I’ve had quite a week. Last Saturday I spent the day in the Senate galleries watching the DREAM Act fail. I saw a bunch of Republican senators talk about the rewards that children might get for their parents breaking the law. I saw young people, who had spent more than 30 hours on buses to witness the vote on the DREAM Act, cry as it got voted down. The DREAM Act would have allowed children of undocumented immigrants get a path to permanent residency in the United States if they fulfilled certain obligations designed to contribute to our union.
On Dec. 25, one week later, I was in New Mexico for Christmas. Although I am not Catholic, I attended mass at the Saint Francis of Assisi Cathedral in the center of Santa Fe. The cathedral was beautifully decorated for Christmas. A statue of an Indian woman sits at the entrance of the cathedral, a fountain dedicated to St. Francis and his words about birds sits on the side entrance.
The church and the city of Santa Fe are celebrating their 400th year anniversary. Santa Fe, which calls itself America’s first capital city, boasts the oldest continuously used public building in America. The Palace of the Governors was built in 1610, 10 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.
What was amazing about the Christmas service at St. Francis Cathedral was how Spanish it was and this was the English service. Yes, most of it was in English, but some of the carols were in Spanish. The priest asked members of the congregation to wish all “Feliz Navidad.” When spending time in Santa Fe, it is impossible to not realize how Spanish/Mexican the culture is. There are not the distinctions between “the English” and “the Spanish” that so many Americans in other parts of the country make.
It is a given that the Spanish and Native American culture have been a part of New Mexico for centuries. As I have written previously on these pages, there is a huge Hispanic population in New Mexico with more than 28 percent of the population speaking Spanish at home. These are not necessarily new citizens, or even undocumented. People in New Mexico have been speaking Spanish at home for generations. There is an identification with the Spanish culture, and it permeates every part of public and private life here.
Given the blending of these cultures, it is shocking to me that the arguments have become so divisive and so narrow around the issues concerning our neighbors to the South and our own citizens with feet in both cultures.
In New Mexico, where 45 percent of the population is Hispanic, issues of the DREAM Act are looked at like “who are these members of Congress?” and “what do they know about our population?” Arizona, where John McCain is a senator, has 30 percent of its population defined as Hispanic and does not have the history and the culture of New Mexico. It is not part of the government, and not part of the political leadership of the state. Hispanic leadership is very much interwoven in New Mexico.
If the members of Congress who voted against the DREAM Act spent any time in New Mexico, they would realize that their sense of America does not resemble the reality of New Mexico and other states with a strong Native American or Spanish culture. Perhaps those senators might even see that the DREAM Act would add strength to our nation. New Mexico has woven in Spanish culture to its laws and customs way before the story of the Pilgrims began to define “America.”
The DREAM Act naysayers could use a CODEL (a congressional fact-finding trip) to New Mexico before the DREAM Act comes up for another vote. Senators could take off their blinders and change the stories they heard in school about how America was created and find out the facts. Maybe a fact-finding trip would get them to understand how destructive their DREAM Act vote has been to the diversity and strength of our country.