Written by Khoi Le
Most New Mexicans who have traveled outside the borders of our great state have been greeted with the same question, or some variant of it: “Oh, you’re from Mexico?” It’s fun to play with these geography-challenged people once in awhile, but it can get old fast.
Yet, it is a similar question I get when I’m in my chosen city of Albuquerque, and it intrigues me. When I tell any new acquaintances I meet about my travels across the world, my hobbies and projects, and, most importantly, my dreams and passions, they always get a befuddled look on their faces, a look that’s a cross between confusion and disbelief, mixed in with a little skepticism. Then, the inevitable question is asked: “So, why Albuquerque?”
Growing up in New Mexico almost guarantees that children hear a lot of negative things happening around them. The news is rampant with reports of what is wrong and rarely what is going right. This creates an environment and society were the citizens themselves have few beautiful truths to share with each other, let alone travelers who incorrectly identify us as our neighbor to the south.
Answering the question, “Why Albuquerque?” is always easy for me. I grew up in a country where green foliage is not a scarcity, but a liability. Forgetting to cut your grass in Vietnam is more damaging than forgetting to water a cactus in the Albuquerque desert. It is the contrast of wet to dry, dense population to small town feel, and sandy beaches to sandy desert that makes life more interesting and delightful. After all, to know what you really want, you must first know what you don’t want.
New Mexico is the land of contrasts. The people here go loco for the spicy red and green chile, but first, drizzle sweet honey on their fresh sopapillas. They enjoy the simple stroll of Old Town and the fast pace of Downtown. We love new shops that come in and stay true to the local restaurants. There is a constant clashing of ancient traditions and new ideas. Preservation of the land, culture, and historic buildings is just as important as advancing technology and building new programs like Innovate ABQ. Acoma Pueblo and Sandia Labs exists alongside each other. We dig into the Earth to understand our past, and we fly in hot air balloons and build planes to our future. And somehow, Albuquerque brings all these thing together into this contradicting, beautiful, and delicious mixture of contrast. The harmony is almost as magical as the sunsets that so many who live here take for granted. I am reminded of the beauty whenever I take clients from out of town to see homes, and I turn to see their jaws dropped, their faces in awe—you just know the beauty of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is forever etched into their memory.
My friend Van Overton, Jr., highlights Albuquerque’s greatness in his poem Amiga Mejor:
Albuquerque is my best friend!
She can be a little rough around the edges,
but has big brown eyes that can soften all those she looks at.
Her heart beats to the rhythm of native drums and you can see it in
her swagger as she walks on legs covered in dust and clay.
Her hair flows like the Rio Grande down her back and is pinned up by turquoise barrettes!
She likes to climb the trees in the Bosque and run the streets of the valley.
She hikes the invisible trails of the foothills and speaks the language of the Petroglyphs.
She sits with her Abuela every morning and they talk about their heritage.
The mix of her blood.
Of ancestors who were dancers, healers, farmers, soldiers, and slaves.
In the afternoon, she sits with the children
and they play with flour and water and she teaches them of fry bread and sopapillas,
and their connection to the earth.
In the evening, she sits with her back to the setting sun
so that she can watch the Sandias change color to a brilliant pink which
reminds her of watermelon juice running down her arms as a child.
At night.... She dances.
She dances a dance of power and sadness of hope and remembrance
and as she spins…
she makes circles in the dust
that mirrors the Sun that gives Albuquerque her power!
Why Albuquerque? Because it is a perfect place to have it all.