Recognizing Heritage: The Politics of Multiculturalism in New Mexico

Recognizing Heritage: The Politics of Multiculturalism in New Mexico

Recognizing Heritage: The Politics of Multiculturalism in New Mexico

Recognizing Heritage: The Politics of Multiculturalism in New Mexico

Synopsis

In 2006 Congress established the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area to recognize the four-hundred-year "coexistence" of Spanish and Indian peoples in New Mexico and their place in the United States. National heritage areas enable local communities to partner with the federal government to promote historic preservation, cultural conservation, and economic development. Recognizing Heritage explores the social, political, and historical context of this and other public efforts to interpret and preserve Native American and Hispanic heritage in northern New Mexico. The federal government's recognition of New Mexico's cultural distinctiveness contrasts sharply with its earlier efforts to wipe out Indian and Hispanic cultures. Yet even celebrations of cultural difference can reinforce colonial hierarchies. Multiculturalism and colonialism have overlapped in New Mexico since the nineteenth century, when Anglo-American colonists began promoting the region's unique cultures and exotic images to tourists. Thomas H. Guthrie analyzes the relationship between heritage preservation and ongoing struggles over land, water, and identity resulting from American colonization. He uses four sites within the heritage area to illustrate the unintentional colonial effects of multiculturalism: a history and anthropology museum, an Indian art market, a "tricultural" commemorative plaza, and a mountain village famous for its adobe architecture. Recognizing Heritage critiques the politics of recognition and suggests steps toward a more just multiculturalism that fundamentally challenges colonial inequalities.

Excerpt

On a sunny spring day in 2002 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S. senator Jeff Bingaman announced plans to establish the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area. Designated by Congress, national heritage areas are both places and administrative frameworks. They cover nationally significant, living cultural landscapes and provide a way for local communities to partner with the federal government to promote historic preservation, cultural conservation, economic development, education, recreation, and environmental protection. North-central New Mexico ranges from high desert to forested mountains and has a long history of multicultural settlement (see fig. 1). The heritage area would commemorate the four-hundred-year “coexistence” of Spanish and Indian peoples in this region and recognize New Mexico’s place within the United States.

Bingaman’s announcement took place in the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors, an adobe building on the north side of the Santa Fe plaza. Constructed around 1610, the Palace served as the administrative center of New Mexico for three hundred years. Spaniards, Mexicans, Americans, and Pueblo Indians all occupied the Palace at different times, asserting their authority over the region and its diverse population. In 1909 the territorial legislature converted the building into a museum of history and anthropology, and since then it has become Santa Fe’s best-developed historic site. The Palace of the Governors therefore embodies the complex relationship among colonialism, multiculturalism, and heritage preservation in New Mexico.

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