Generalizations are sticky and uncomfortable. Comparison is the thief of joy, after all. But it happens. We group together like items, and we have to. It’s how our minds function, how they make sense of the world. And among the royal examples of these generalizing tendencies is how we label America’s generations.
Consider the millennials—one of these multidecade categories of people with the same birthdates, like Generation X and the baby boomers before them. If you are born between 1980 and 2000, count yourself in.
We have all seen the stories that say millennials have bad attitudes, irresponsible spending habits and a demand for instant gratification, and worst of all, they're hipsters. They don't want to get married, can't buy houses, feel all entitled and constantly stare at their phones.
For Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc. in Albuquerque, it's his job to understand New Mexico and the people who live here. Sanderoff says he views the millennial generation differently. "What millennials really are is the first group of adults who have come of age in this century," he tells SFR.
And just as they did, the economy collapsed. "So while they were hoping to get promotions and pay raises, many millennials got caught in this salary-stagnant nation," Sanderoff explains.
Millennials themselves have difficulty describing what defines their generation. "We are using that 'I don't give a fuck' attitude to actually change things," says Sarah Sloan, a student at Santa Fe Community College.
"We are kind of the first citizens of a new global community," says James Hill, a St. John's College graduate. "Nobody before us has had the access to the cross-cultural environment like we do."
Baby boomers are peaking in their golden years, and as more of them die, the millennial generation has sparked headlines as becoming the largest demographic in the nation by comprising nearly 30 percent of the population, but in Santa Fe, that's not the case. Santa Fe County's adult population breaks down as follows: 15.4 percent Silent Generation (which is the one just older than baby boomers (born between 1928 and 1945), 37.5 percent baby boomer (born between 1946 and 1964), 22.8 percent Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) and 24.3 percent millennial (born after 1980).
The millennial generation in the county has more ethnic diversity than ones before it. If you're a baby boomer in the City Different, 59 percent of you are white. In the case of millennials, 54 percent of you living in Santa Fe County are Hispanic.
Sanderoff tells SFR that one in four millennials has a college degree and "they are the first group that didn't have to adapt to the digital age, they grew up with it." He adds, "As such, their networking and communication is very different from other age groups."
Millennials are skeptics. Sanderoff claims they are "less likely to be associated with party organizations and even less likely to be affiliated with organized religion than their older counterparts." They are more than twice as likely to vote as independent, with 34 percent of millennials in New Mexico registered this way, compared to just 15 percent of non-millennials.
SFR interviews of millennials found a generation with similarities of memory. They share childhood loves of movies like Home Alone and icons like Michael Jordan, and fears like the ones ingrained in many who were children on 9/11.
I find myself writing from a perspective that some of you may find biased, and I don't want to hide it like a dirty little secret. I was born in 1988. That's right, I am a millennial. It's not a title I've relished or worn like an accolade.
About six months ago, I was in a pretty down place. I was commuting to Albuquerque to work a barely minimum wage (and totally not minimum wage in Santa Fe) retail position, where I spent the first few hours working to break even with the cost of the gas it took me to get there.
It became hard to convince my family at Sunday brunch that there was a connection between my new love of vintage dresses and my literary aspirations. That "You are on the completely wrong path; what the hell are you doing?" voice in my head was getting louder and louder.
I reached out to a former mentor who I had worked with during a college internship. I asked her for advice about getting back into the local writing scene. My lengthy, pleading, admiration-filled email received a one-sentence reply: "You will never have a future writing at ...," adding the name of her publication.
I am not saying she wrote this from a vindictive place or because I am a millennial. I don't think she plugged my age into a mental equation before slapping my dream in its baby-face in less than 10 words. But she didn't think twice or offer a word of advice. Her message was loud and clear: Not now and not ever.
Luckily, as the saying goes, what doesn't kill you ... So I kept working and trying and asking, and I found the immensely humbling mentorship experience that has placed me at this desk, writing these words to you. My part-time job at SFR also involves coordinating the calendar. I am pursuing a Vinyasa yoga instructor's certification and hope to teach in Santa Fe sometime soon. I write blog posts and help create social media content for some local companies and friends. I also handmake dresses, skirts and blouses (just for myself and people I know, so far).
I do a lot of things, and I am not quite making ends meet. Like many millennials, I was raised by a single mother. She was unwaveringly supportive in my childhood and still is (I live with her). I have a 4-year-old French bulldog named Darla, but I usually call her Mu, and she's my baby.
I list all these things about myself to try and add to the millennial picture I am attempting to word-paint here, to show some context about how other millennials are existing in this city. Building a career, and a life, isn't all about the destination in 2016. It isn't linear.
The '90s were kind of dreamy, right? The Clinton name had a ring to it, and Disney made summer movies about camp. Looking back on that decade, I imagine that it was sunny all the time, we didn't know anything about global warming and the US economy reigned supreme. So many people smoked. That is the era I grew up in, that millennials grew up in. And when all of that collapsed, it screwed us up a bit.
To discover the truth about millennial life, I asked millennials what they care about, where they see themselves in the future, what they fear, what they remember and why they are still in Santa Fe. Even though the politicians on every corner are courting this self-aware generation, I didn't ask them a single question about politics. But not because we don't care about that—I just don't see political views as a window to our millennial souls.
You could say most anything about millennials that you would say about any other generation. Labels pretty much suck; they are rarely fair, true or encompassing enough to pay attention to. Read about three of our city's millennials on the following pages.
Guitars to Gastronomy
Pouring a foundation with pros
Colin Shane is a young guy with a big title. At 27, the head chef of Arroyo Vino does things in a supremely fresh manner; he has a personally tailored garden that is nearing farm status just outside his kitchen door.
This musician-turned-chef is a kiddo of the '90s. "When I was really young, I thought Michael Jordan was the best thing ever," Shane tells SFR. "Until I was about 11, I was certain I was going to play in the NBA. Then someone gave me a guitar."
Shane moved to Eldorado, just south of Santa Fe, around the time he got that guitar and spent most of his free time here playing music in a handful of different rock bands that had gigs at places like Warehouse 21, when it looked more like its name.
"When I heard about this interview, I thought, What is a millennial? In my mind, I picture a snooty little hipster kid, but I guess I am one too," he says. "I think our generation was pushed to experiment more, maybe by our parents." Shane claims millennials have different expectations. "Our generation is one of the first ones where it would be accepted that you could just be an artist from age 14, if that's what you want to do with your life. Your parents could push you to do alternative activities and make alternative lifestyle choices. And some of that is going to come with people who end up just floating."
In his late teens, Shane moved to Florida, where his musician lifestyle, complete with touring with his band Spanish Gamble, led him to working in restaurants. "Kitchens were the only place that would hire you for a month or two, and you could always come back if there was an open spot," he explains.
He worked his way from dishwasher to cooking on the line and eventually found mentorship in Burt Gill, head chef at Mildred's Big City Food in Gainesville. And like many millennials, he has seen more fruit from the labor of his mentoring experiences than his traditional schooling. Shane says his last year of formal school was his freshman year of high school. "The mentorship thing is incredibly important," he says. "Hands-on mentorship is invaluable."
The foundation he built with Gill and Martín Rios at Restaurant Martín led Shane to his current position as head chef of the swaggy, expensive restaurant in Las Campanas, the luxury-home subdivision west of the city limits.
On a second visit with Shane at his kitchen, he proudly shows off the lettuce beds just a few feet outside the door. It is impressively colorful and varied. Growing a salad blend seems like the Italian suit-making of cooking, beautiful heads and twists of leaves tailored just for Shane.
"I really don't want to use the term 'farm-to-table,'" he tells SFR. "It's not just having farm fresh ingredients, it's more seed-to-stem cooking. You're utilizing the plant, not just for the squash, but for the flowers, you know, whatever other edible aspects might come off that plant. That is a super advantage to our restaurant." And to him.
It has been a year and a half since Shane took the reins at Arroyo Vino. "I feel like my identity is part of the restaurant now. The countless hours of work and all the mental anguish turned into something I feel like I actually created."
Shane says that most days, he is the first one into the restaurant and the last one to leave. His duties include office work, checking the guestbook notes for upcoming patrons who have special requests, prepping the line and meeting with the gardeners, the kitchen staff and the front of house. He does all of this before dinner service begins at 5:30 each evening.
"As far as looking at what I would want if I had my own restaurant, this is pretty much it," says the young head chef. "I like to do something creative and progressive, and having a direct connection to the farming aspect was very important to me as well. And all of that was able to happen here."
And he wants to stay put.
"I would love to see this project be extremely successful 10 years from now and have other similar things pop up and really impact my own signature on the food scene here." He expresses love for his city by saying, "Rather than move to a big city where all of this is already going on, why not do it in Santa Fe, which is a place I grew up in and I care about?"
How you brew your own future
The midsummer air blurred with rising vapor, the late morning sun already blistering above 90 degrees, burning her skin. If she took a moment to rest and set her hands in the high-desert sand, it would burn between her fingers and offer no relief.
Ayla Bystrom-Williams squinted and sweated, hauling her 113th pound of gravel into another wealthy client's front yard. As she spread the gravel, she stared at the grayscale-rainbow of tiny, round rocks and had an epiphany. I have been doing manual labor jobs for seven years, cleaning up rich people's yards, she thought to herself. There is no future in this. I have to make my own future.
SFR meets with Bystrom-Williams at the Violet Crown Cinema in the Railyard. She likes the beer menu there. It's one of the last of those cold, stupid-windy Santa Fe spring afternoons, so we sit inside.
"I really think millennials are perceived in a negative way because we don't have to be as disciplined as past generations," she says. "We no longer feel confined by the social ideas that confined people in the past."
Bystrom-Williams is eloquent in a way that makes it easy to listen to her. She is wearing a casual sweatshirt and has dreadlocks, decorated with interesting beads and bits throughout. She rents her home in Santa Fe with her boyfriend, James Hill. The two have lived here most of their lives.
We talk about technology. Bystrom-Williams says millennials got Tech 101 from the beginning of their social and formal education.
"As little kids, we were like the beta testers. It's like being able to speak a different language because you were given the foundation," she says.
Millennials' digital nativism may put them at an advantage in this technologically dominated age, but the economic environment they have entered into is not a hospitable one, techie or not.
Bystrom-Williams says she spent most of the last decade doing the manual labor and garden work that led her to that sweaty realization in the dead of summer. Her ah-ha moment came on the heels of seeing yet another fellow landscaping employee quit. "Either they are smarter than me, because they are getting out of this stupid fucking job, or I am tougher than them, but either way it doesn't matter, because I am not going anywhere," she says.
And she wanted to go somewhere, which propelled her to the place she is when she meets with SFR: in the final stages of a start-up venture that will produce alcoholic kombucha.
Bystrom-Williams, a longtime kombucha drinker, had the idea for a punchier version upon discovering that it had a naturally elevated alcoholic content. Since she was home-brewing beer at the time, she easily made the leap to alcoholic kombucha.
Her idea snowballed into a business after she sought help from the Santa Fe Business Incubator. "I pitched my idea at their 2014 startup weekend, and I got really good feedback. One of the coaches there told me to presell my idea to Whole Foods.
"Before I had a company, before I had a product, I literally just put some words on paper and sent it to the regional manager of Whole Foods in Boulder, and he was like, 'Hell yeah!'"
This millennial-gal is clearly a go-getter, and she has networked her butt off, getting a big shot in the arm with $40,000 worth of technical assistance from Los Alamos National Laboratory in the last two years.
Bystrom-Williams says, "I committed myself to finding every single resource in New Mexico for starting a business."
It's not a matter of time, but of money, until their product is on grocery store shelves. Hill and Bystrom-Williams have been conducting marketing tests on the boozy-bucha via Facebook.
"Kombucha champagne is blowing up," she says. "We never would've guessed that. Our egos would have gotten in the way."
Looking toward her self-made future, Bystrom-Williams says she is excited by the opportunities it holds, but she isn't without fear. "I am afraid of not being myself. To look back and think I wasted my time, being somebody else for somebody else, it freaks me out. I already hate myself thinking that I have done that."
‘It’s a whole new level of hustle’
Art is a cure. Joaquin Dudelczyk says it is a remedy for “that angst we all carry around. That feeling of ‘What the fuck?’.” Many of you may recognize Dudelczyk’s face from local food institutions like Geronimo and The Compound, but you would most likely associate him with The Shed, where he worked for years.
The service-industry veteran has aspirations that take him far from kitchens, red enchiladas and fine wines, ones that involve driving around New Mexico to shoot landscape and portraiture photographs, only to return to a studio and process them in Santa Fe, and then head back out. You know, nomadic, and on a motorbike.
"As an artist here, I just really want a show on Canyon Road," he says. "That would be monumental for me." But he doesn't know if there is the support for young artists in the established art community.
Dudelczyk says millennials don't get the open-arms welcome from all Santa Feans. "I get this attitude from an older generation that I am somehow a nuisance to them," he says. "I can't imagine why this person is mad at me, when there are so many serious issues going on."
Toward the end of our 40-minute interview, Dudelczyk tells me about the millennial paradigm: "Just go to college, you'll be fine." He continues, "That didn't work out as well as everyone had hoped; we all get out of college and have to get trade-jobs, and we're like, 'This sucks. I was promised other things.'"
He is talking about a disparity that many millennials express, in one way or another, between the promise and the reality, the then and the now, the how-it-was and the how-it-is. College used to equal some sort of security; money used to be makeable.
Now, "you have to create a career for yourself. You have to go out and create your own world. It's a whole new level of hustle," says Dudelczyk.
In addition to shooting a few hours a day, he works full-time (nights) at the Palace Restaurant and part-time (days) at Payne's Nursery on Camino Alire. But the full-time server, part-time gardener, fully devoted artist wants to make photography his main focus and source of income.
His devotion to the camera started around the time he got sober, about five years ago. He says he lived with his mother in his first months away from alcohol in 2010, and he was taking pictures "just on my iPhone" when some people saw them and told him he had a great eye. "I liked the reaction, but I also liked the process of it," says Dudelczyk, "going out to have these experiences, finding those 'Kodak moments,' so to speak."
He seems to equate photography and adventure, since he shoots mostly outside scenes. Creativity pushes him into new experiences. "I go to these places in New Mexico that I have only heard about, or I have only seen on a map," he says.
His photographic skills flourished when his father hooked him up with a local (at the time; he has since moved to New York) photography veteran, Harvey Lloyd. "He was old school about [teaching me]," he says, explaining that Lloyd is a process-driven photographer who stressed things like the importance of an intimate relationship with your camera.
Lloyd wasn't shy in his mentorship. "He critiqued my work for years, a couple of years. He was like, 'This is no good.'" Those years were invaluable to Dudelczyk. "I really got a lot out of it," he says.
Dudelczyk was born in Mexico but grew up in Santa Fe after being adopted by a family here when he was a few weeks old. He watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles every Saturday morning as a kid.
His photographic ambitions aren't ones he says his parents would have chosen for him. "I grew up encouraged towards a more conservative path, you know? A doctor, lawyer-type vibe." He says, "I always felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole."
This Friday, June 3, Dudelczyk is part of the grand re-opening party at Samuel Design Group, a local interior design firm. His eight photos are part of a group opening. The exhibition is on Cerrillos Road, though. He's still working on getting to Canyon Road.