SELECT title FROM cont_articles WHERE id='' LIMIT 1 Santa Fe Reporter

Morning Word: A Dickensian Future For NM Schools

Morning WordFriday, February 24, 2017 by Matt Grubs

May I Please Have Another Pencil, Sir? Please?
Apparently this is what cuts to public school reserve funds look like: crowd-funding to buy copy paper. The Las Cruces school district implemented a spending freeze two weeks ago after lawmakers and the governor cut some $46 million from reserve funds at districts statewide. Now it's assessing supply requests—for which it had already budgeted—on a case-by-case basis. 

Just When You Thought We'd Funded the Courts
Despite a just-signed (by the lieutenant governor) law that injects $1.6 million into the court system to fund jury trials through June, other parts of the justice system are still dangerously low on money. Almost $600,000 is needed to pay for attorneys to represent children and low-income adults in child abuse and neglect cases.

Here Comes the Water
For a while, the Aamodt water lawsuit was rumored to be the longest-running suit in the federal court system. The case, which dealt with water rights in the Pojoaque basin, has been around for half a century. It settled in the past few years, and the feds just awarded the first contract to build a public water system.

But It Makes My Lettuce So Cheap
A new study of the Colorado River says the waterway has lost nearly 20 percent of its volume since 2000. Some of that is due to drought, but researchers say one-third of it is due to climate change. That's a huge problem, because 40 million people in two countries and seven states depend on that water. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which store river water, are less than half-full (and not just because we're looking at it that way).

3D Printing Company Makes Jump to NASDAQ
Sigma Labs, a Santa Fe company built on its quality assurance 3D printing software, is now the third New Mexico company to be listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. The company earned about $6 million from its initial offering on the exchange.

By the Ghost of Linda Beaver!
Part of a bill to boost state revenue would make buying a car more expensive, raising the excise tax for a new vehicle from 3 percent to 4 percent. Car dealers oppose the hike (those commercials are not free). They reason higher taxes mean fewer sales, though New Mexico still has the lowest taxes around.

Turquoise Nightmare
Several more people have been indicted in what federal investigators believe was a scheme to sell cheaply made trinkets from the Philippines as Native American jewelry. The accused would send "source material" to a factory overseas so designers could copy some of it and ship it back here to be sold. If you want to play detective on your own, or just know a bit more, check out SFR's "How To Spy A Turquoise Lie."

Santa Fe Builder Faces Prison 
William Kalinowski is a fraud. A jury convicted the former home builder on nine counts of fraud and embezzlement last year after he promised dream homes to clients but took off with projects unfinished and millions in his pocket. He's expected to be sentenced today. He faces 82 years in prison.

Thanks for reading! The Word bought you this necklace down by the Plaza. The guy said it's very old and very genuine. Just like our love.

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Weekend Picks: Spring Into Action

Weekend PicksFriday, February 24, 2017 by SFR

Even if the weather can't exactly decide what it's going to do, we've still had more beautiful days than not-beautiful days lately. So ditch your jacket for a light sweater, throw your heavy quilt into whatever trunk you use for such things and remind yourself why it's nice as hell in Santa Fe this time of year—all while partying, culture-ing and enjoying the spoils of springtime. Now then, who's got a grill ready to go?

Shifting Landscapes

This exhibit includes works by artists from the Surface Design Association featuring fiber works using felt, cotton, silk and more, which explore traditional and contemporary techniques. Through May 20.

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Horace Alexander Young

Young plays a diverse set of jazz tunes on the saxophone and flute.

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Cidny Bullens: Somewhere Between

This one-man autobiographical show, directed by Tanya Taylor Rubinstein, is a poignant story about perseverance, tragedy and triumph.

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Karen Kuehn: Maverick Camera

Keuhn is a portrait photographer whose work has been featured in publications like Vanity Fair, National Geographic, The New York Times and more. She lived and works on a small farm in Peralta, New Mexico, and presents of her work alongside her book Maverick Camera at this opening event. Through April 29.

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Lo-fi post punk mixed with a little pop.

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Moby Dick: 48th Anniversary Bash

Get your Saturday night fever going with this Led Zeppelin cover band at the event that celebrates this bar's nearly 50-year long existence.

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Unnecessary Farce

Two useless cops want to catch the mayor embezzling money, but all does not go according to plan. Throw in a lusty accountant, a Scottish hitman and eight doors that are constantly opening and closing, and you have an unruly comedy about political corruption and unchecked power. Through March 12.

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Brandi's Ninth Annual Oscars Benefit

We wouldn't normally list such a pricey event, but this one is kind of a big deal and all the proceeds go to Kitchen Angels, so we are totally of okay with it. Enjoy a live mariachi performance, a silent auction, dinner and a show.

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Chris Abeyta

Americana and folky originals by this longtime singer-songwriter.

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The Fork

Welcome to a new era of The Fork

The ForkThursday, February 23, 2017 by Michael J Wilson


How is everyone? I'm Michael and I will do my best to steer this ship for the foreseeable future. Don't be scared.

You all get to come along as I explore Santa Fe's awesome culinary scene while expanding my own knowledge in my itty bitty apartment kitchen. I'm really excited to get started. This is my first full week on the job and I am planning a lot of fun things for all of you.

I got a few great suggestions in response to last week's sad Meat Quest and will be following up on them soon. I'll report back when I have the intel.

This week I reviewed The Root Cellar. I'd love to hear your experiences with this great new addition to the downtown food universe.

Some quick things about me:

  • I'm a poet and teacher
  • I'm passionate about food, but mostly a novice
  • I make a mean pie
  • My grandmother was a great home cook
  • I improvise well and often don't follow recipes to the letter

I hope to use my articles to focus on how food intertwines with a lot of Santa Fe's culture. We have a diversity of history in our city, and food is a huge part of that. I hope to explore how restaurants and food help define us as a place. I hope you like what I do.

And please say hello often. Let me know what you're up to in the kitchen. Tell me about places that you love; and ways food and culture combine in your life.

As it was my first week on the job, I sadly didn't get to sign up for many of Santa Fe Restaurant Week events, but a couple sound particularly good: On Thursday and Friday, Estevan is donating 50 percent of lunch proceeds to Cooking With Kids. On Sunday you can join Felix Mauro Torres at Casa Chimayo to learn how heirloom corn affected the growth of Aztec and Native culture in New Mexico.There will be a demonstration on how to make both a savory atole and a sweet champurrado using non-gmo Casa Chimayo heirloom corn.

You can find a full list of Restaurant Week events here.

What news do you want to see in this newsletter? We want to hear from you! Let us know! Email

Morning Word: How Are We Gonna Pay For This?

Morning WordThursday, February 23, 2017 by Matt Grubs

Come, Susana. The Game is Afoot!
The state House of Representatives passed a pair of bills that would set next year's state budget at $6.1 billion and raise $265 million to help pay for it. Economists say it seems likely the state's revenues will stop falling, but they'll probably also not grow. Hence, the tax increases and fee hikes. The measures passed the House on a party-line vote, Democrats for and Republicans against. Gov. Susana Martinez can't vote, but she can veto, and a spokesman says she will.

Santa Fe Strengthens Sanctuary Law
Flying in the face of some national sentiment—certainly that of the White House, which has threatened to punish sanctuary cities by withholding federal funds—the Santa Fe City Council unanimously passed a bill that would offer more language-access programs and block the city from participating in the "e-verify" program that cross checks immigration databases with employment records.

Former Congresswoman Appears in Support of Gun Control Bills
Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in the head by a gun-wielding assailant in 2011, was at the Roundhouse to support two gun control bills that would require background checks for online, private and gun show firearm purchases, as well as make it more difficult for those with domestic violence charges and accusations to buy a gun. The bills are both still in the committee process.

We're Gonna Send This to Collections. Aw, Never Mind.
The City of Santa Fe plans to write off nearly $3 million in unpaid utility bills. The proposal, which is relatively common in larger cities, passed without discussion last night. The city also revamped its collection structure, largely by putting the onus on rental owners to pay off delinquent bills.

Auditor Pokes State Insurance Office Over Financial Practices
State Auditor Tim Keller says his staff can't offer an opinion on the financial health of the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance because the agency's internal enforcement of its policies is too lax. Auditors pointed to travel-reimbursement rules that weren't being followed and cash-handling standards that may have been ignored.

Committee Stalls Bill That Would Shield Publicly Funded Research
The House Education Committee refused to act on a bill that sponsors say is designed to protect proprietary research and foster public-private partnerships at state universities. But opponents warn it could end up shielding programs like the fake treatments for syphilis at an Alabama university or the LSD experiments at colleges across the country in the '50s and '60s. 

SFPS Head Gets Two More Years
The Santa Fe Public School Board voted to give Veronica Garcia two more years at the helm of the city's schools. The board approved an extension to Garcia's current contract. The former New Mexico education secretary served as an interim superintendent after Joel Boyd's departure and soon signed on for the job permanently.

Like We Said ... (Part Deux)
After less than a week of existence in downtown Albuquerque—within spitting distance of both Central Avenue and the planned ART bus rapid transit line—the feed has been stopped from the "He Will Not Divide Us" live camera installed by a team of artists that includes actor Shia LaBeouf. It's been vandalized, had a gun pointed at it and reports of shots fired nearby prompted a tweet from the actor.

Thanks for reading! The Word wonders if you're gonna eat that last donut. It's yours if you want it. You're going running at lunch again, yeah? No! Don't feel guilty. But if you don't want it now, we'll just...

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Sanctuary Strengthened

City Council Unanimously Approves Resolution Protecting Undocumented Immigrants

Local NewsWednesday, February 22, 2017 by Steven Hsieh

Words matter. The word "sanctuary" isn't found in Santa Fe's policy, but a resolution unanimously adopted on Wednesday affirms and strengthens the city's approach to the treatment of immigrants.

Seven city councilors, plus Major Javier Gonzales, voted for the resolution, which includes provisions to expand language access services and prohibit Santa Fe from enrolling in “e-verify,” a federal program that crosschecks employee information with Department of Homeland Security databases. (Councilor Peter Ives was absent on a trip to Washington DC.)

The new policy also reaffirms Santa Fe’s commitment to being a “welcoming community” for immigrants and refugees.

“You guys all have the power to change our lives,” said Neison López, an immigrant, addressing councilors before the resolution passed.

"Tomorrow we become stronger as a community. It reaffirms my belief that Santa Fe is family," said Mayor Gonzales, like many others in the room, with tears in his eyes. "We look out for one another."

The room erupted in cheers with each vote in favor of the resolution. "Si se puede!" chanted a group of elated supporters in the back of the room, as they jumped in a huddle. 

Wednesday night's unanimous vote called for celebration.
Steven Hsieh
Wednesday evening’s vote comes the day after President Donald Trump unveiled a plan to ramp up deportations, which vastly expands the definition of “criminal alien” and encourages local police officers to help federal deportation authorities. President Barack Obama, whose administration deported more than 2 million undocumented immigrants, focused on violent offenders.

By approving the sanctuary resolution, the City Council capped off a months-long saga tinged with political bickering. Councilor Michael Harris earlier this month offered an alternate resolution that reaffirmed the city’s “commitment to the rule of law” and highlighted stats showing sanctuary cities have lower crime rates.

Harris introduced his proposal after criticizing Somos Un Pueblo Unido, the immigrant advocacy organization, for flooding a town hall in his district, an action he described as “hijacking.”

But the dueling resolutions seemed to merge this weekend. SFR spotted Harris working on the proposal with Maestas and Villarreal at a coffeeshop. Harris’ suggestions were folded into the resolution Wednesday night through an amendment unanimously approved by the body.

The drumbeat towards tonight’s vote kicked off shortly after Trump’s victory on election night, which raised fears that the vehemently anti-immigrant president will carry out his plan to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities.

Mayor Gonzales became something of a national figure, appearing on cable news networks defending Santa Fe’s immigration policies during final months of President Obama’s administration.

The vote followed an emotional public comment session, which have become routine for every committee meeting on this resolution. As they did for previous meetings, supporters wore yellow fliers pinned to their t-shirts with the message: “Sanctuary = A Stronger City For All.”

Lawyers, religious leaders, educators, advocates, public officials, business owners and immigrants all spoke in favor of the resolution. Locals filled the council chambers to capacity, spilling out into the hallway.

“I invite you to visit our schools and let the children know this town embraces them,” said Miguel Acotsa, a family and community engagement specialist at Santa Fe Public Schools. “This is my kind of town.”

“Lately they’ve been very scared,” said Allegra Love, an immigration lawyer, of her clients. “And your decision will go a long way to make them feel safer and loved in a country that has turned against them.”

“This is a We the People moment in America, and you have made Santa Fe a part of that,” said Walter Freidenberg.

Former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss also showed up to support the resolution, as he has done during previous public comment sessions, choking up during his address to the council.

“I was just gonna leave it to the younger generation and go fishing,” Coss told SFR. “But times are too serious. We need to resist, and I’ve been greatly encouraged by who is participating.”

Morning Word: Some Local Cops Not Keen on Enforcing Federal Laws

Morning WordWednesday, February 22, 2017 by Matt Grubs

Homeland Security Immigration Memo Lands With a Thud
A new memo from the federal Department of Homeland Security that would expand a program to enlist local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws is getting a mixed reception from New Mexico police. The measure would expand efforts to deport undocumented immigrants. Some local police agencies say their job is to worry about their own laws first. 

Senate to Vote on Open-Carry Ban in Capitol
The state Senate will consider a bipartisan bill to ban open carry of guns in the New Mexico State Capitol. Several gun control debates in recent years have featured gun-rights advocates carrying semi-automatic rifles through the halls of the Roundhouse. The bill's Republican co-sponsor told a Senate panel that “waving a rifle around in my face pisses me off.”

State Agency for Kids Opposes $320 Million Budget Boost
Saying the influx of hundreds of millions of dollars for early childhood education could “lead to waste and abuse of public dollars,” the Children, Youth and Families Department testified yesterday against a plan to tax energy producers and electricity providers. CYFD sided with oil and gas producers as well as electric companies from around the state. The electricity tax would likely be passed on to consumers. CYFD warned that too much money for early childhood education could lead to pressure to spend it all right away. The bill in question died in committee. 

Senate Committee Clamps Down on Bill to Ban Trapping on Public Lands
A panel of state senators has asked for a rewrite on a bill that would outlaw traps placed on public lands. Trappers represent a relatively small part of New Mexico's hunting community, generating $40,000 in licensing fees each year. The state Department of Game and Fish stood behind them, saying it's done so for 100 years.

SFPD Officer Resigns
A Santa Fe police officer has resigned after the department began investigating claims that he drew obscene images on a woman who passed out at a party attended by off-duty cops. The officer, Isaiah Anaya, turned in his resignation yesterday. The department continues to investigate the Facebook postings of Sgt. Troy Baker, whom officers elected as their union president.

Women Out to Enforce
The Navajo Nation's police force has almost 50 women—better than one in five officers—working the beat on the country's largest reservation. The Farmington Daily Times takes a look at how the department became so successful at finding women to serve.

Court Funding Bill Finally Heads to Governor
The state court system would get $1.6 million to cover expenses for the rest of the year if the governor signs the bill headed her way. Funding for the courts—which said jury trials may have to be canceled without more money—has been a surprising political poker chip during the legislative session. 

Like We Said...
So far, Shia LaBeouf's art installation—which encourages people to say the words "He will not divide us" into a street-level camera mounted on the El Rey Theater—has been spray painted and somebody pulled a gun on it. The actor and two artist pals moved the installation after it caused too much of a stir in New York City. Give it time, we suppose.

Thanks for reading! The Word wants to know what you're up to tonight. Just out of curiosity. Nothing weird. Oh, this is awkward now.

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Beyond the Ban

Santa Feans from targeted Muslim countries feel new pressure on old wounds in the wake of Trump policy

FeaturesWednesday, February 22, 2017 by Steven Hsieh

Santa Fe is home to a small Muslim community of about 450 people in the greater county area, according to estimates in a private survey called the 2010 US Religious Census. Despite those modest numbers, Muslims in the City Different tell SFR they received an outpouring of support when federal officials enacted an executive order last month suspending all refugee resettlement and temporarily banning travelers—including visa holders—from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.

As some people remained stranded at international airports thronged with protesters, more than 130 locals from Christian churches, Jewish synagogues and other groups packed the Mosque of Al Rahma in Santa Fe’s South Capitol neighborhood to stand with their neighbors. Mayor Javier Gonzales and the Santa Fe Police Department phoned mosque officials, according to Joe Hamad, a volunteer and worshipper, and personal phone lines also rang to the tune of solidarity.

“We keep getting calls from people we don’t know just to say, ‘If you guys need anything, let us know,’” says Azher, an Iraqi-American who works in a local school. “This kind of support is what gives us hope that, in the end, good will prevail.”

Yet, Azher and his wife May asked that SFR not publish their last names. All that support can’t counteract their instinct toward self-preservation.

A federal court in California recently held up a temporary restraining order on Trump’s ban. That move followed a deluge of lawsuits and impromptu demonstrations at airports across the country, including the Albuquerque International Sunport.

As of press time, the Trump administration was exptected to release a new version that targets the same seven countries, but exempts green card holders.

While the executive order shocked many Americans, people from some of those nations who now live in Santa Fe tell SFR they weren’t surprised. After all, Trump originally proposed a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” back in 2015. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, ran Breitbart, a news site that often traffics in fear of Muslims.

Trump brought the same rhetoric to New Mexico in May, falsely accusing Gov. Susana Martinez of allowing “large numbers” of Syrian refugees to relocate to New Mexico. “If I was governor, that wouldn’t be happening,” he said to cheers. At the time of Trump’s speech, fewer than 10 Syrians had resettled in the Land of Enchantment.

Martinez, meanwhile, opposed President Barack Obama’s plan to accept a limited share of Syrian refugees fleeing ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and the bloody civil war in their country, stating that there must be “a very clear plan in place to properly vet” them. Martinez didn’t mention that such a federal policy already exists. Refugees seeking entry into the United States encounter a painstaking screening process that includes interviews, background checks and fingerprinting. Jumping through those hoops, installed by the United Nations and multiple federal agencies, takes up to two years.

But contrary to the messages coming from the White House and the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse, not to mention a recent rash of hate crimes directed towards mosques across the country, Muslims in Santa Fe say they have yet to encounter any Islamophobic sentiment in their hometown.

During his annual State of the City speech last week, Mayor Gonzales reaffirmed his earlier stance that Santa Fe remains a place for refugees “fleeing the world’s most oppressive and most violent places and looking to our country to honor the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty.”

The city’s demographics mean that most of the recent political discourse, however, is focused on thousands of immigrant residents from Latin American countries who lack permission from the federal government to be here. The concerns of our small Muslim population, most of whom aren’t facing the same paperwork complications, may seem myopic in comparison to the threats that loom for undocumented people that make up a large swath of the local workforce.

But Trump’s policies dictating who comes in and out of this country—whether it’s a deportation plan or travel ban—feed off fears in the same vein. Only the target changes.

SFR spoke with Muslim locals from three of the seven countries listed in Trump’s travel ban, all of whom are naturalized American citizens. Their experiences in this country differ widely, but each story holds unique significance in this moment.

May pulls out her phone and loads up a video showing the University of Mosul, before and after ISIL invaded the city and transformed the historic research institution, her alma mater, into a battlefield. As the Iraqi-American woman peers at the screen from her perch in a Southside coffee shop, the sequence jarringly transitions from scenes of student life to black-clad militants shooting machine guns over rubble and piles of ashen books. May recounts how not just this place, but her entire country, transformed over decades of war and terror, most recently under the control of ISIL.

When ISIL took over the city of Mosul in the fall of 2014, militants forced her family and all their possessions out of her childhood home. They fled to central Asia. Three of May’s friends, one doctor and two lawyers, didn’t get a chance to escape before they were killed. Some of Azher’s relatives, her in-laws, also fled for refuge in Europe and East Asia. Others stayed in the city, living for months without electricity or running water.

“Those people were running for their lives. They’ve lost everything: their homes, their livelihoods, their businesses,” Azher says. “Can you imagine anyone who would want to abandon everything behind and go thousands of miles away to a place where they don’t know the language or culture, unless they had a very powerful reason to do so?”

When Azher left Iraq back in the ’80s, he did so under relatively peaceful circumstances. He decided to study in the United States after reading about the country’s strong education system. “As a young man, anybody would like to investigate the world and see what is going on,” he explains. After studying at the University of Mosul, Azher arrived in Arizona on a student visa and chose to pursue a graduate degree at the state’s flagship university in Tuscon. The warm weather reminded him of Iraq and helped him acclimate to his new surroundings. So did the warm people. “I was very impressed with the way people dealt with me as an individual who doesn’t speak very good English,” he says. “They didn’t even know where I came from. People were very friendly.”

After the Iraq-Iran war broke out, killing many of his friends, Azher did not feel compelled to return to his home country. “You don’t want to kill or get killed,” he says. “I just don’t believe in violence or in war or killing. That’s something I feel very strongly about.”

Azher instead completed his Master of Science degree. He then got to work teaching at a local community college before returning to the University of Arizona as a staff instructor.

He says he never felt unwelcome or discriminated against during his time at the college. Not even in the immediate wake of 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, when early media reports had speculated that the perpetrator was Muslim. A student approached him and asked, “Why are you people so violent?” He chose to make the news a teachable moment.

“When we found out it was committed by Timothy McVeigh, who was an American, I called her and said, ‘See? Now you said to me something not very nice.’ I told her not to rush to judgment in the future,” he says.

In the mid-’90s, Azher visited Jordan, where he met another University of Mosul grad, May. They moved back to the United States together and got married. In August 2001, the couple relocated to Santa Fe. Three weeks later, terrorists from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates flew two planes into the World Trade Center, sending America into two wars, creating a pretext for a surveillance state and ushering in an era of Islamophobia unseen in modern history.

However, Azher says he didn’t personally encounter any of the hate that pervaded post-9/11 America. “On the contrary, the support I got from people at work was overwhelming—even from some of the students,” he says.

He felt the same support when Trump rose to power, pledging to ban Muslims from entering to the United States. The outpouring came again when the president carried out his promise on his 10th day in office. “We have received so many phone calls,” he says. “The support from this community was overwhelming, and in my opinion, [that is] what makes America great.”

Still, Azher is keenly aware of the fear that swept other parts of the country—the same fear Trump fed off of in his bid for the White House, claiming without evidence that the Syrian refugee resettlement programs could be the “ultimate Trojan horse” for ISIL and other terror groups.

Azher chafes at the irony.

“Muslims have suffered more from [ISIL] than anyone else,” he says. “We’re talking about my hometown. My university, which housed over 30,000 students, has been literally destroyed by these criminal individuals.”

When Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, held a campaign rally on the Plaza in the fall, Mohamed Sassila walked a couple blocks from his rug shop to see the Libertarian presidential candidate speak.

Johnson had recently flubbed when asked what he would do about the conditions in Sassila’s hometown in Syria, Aleppo, a city considered by international observers as the site of the greatest humanitarian crisis of the decade.

Mohamed Sassila’s rug shop off the Santa Fe Plaza is a long way from his hometown of Aleppo, Syria.
Anson Stevens-Bollen

“I always excuse American ignorance of the Middle East, Syria or the Arab world in general. They don’t have access to the right information,” Sassila says. “Johnson shocked me, though, because Aleppo had been mentioned in the media so much.”

Still, Sassila attempted to shake hands with the candidate, but didn’t manage to get his attention. “I have nothing personal against the guy,” he says.

For many Americans, Aleppo became a buzzword most associated with Johnson’s failed campaign. But for Sassila, who has lived in Santa Fe for more than three decades, his living connection to the city’s real human tragedy is deep.

When the Syrian revolution broke out years ago, Sassila was optimistic about his country’s future. But protest descended into war, sparked by a violent crackdown ordered by President Bashar al-Assad. Rebel groups rose against a government with little regard for civilian lives.

The war came to Aleppo in 2012, when rebels took control of the city. Some of Sassila’s family escaped through Greece and Turkey before eventually finding refuge in Germany, but two of his cousins died during air strikes. Late last year, the city capitulated to government forces, creating a vacuum for Assad’s soldiers to commit atrocities. The United Nations warned of “a complete meltdown of humanity.”

When asked whether he worries for the safety of family members in Syria, Sassila tells SFR: “We Muslims have a very strong belief that we don’t worry. We believe that Allah, the only God, decides when we exist and when to end our lives. This is out of our control. So we don’t worry about death.”

When Sassila came over from Syria in 1984, it was two years after the ruling Ba’ath Party cracked down on a years-long rebellion against the government. Sassila obtained a student visa and flew to Miami, Florida. The culture shock immediately overwhelmed him.

“You don’t know what to expect. Coming here, the people are very liberal. What do you see? Topless beaches and night clubs,” Sassila says, letting out a hearty laugh. “It was a huge difference. You have strip clubs on every corner. To them, that’s normal. But for us, women cover themselves.”

Sassila attended the University of Miami for one semester. But tuition was too expensive, so he enrolled at Florida International University, where he pursued a degree in electrical engineering. There wasn’t a mosque in town, so he and other Muslim students used a university classroom for prayers.

Santa Fe’s Muslim worshipers gather at a mosque in South Capitol.
Steven Hsieh

After graduating, Sassila moved to Santa Fe to help another Syrian man run Desert Blossom, a jewelry store on the Plaza. Seven months later, in 1991, he opened his own shop.

Sassila sold jewelry and run-of-the-mill gift shop products at first, but eventually swapped the turquoise earrings for oriental rugs. His hometown, after all, had produced generations of weavers tracing back centuries.

“Rugs are a passion of mine,” he says. “It’s something I have knowledge of.” Sassila traveled the world—Afghanistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan—picking hand-woven rugs for wealthy tourists. He named his store Silk Road Collections, after the ancient trade network that for centuries connected many of the civilizations from which Sassila buys his products.

Sassila became an American citizen in 1999, after passing what he says was a “piece of cake” test and taking an oath of allegiance at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

The first time Sassila cast a vote, he did so for for Barack Obama in 2008. But the president fell out of Sassila’s favor for what he viewed as ineptness when confronting the crisis in Syria. The Obama administration provided arms to moderate rebel groups, but some analysts believe he could have done more to prevent catastrophe. “He is one of the worst presidents in American history for foreign affairs,” Sassila says.

That disenchantment led Sassila not to vote in the last presidential election. And he wasn’t surprised when Donald Trump announced his travel ban last month. “American policy has always been hostile to Muslims and Arabs,” Sassila says. “What he is saying is not new to me.”

When Syrian refugees started arriving in Albuquerque, Sassila drove down to help them get oriented. When asked for specifics, Sassila demurs, saying he does not want to insult the five families he’s reached out to by bragging about his deeds.

“When you do something good, you do it softly, quietly,” he says. “I feel like that’s my duty, without any question, to help as much as I can. It’s a must. It’s not leisure. It’s not an option. I think most Syrians feel the same way.”

Sally Tavassoli’s father, a shopkeeper, had high hopes for life after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Those hopes quickly dissolved. Not long after the Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the country, Tavassoli’s uncle was captured and struck with lashes. Agents burned down his record store for selling Western music.

“That’s when we realized that it would be totally different,” says Tavassoli, who was 4 years old at the time. “We realized the new regime would be an Islamic Republic, so we left.” Fearing persecution from the country’s new, ultra-conservative rulers, millions of Iranians fled, forming large diasporas in Germany, Sweden and the United States.

Sally Tavassoli’s father, a shopkeeper, brought his family to the US amid the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Sally, pictured here as a child, lives in Santa Fe today.
Courtesy of Sally Tavassoli

Tavassoli, along with her mother and father, wound up in Houston, Texas. They applied for and received asylum under President Jimmy Carter’s State Department. (As opposed to refugees, who apply for residency before arriving in the United States, asylees are granted protective status after living in the country for some time.)

Immediately, Tavassoli’s father started thinking about business. His steakhouse failed after two years. A roller rink in the Houston suburbs proved more successful. Around that time, Islamic militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran and held Americans hostage for more than 400 days. Backlash against Iranian immigrants followed.

“One time, a falling-out happened and someone got fired” at her father’s business, Tavassoli recalls. “I remember coming into work with my dad the next morning, and spray-painted across the parking lot were the words ‘Iranians eat shit.’”

Suddenly, Tavassoli became conscious of her own national and ethnic identity in a way she hadn’t before. “I think I was about 6 or 7 then, and I had a really good friend that was Hispanic. I even started to lie to her. I told her my family is Greek. I reconnected with her 10 years ago on Facebook, and she still thought I was Greek. I totally had forgotten about that. There’s probably a whole group of people who still think I’m Greek.”

When Tavassoli turned 12, her parents divorced and she moved to Orange County, California, with her father, who opened a successful men’s clothing store. “And that’s when I saw other people were like me,” Tavassoli says. “We spoke Farsi in school together, and then it just became okay. It was very liberating. We had a secret language.”

After graduating from high school, Tavassoli attended college on and off. She was living in Texas on Sept. 11, 2001, and was dating a white man at the time.

“George Bush sent troops to Iraq. I was very scared because my whole distant family is in Iran. I remember saying to my boyfriend, ‘Oh man. That’s really close. I hope they don’t unleash nuclear weapons.’ His answer to me was, ‘If it has to be done, it has to be done. In order to tell people not to mess with America.’ And I was like, Okay. Same old story. That’s when I became more politically aware.”

Tavassoli became even more engaged as she pursued an education degree at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. She worked on the side for an outreach program called the Center for Human Origin and Cultural Diversity, where she facilitated student field trips to a facility exploring the human race’s common ancestry. “My mentor encouraged me to speak up about being Muslim. At that point, I had never really associated with being Muslim.”

In 2011, Tavassoli moved to Santa Fe with her husband, a Syrian physician. She immediately got to work at the Dragonfly School as an elementary teacher. Moving from the Midwest, she was happy with the city’s diversity. “It’s a very open-minded town,” she says.

[Santa Fe] is a very open-minded town.
-Sally Tavassoli, Iranian-American Santa Fean

When President Trump came along on the campaign trail, she didn’t take him seriously. “I was, like everybody else, kind of entertained by it,” Tavassoli says. Another part of her underestimated the people of her own country. “C’mon, this isn’t America,” she thought. “This isn’t the people. This is just some loon.”

When Trump announced his travel ban last month, Tavassoli didn’t worry too much about her father, who’s a dual Iranian-American citizen currently living in his birth country, “chasing money.” Her mother and sister, also dual citizens but living in the US, plan on visiting Iran for a wedding this summer. But when SFR spoke with Tavassoli before the federal courts acted on Trump’s order, she feared disconnection from another close family member: “my grandmother, who has never been granted citizenship because she kept failing her test. I probably won’t see her again unless I go over there,” she says.

“Recently people have been coming up to me to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Our hearts are with you. I’ve been thinking about you all weekend.’ It takes me off guard a little bit, because I’m not directly affected. What I want to say is, I’m sorry for all of us. Don’t be sorry just for me. This is a reflection on all of us in this country,” Tavassoli says. “I say thank you. I try to be gracious. But, really, deep inside, we’re all in this together.”

7 Days


7 DaysWednesday, February 22, 2017 by SFR


That parking meter hike is working out great.



Let this be a lesson to everyone who likes good food.



Brava, Renee!



New UNM resolution says no one is allowed to remember his speech on campus.



Couldn’t we wait another 83 years and see if the industry just does the right thing on its own?



Oh man! How did no one ever think to just straight up say that? Problem solved!



Let ‘er rip, vegans. The #SFRFoodie meat cabal is behind this plan too.



MetroGlyphsWednesday, February 22, 2017 by SFR
Russ Thornton is a Santa Fe local who has replaced his first passion, cooking, with a new love interest, the weekly SFR comic he's created called MetroGlyphs. Reach him at

Native Revival

Film focuses on the power of place in preserving Indigenous wisdom

The EnthusiastWednesday, February 22, 2017 by Elizabeth Miller

Each autumn when Tonisha and Tonielle Draper leave their farm in Canyon de Chelly, the sisters grab cottonwood leaves from the trees, kiss them, and toss them into the stream. It’s not a Navajo tradition, but it’s among the blended traditional and contemporary practices that merge on the farm where their family continues to plant corn in fields with ancestral ruins and petroglyphs in sight.

“They’re a strong family. They care about the land, they understand very much about what makes their culture unique and they’re working hard to preserve it directly through their children,” says Amy Marquis, founder and co-director of National Park Experience, a film series created to highlight the diversity in America’s national parks. One of those films screens in Santa Fe on Feb. 24 as part of the Telluride Mountainfilm on Tour.

That short film, “Canyon Song,” explores the Navajo history of separation from culture, language and land, and how return to one renews another. Canyon de Chelly offered one of the last hideouts from the Navajo Long Walk, a forced exodus of Native people that sent hundreds on foot for 500 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The national monument later created around the red sandstone canyon is the rare example of a national park where Native Americans were allowed to continue living in and farming on the land, rather than being ushered out in the name of preserving that landscape for other values.

On the first visit Marquis and “Canyon Song” director Dana Romanoff made to Canyon de Chelly, in addition to watching the first snow of the season fall in the canyon from a hogan, they attended a cultural night at a local high school where a Navajo pageant was taking place. The contest tests cultural knowledge, ability to butcher a sheep and make tortillas and frybread, and mastery of the Navajo language.

“Without fully knowing where the story would lead us, we just knew that we wanted to follow a family—and these young girls, especially, that were involved in the pageants and really interested in continuing their heritage and learning their culture,” Romanoff, who is also co-director of National Park Experience, says.

They found that story in the Drapers, one of about 40 families still farming in the canyon in much the same way their ancestors did.

“To the Draper family, having that land, farming it, is everything. It’s been in their family for a long time,” Marquis says. “You can tell their childhood memories are very connected to their farm, and it’s a really important source of food for them.”

Above the rim, they’re a typical American family, with kids playing sports and a mom in nursing school. Once in the canyon, the pace changes.

“Everything just slowed down a little bit, and they’re always smiling and laughing,” Marquis says. “Something really clicked in with all of them when they’re in the canyon.”

Marquis and Romanoff began working on the project as part of a series of films to celebrate the National Park Service centennial anniversary in August 2016.

“The average face of the national park visitor doesn’t reflect the face of America,” Romanoff says. “We need to redefine what that face looks like and who feels welcome in the parks for the next hundred years.”

That effort to record and share Native stories resurfaced again in more recent work that brought Marquis and Romanoff to the Santa Fe area, filming on a section of the Rio Grande that’s been designated a Wild and Scenic River, a congressional marker similar to a wilderness area. That film, “Avanyu,” follows a family leading an annual “feast and float” raft trip with Los Rios River Runners.

“We tried to bridge the gap between the way the white person is educated and the way a Native person learns and is educated, so mixing stories and culture with some of the facts of the area, just to bring people outdoors and into that environment in hopes of having people listen more to the Indigenous voice,” Romanoff says.

As Tesuque Pueblo member Louie Hena, its central figure, declares: “This is my office and my church.”

That film will be released online on Feb. 24 as part of the American Rivers effort to celebrate 2018’s 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

At Telluride Mountainfilm, “Canyon Song” will appear amid stories of a 90-year-old ice skater, surfers riding river waves in Montana, the first Bangladeshi to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents, and multi-sport aficionados linking a first ascent of a desert tower with fat biking through slot canyons and pack rafting near the Four Corners.

Telluride Mountainfilm on Tour: A Benefit for WildEarth Guardians
7 pm Friday Feb. 24. $17.
Lensic Performing Arts Center,
211 W San Francisco St.,

The Enthusiast is a twice-monthly column dedicated to the people in and stories from our outdoor sports community.

Morning Word: A Dickensian Future For NM Schools

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