that limit African Americans’ access to education, non-menial employment and voting. Any person actively advocating communism or socialism, especially those in the “wishy-washy liberal media” and academia, should be put to trial and punished for high treason.
According to Windrip, “The way to stop crime is to stop it!” In sum, he notes that “love and patriotism have been my sole guiding principles in Politics. My one ambition is to get all Americans to realize that they are, and must continue to be, the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth.”
In addition to patriotism, Buzz Windrip has other similarities with Donald Trump. Buzz looked like a “museum model of a medicine-show ‘doctor.’” In fact, Windrip had worked as a traveling snake oil salesman in the past. Buzz was “vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic.” Sinclair Lewis describes Windrip as “a professional common man” who considered all foreigners as degenerate (except the British). Commoners could understand him and his every purpose—and raised their hands to him in worship.
Buzz Windrip wins the presidential election and assumes power. If life imitates art, It Can’t Happen Here gives contemporary America a preview of what could happen under Trump’s leadership. First, Buzz Windrip fills his cabinet with loyalists, propagandists, and banking elites (some of questionable character).
At the presidential inauguration, military police and MMs are more visible. They escort and protect Buzz Windrip as riots break out all over Washington and America on Inauguration Day. Protest is gradually quelled by formal and informal armed forces.
As months pass, members of the press and academia who criticize are rebuked and then removed from their jobs. Dissent evolves from “unpatriotic” to “criminal.” A “tattle tale” culture grows and some dissenters are killed without objection. More citizens, including non-enthusiasts, are sent to jails and concentration camps. Riots continue. Portions of the country cede from the America’s “perfect union,” mostly states in the North and West.
Meanwhile, Buzz Windrip’s economic policies destabilize the American economy while his personal fortune silently explodes via “personal gifts” and favors. Inflation rises with every new tariff and trade war, while job prospects get much worse. “Minute Men” are rolled into the established military and many unemployed become MM, a job with free guns.
As discontent grows, war plans are developed for invasions of Mexico, Canada, and China. “We got to expand!” Buzz explains. Top intellectual and political leaders quietly defect to other countries, while a New Underground Railroad funnels citizens to Canada as borders are closed down.
At the climax of the story, Buzz Windrip is overthrown by an internal coup: His secretary of state seizes power amidst growing chaos. But all if this is simply American fiction, the product of Sinclair Lewis’ powerful imagination. Just a tale from the 1930’s. Fantasy. It can’t happen here.
Lee Miller graduated from Cornell University and has taught writing for over thirteen years at the secondary and post-secondary levels. This column examines current events through the lens of quality literature.
Morning Word: Wait, I Thought We Were Done With Driver's LicensesMorning WordThursday, January 19, 2017
Driver's Licenses? Again?
Ha! Gotcha. This has nothing to do with immigrants getting driver's licenses. Or little to do with it. We think. A new proposal cruising around the Legislature would automatically register people to vote when they show up to get a driver's license. There's already a national law requiring the MVD to give you the chance to register to vote, but more states are considering some after-market mods to the "motor voter" law. It's a proposed constitutional amendment, meaning voters would have the final say on the measure. If only there were a way for your car to automatically drive you to the polling place...
The first order of business for lawmakers on day two of the legislative session was to patch holes in this year's budget (the fiscal year ends June 30). Nearly $70 million may seem like a lot of spackle, but it's a workable proposition in a $6 billion budget. The fiscal touch-up is not pretty. The money comes from cash reserves held by public schools, from building-repair funds, wildlife protection plans and other things that were important enough to fund until now.
Thanks for the Work, Your Total Comes to [REDACTED]
That's actually a generous retelling of SFR's attempts to find out how much Gov. Susana Martinez has paid attorney Paul Kennedy over the years. Jeff Proctor explains how the attorney general's office concluded the governor's stonewalling is a violation of New Mexico's public records law and why that doesn't seem to matter to the Martinez administration.
So, some guy stole all the books from the Little Library of Barelas. Again. It's one of those free libraries that pops up on the street; a rich part of life as a kid in a part of Albuquerque that's rich in culture, but not so much in cash. You know, the kind of kids' library where if you steal all the books, you go straight to the second ring of the ninth circle of Dante's hell.
Albuquerque and Santa Fe are happily perched high on a best-of list. If you're making movies and living where you do it, as many indie filmmakers and crew members do, MovieMaker.com says the Duke City is the No. 8 large city to be in and the City Different ranks second among small cities.
It's About to Be Official
The state went for Hillary Clinton in November, but hundreds of New Mexicans plan to make the trip to Washington DC for the swearing in of our nation's 45th president, Donald J Trump. Every New Mexico congressional representative and senator will be there, as will our governor and Albuquerque's mayor. Others are making the trip to join in planned protests of Trump's victory.
Just Because You're Our Mascot Doesn't Mean You Belong Here
New Mexico is among 19 states suing the federal government for how it handles the reintroduction of endangered species. In 2015, Gov. Susana Martinez' administration refused to give the US Fish and Wildlife Service a permit to release Mexican gray wolves into part of their original range. The feds did it anyway, arguing the survival of a species trumps state concerns.
Thank You, May We Have Another
After a welcome whopper of a storm last weekend, Santa Fe and the rest of west and central New Mexico are in line for another snowy end to the week. The first chance of snow in our fair capital city is tonight, so make this the day you splurge and buy that fancy new ice scraper.
Thanks for reading! The Word left the last glass of OJ for you.
Morning Word: Gov Urges Lawmakers to Play NiceMorning WordWednesday, January 18, 2017
State of the State
Gov. Susana Martinez delivered a call for bipartisanship to a state Legislature once again controlled by Democrats (who won back the House in November). In their response, Senate Democrats called the state of affairs in New Mexico "unacceptable" and noted a bipartisan effort to cut corporate taxes in 2013 has fallen flat. Lawmakers and the governor will have to decide how to shore up a wobbling state economy and plug a budget hole with tens of millions of dollars.
Steven Hsieh pens SFR's cover story this week on George Park, patriarch of Santa Fe's first prominent Chinese family. Park was more than just a successful restaurateur, he was a man with a knack for making connections despite prevailing anti-Chinese sentiment. It's an immigration story set in the early 20th century that could well take place today.
The White Guys for the Job?
So who exactly is representing you at the Capitol and what do they look like? Well, they're kinda old and kinda white, reports New Mexico in Depth. Compared to the rest of the state, the Legislature is far older and significantly more Anglo. New Mexico lawmakers are still more diverse than most other places, including the women who occupy nearly 30 percent of the seats in the Roundhouse. But that portion is dwarfed by the state's actual demographics, where half the population is female.
A prominent state senator wants to keep your prying eyes from seeing who the finalists are for top public jobs until just a week before a final decision is made. The bill would carve out another exception from New Mexico's public records law. The Rio Grande Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists* has come out against the measure, as has the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and the New Mexico Press Association.
Those are the things the Albuquerque Police Department says Detective Russ Carter has shot at during his career on the force. Carter also shot at Gilbert Lovato, whom APD killed two weekends ago after the department says he threatened officers with what turned out to be a BB gun. They suspected him of robbing a local restaurant.
Father Sues Navajo Nation
The father of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, who was assaulted and killed in May, has sued the Navajo Nation for failing to set up an emergency alert system he says could have saved his daughter. The story gripped New Mexico last spring as authorities and volunteers frantically searched in vain for the missing girl. An Amber Alert was not issued until several hours after her disappearance had been reported.
'Highly Prolific and Oil Prone'
That's what ExxonMobil calls the 275,000 acres of land and mineral rights it's buying in New Mexico. The energy company announced the $6.6 billion stock-and-cash deal yesterday. The Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico has been the state's most productive oil and gas region. The buy doubles ExxonMobil's Permian Basin holdings.
Late to ART Class
Students arriving for the first day of the new semester at the University of New Mexico waited longer than normal for buses from parking lots to the main campus. The reason? UNM says it's construction of Albuquerque's bus rapid transit system.
Thanks for reading! The Word appreciates you.
*Full Disclosure: Morning Word author Matt Grubs is a board member of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Everybody's Twerkin' for the WeekendWeekend PicksFriday, January 20, 2017
Just kidding, we know that twerking is not for everyone. But all the same—are you gonna let a little bit of winter weather ruin the degree to which you vibrate your ass? Are you?! Hell no! You're going to dance and drink wine and look at art and hear music and enjoy all the fun and friendship you can cram into a 48-hour period. At least, that's our plan...
This solo exhibit features photography by Desht, who grew up in industrial Pennsylvania and documented the everyday struggles of that life. His ongoing photography exhibition is touring the country, and he is present to speak about his work at this event. Through Jan. 28.
Taking place on Inauguration Day in 14 cities across the country, these monologues present a stage for people to air their grievances and pains over the recent election and stand together in unity and resistance.
Sample amazing soups from area chefs and vote for your favorite. Souper Bowl XXIII is a benefit event for The Food Depot, Northern New Mexico's food bank.
Together at last! Roberto Capocchi and Kathleen McIntosh perform rare gems by Ponce and Boccherini, with solos by each from works of Villa Lobos, McKean and Ligeti.
Wear your stylish outfits and bring your smoothest moves to this prom for grown-ups. Who doesn't love a good dance party?
The Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary presents a program for children and adults about one of the most majestic creatures around. An ambassador wolf will even be present to greet attendees.
O, brave new world! Three casts of young actors, ages 10-18, who are part of Upstart Crows, present the Shakespearean comedy.
Get more information about how to spend your fun days when you sign up for the SFR Weekend newsletter, delivered to your inbox each Friday afternoon.
Keep it Real ... Real CrustyThe ForkThursday, January 19, 2017
Did you ever love pie so much you thought your heart was gonna break in two? Ugh. For some reason I now cannot recall (exhaustion? In-laws in town? Too many parties?) I bought a box of refrigerated Pillsbury pie crusts a few months ago. I have a vague memory of this being a good and convenient thing at some point in the total blur that is the days between Thanksgiving and now. But we had more family in town last week, folks who had been out of the country for the holidays, so I decided on the spur of the moment to make them a little holiday dinner: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans ... and an apple pie. And I reached for the last two of those (by now) frozen pie crusts. Sigh. Long story short: OMFG, were these things totally disgusting the whole time? Was I completely drunk through all of Thanksgiving and Christmas? (MAYBE.) How did I not notice this?
The family didn't eat all of the apple pie so of course I've been eating it for breakfast the past few days. What torture! I have pie in the house, but the crust is TERRIBLE.
Look at this pumpkin pie I made for a holiday party in early December: Apparently I did not eat one single piece of it. It looks fantastic, but I can tell this is that frozen crust. And it tastes like wallpaper paste. Don't do the bad, bad thing I did.
Do go watch that Chris Issac video and then tell me this: Why is he dressed like The Jesus from The Big Lebowski? Anyway, Chris Isaak, right? ROWR.
Go make a real pie with a real crust you made yourself. Life is too short to eat shitty crust.
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Chop Suey on San Francisco Street
How George Park beat anti-Chinese laws and started a prominent Santa Fe familyFeaturesWednesday, January 18, 2017
The woman watched as soldiers confiscated her family’s land and beat her husband to death—another horror in the bloody land reforms of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Communist Party. She gathered up her daughter, paid a few bribes and laid low in British Hong Kong for two years, having fled her native China, like so many others, in fear.
By September 1956, she had hustled enough money for passage across the Pacific for her and her daughter. When the two refugees arrived in the United States on a tourist visa, they moved straight to Santa Fe.
The mother’s brother-in-law ran a successful restaurant a block from the Plaza. Her daughter, eager to learn English, agreed to work at the joint for no pay. It’s unclear who tipped immigration officers off to the arrangement, but the feds eventually arrested the mother and daughter and summoned them to Albuquerque, where they faced a deportation trial.
Fortunately, the brother-in-law had friends in high places.
Larry Bynon, a powerful Republican figure and radio personality who happened to speak a little Chinese, drove down to the courthouse and translated for the two young women. Rep. John Dempsey, New Mexico’s at-large delegate on Capitol Hill, filed an emergency bill to halt the family’s deportation.
Dempsey and Bynon were political enemies—Bynon previously mocked a speech given by Dempsey, a former governor, as a “second-rate fireside chat”—but a crisis for Santa Fe’s most prominent Chinese family compelled bipartisanship. The effort made it all the way to the White House. President Dwight D Eisenhower signed the intervention, granting reprieve to the two young women, Young Chang How and Chu Fung Lou.
Anything for the family of George Gee Park, the brother-in-law who moved to Santa Fe in the early 1900s, started two successful businesses, established the city’s first colony of Chinese Americans and networked like it was no one’s business, becoming the president of the local restaurant association and a founding director of the Bank of Santa Fe.
George’s brothers and business partners, Henry Gee Gay (older) and Joe Gee Soon Oey (younger) arrived around the same time and became well-known community figures themselves. The men were second-generation Americans, born in San Francisco to Chinese parents.
(Each brother adopted a new first name. Two of the men also Romanized a Chinese word to become their American last names: George became better known as Mr. Park and Henry became Mr. Gay, while Joe stuck with his ancestral name, Mr. Gee.)
If American history can be traced through the groups we fear the most—nationalities, races, ideologies, religions—then Park grew up during an era of anti-Chinese sentiment. In this Southwestern town, though, where few Chinese ever lived, he planted his roots and worked toward an improbable realization of the American Dream.
Park’s lived experience, along with that of his family members who came to this country—both in what confronted them here and in how they thrived—resonates with particular clarity today as the nation again grapples with its immigration policy. Further, a nationalist wave has empowered forces that threaten to intensify the fight and chill the melting pot.
It probably helped that the family made damn good food.
In 1923, Park, Gay and Gee acquired a restaurant called Majestic Cafe, where they previously worked as cooks and managers. Under their stewardship, Majestic Cafe became New Royal Cafe and then New Mexico Cafe. At last, in 1937, the greasy spoon on San Francisco Street rebranded as the New Canton Cafe, paying homage to the South China province from which its proprietors traced their roots. (Today, Canton is more frequently Romanized as Guangdong.)
Menu items cycled through over the decades, but the family always offered a wide selection of Chinese, American and New Mexican cuisine. Chop suey competed with cheeseburgers for diners’ attention. One reviewer marveled at the Cafe’s pies, doling out special praise for the peach and banana cream offerings: “Rotten for the figure, but oh, how good for the palate!”
On Sunday they served turkey. On Friday, clam chowder. Sue Lim, granddaughter of Park, recalls the latter was a favorite among guests. “We had people come up from Albuquerque to buy a quart,” she says.
While stationed in New Guinea during the Pacific campaign in World War II, Bynon wrote longingly of New Canton Cafe’s T-bone steaks, reported the hometown paper. The restaurant famously did not serve alcohol, but away in the jungle, Bynon pleaded for Park to save him a bottle of Ng Ka Py, a Chinese liquor.
Another friend of the family, US Sen. Bronson Cutting, enjoyed turtle soup and sliced chicken during a banquet held in his honor. More than 20 years before Rep. Dempsey stuck his neck out for Mr. Park’s sister-and-law, Cutting had helped secure entry to the states for Mr. Gay’s son, Gee Gow.
The New Canton Cafe shared a block with H Sax Fur Shop, Souders Furniture and Grose Jewelers. The Chinese immigrants’ eatery outlasted them all. Moviegoers likely dropped by the joint for snacks after catching the latest blockbuster down the street at the Paris Theater, which stood at 123 W San Francisco St. until it burned in 1945. The restaurant stayed open until 11 pm, except on Mondays, when it didn’t open at all.
Businessmen, congressmen and newspapermen all frequented the establishment, which had 10 booths and a private dining room that served up to 12 guests. Chinese lanterns and paintings, some donated by the Witter Bynner Foundation, adorned the ceilings and walls. Visitors were welcomed by a bright yellow neon sign that said, “No Liquor—But the Best of Food.”In 1941, a journalist observed a tourist marveling at the overhanging lanterns. “We’ve seen a lot of strange things in Santa Fe,” he reportedly said. “But can you beat this? Here we are in a Chinese restaurant listening to a bunch of Hawaiians play Spanish music while people talk French and we eat Mexican shrimp.”
When Chinese immigration to the United States took off in the mid-1800s, enclaves of laborers tended to sprout along mining and railway hubs. The Territory of New Mexico, too, saw an influx of Chinese immigration.
Small colonies formed in Deming, Hillsboro and Silver City, where demand for cheap labor attracted workers who were willing to take tough jobs for little pay, according to Anna Naruta-Moya, an archivist who studied Chinese American communities in New Mexico for the Office of the State Historian. Food service, laundries and housekeeping rounded out the other gigs offered to the Chinese.
At first, the Old West welcomed the cheap labor. An 1868 report from the Santa Fe Weekly Post described the 60,000 or so Chinese immigrants in California as “frugal, temperate and industrious.”
But as the Chinese population grew, tolerance at times turned to hostility. In New Mexico, souring racial relations erupted into violence. Miners in Soccoro rioted when a superintendent hired a “Chinaman” to work as a servant, leading to one death when a worker got shot in the neck.
An 1881 editorial in The New Mexican captured the day’s prevailing anxiety, warning of a future in which “representatives of the Celestial Empire are so thick in our midst that as in the case of San Francisco and California generally, it is a crying evil with which we are unable to combat.”
To summarize: They’ll steal our jobs.
Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the first federal law restricting immigration of workers based on ethnicity. Ten years later, the Geary Act extended the ban on Chinese immigration and required all persons of Chinese descent to register with Department of Labor authorities. The undocumented faced arrest, imprisonment and deportation.
But despite the air of xenophobia directed toward their community in the early 20th century, some Chinese made well. Naruta-Moya recently dug up the story of Sam Ho Kee, an immigrant who graduated as valedictorian of his 1906 class at Albuquerque High School. By some accounts, he was the first Chinese person in the nation to earn the distinction.
There’s also the Lew family of Deming, who operated a farm that became an agricultural model for the small town. Known as the Chinese Garden, the Lews’ fields produced legendary yields of watermelons, pecans and Irish potatoes, not to mention a small fortune for the family.
Before he set up shop on San Francisco Street, Park lived in San Francisco, California, where his father worked as a cook. He was about 10 years old when city officials, citing bubonic plague, installed a barbed-wire fence around Chinatown. He was 16 years old when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Northern California coast, killing more than 3,000 people.
He lived with two other families on the third floor of a brick building, above a grocery store. When his father returned to China in 1911, Park, then 20, was taken under the wing of a laundryman on Mission Street.
In 1915, Park sought to visit China for the first time in his life. But before he could leave the country, he had to prove his citizenship under the Geary Act, submitting a form to the Department of Labor’s Immigration Service. In the spring, he boarded the SS Mongolia and eventually arrived at Chong Shing, a village with four dwellings where his parents lived in a brick home with an open courtyard and dirt floors. Villagers shared a well for water.
Not long after he arrived, Park met Yon Shee, a woman from a different village. Within three months, the two had married. Within two years, they had a son. By the time George Park left China again, another child was on the way, this time a daughter (Sue Lim’s mother).
Park sailed back to the United States on the SS Siberia Maru in 1917. During the next seven years, he moved to Santa Fe, opened a restaurant and sent monthly payments of $300 to his wife and children, who had moved in with his parents.
When Gay made his own trip to China, he delivered a gold coin to the village of Chong Shing. Mrs. Park handed him a message, addressed to her husband, saying she wanted to come to the United States.
In 1924, Yon Shee Park sailed aboard the SS Cleveland from China to San Francisco with the couple’s two children, named Gee Fat Park and Helen Park. Mrs. Park’s certificate of identity, also required for Chinese aliens under federal immigration law, lists her occupation as housewife and notes two scars above her left eyebrow and a “faint pit” at the outer corner of her right eye.
The tracks of the American transcontinental railroad never ran through Santa Fe. Deprived of an economic boom, the town’s growth stalled through the late 1800s, with the population hovering between 5,000 and 6,000. Archives give no indication of a significant Chinese population in the city before the turn of the century.
By the time his family arrived, Park and company had expanded, opening a laundry, which doubled as a gift store. In the space of a dozen years, it had burned down, reopened and relocated.
Park at first was treated as a foreign curiosity. His mother wrote him a letter from Guangdong in 1929. It became the subject of a New Mexican article that quotes the businessman’s broken English. “I do well Santa Fe. My family live Santa Fe. Why leave?” Park said, addressing whether he would ever return to his native China.
But as New Canton Cafe rose in popularity, so did the family’s place in society. And as the family grew, newspapers began to refer to them as Santa Fe’s first “Chinese Colony.”
The men employed their wives and children as waiters at the restaurant and ironers at the laundry. Several of the male children went on to serve in the US military, including Gay’s son Robert Gee Kong, a marine who was wounded in the Korean War.
Outgoing and charming, Park became something of a liaison for the colony. Locals spoke of his smile and affability. “He was definitely Mr. Personality,” says Sue Lim, who is now retired in Marin County, California, after a career in the insurance industry. “He spoke with anyone who came into the restaurant. And the next time they came in, he’d remember them.”
Whenever the annual Fiesta Parade rolled around, Park spearheaded the design and construction of a Chinese-themed float. In 1937, according to one report, “A gaping green and white and gold dragon reared its head above the float. Fireworks were exploded in every block and in front of La Fonda, a disgusted white bulldog tried vengefully to eat them while they were going off.”
Before and during the second Sino-Japanese War, Park leveraged his social status to raise money for relief. Under the banner of Friends of China, he organized fundraiser after fundraiser. For one event in 1936, the group held a showing for The Plow That Broke the Plains, a documentary on the Dust Bowl. During another gathering, they sold tea, jewelry and paintings at the home of Eleanor Brownell and Alice Howland—a pair of teachers who give their name to Brownell-Howland Road near Bishop’s Lodge.
Mrs. Park also earned legendary status in Santa Fe. Since she didn’t have an English name, locals referred to her as Mama Park, or sometimes just Mama. Lim recalls that her grandmother accrued no shortage of karma over the years.
“Some of these newspaper delivery boys didn’t have something to eat, so she would bring them in and care for them. When they got older and had great jobs, they would remember her,” she says. In 1942, Mama Park became the first Chinese person in Santa Fe to be naturalized as a United States citizen.
The following year, Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act. But it would take another two decades before the last vestiges of immigration restrictions for Chinese people would be dropped from the books.
On Mondays, when New Canton Cafe was closed, Park and company would throw parties at the restaurant, stocked with liquor from the Payless Drug Store. Sometimes they invited friends. Other times, the gatherings were strictly family affairs.Bigger occasions, like birthdays and births, called for bigger venues. Calla Hay, long-time society editor at The New Mexican, covered regular shindigs at La Fonda and Hacienda el Gancho (on Old Las Vegas Highway). On the occasion of George Park’s 71st birthday, on January 27, 1962, Hay reported that more than 400 guests formed a reception line at La Fonda to honor the “patriarch” of Santa Fe’s Chinese colony. Family flew in from out of town and then-governor Richard Dillon drove up from Encino with his wife Maurine Williams.
As guests left the hotel, the family handed them “handsome bowls, Chinese spoons and bright red chopsticks.” Yon Shee Park and the other women in the family wore silk dresses, specially tailored for the gala and flown in from Hong Kong.
New Canton Cafe closed in 1975, after more than 50 years in business. The same month that Park closed the books, a pair of siblings named Toni Contreras and James Maryol opened a new diner in the same location. They called it Tia Sophia’s.
By that time, Park was already spending more time on his other career, as a director of the Bank of Santa Fe. He died in 1986.
The third generation of Gee family children, unlike their parents, didn’t need restaurant gigs. Those children went onto college and became architects and underwriters, lawyers and nurses. Most moved to California, except for the grandson who went to Memphis to become a pharmacist. Says Lim, “I guess that’s the reason the Chinese came over to the United States; to give their children an education.”
On a bitterly cold Thursday afternoon in December at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, curators were installing La Frontera y Nuevo México, an exhibit billed as an “anthropological investigation of the US-Mexico Border.”
A Donald Trump piñata hangs next to a glass case showing three red baseball caps, arranged vertically, that say: “Make America Great Again,” “Make America Mexico Again” and “Make America Native Again.”
Down the corridor, the museum’s largest temporary exhibit hall displays more than 100 pieces of Chinese ceramics spanning 6,000 years, from ancient statuettes to Mao-era bowls and plates. Across from that collection, arranged horizontally across a single wall, was an exhibit called Chinese Americans in New Mexico. That exhibit has since closed, but the ceramics are on view until mid-June.
“I’ve made an effort to do exhibits relevant to the local community,” says Devorah Romanek, museum curator. When China emerged as a theme, Romanek reached out to members of the local diaspora, who in turn loaned collections of teapots and cups.
Emblazoned with roosters and dragons, the tea accessories are cased midway through a timeline of photos and newspaper clippings tracing the history of Chinese immigration to New Mexico. Visitors can gaze at the immigration papers of Sam Ho Kee and his parents, provided by Naruta-Moya.
Santa Fe also makes an appearance, but not through images of the New Canton Cafe or its proprietors. Rather, we see a sepia-toned view of St. Francis Cathedral, dated between 1890 and 1895. Along San Francisco Street, a white hanging sign marks Sang Kee Laundry, perhaps the oldest known Chinese business in Santa Fe.
The photo offers evidence of Chinese life in Santa Fe before George Park and Henry Gee Gay came to town. Whoever was the enterprising man behind Sang Kee Laundry, it seems he did not benefit from geniality with his community.
In the spring of 1882, the Santa Fe Democrat reported that two men, one wielding the butt of a pool stick, broke into the business and beat the laundryman. Using a rope fashioned as a noose, they attempted to choke the man, identified by the Democrat as Lang Kee. Through moans, the man got the attention of neighbors. But the burglars had already made off with 80 bucks and a watch.
The exhibit on Chinese Americans opened with a political cartoon, drawn by Thomas Nast in 1870. Men dressed in suits look over a barrier labeled “The ‘Chinese Wall’ Around the United States of America.” Other men, standing on the other side, wearing ponytails and conical hats, watch as a ladder once perched against the wall comes crashing down before them. Below his drawing, Nast writes, “THROWING DOWN THE LADDER BY WHICH THEY ROSE.”
Romanek, giving a tour of the exhibit, pauses for a second to contemplate the illustration. “Some things never change.”