The Hundredth Meridianrnby Chilton Williamson, Ji.rnZiarnThere is a point along New MexicornRoute 6, on the edge of the West Mesarnof the Rio Grande, from which as yournlook east the whole of the river valleyrnbetween Albucjuerque and Socorro—arndistance of about 120 miles—appears,rnbacked by the Sandia, the Manzanos,rnand the Pinos mountains. Obscured byrnthe bosquc that accompanies it on bothrnbanks, the river slides from beneath thernsmoky pall of the metropolis, across tliernIndian reservation past Isleta Pueblo,rnand down through the historic Spanishrncommunities of Peralta, Los Lunas,rnTome, and Belen in the floodplain.rnThese towns are separated by smallrnfarms and dairies, adobe houses, irrigatedrnfields, orchards, cattle pastures, horserncorrals, and old mission churches, also ofrnadobe and roofed with tin. In winterrntime, the fields are sere and yellow, thernbosquc the color of old silver. Beyondrnthe floodplain the desert of the EastrnMesa sweeps upward in green-gold wavesrnagainst the brown and purple folds of thernmountains, surmounted by dark pinernforests and bright snow. Southward therngreater valle’ widens, separated bv a linernof distant bergs from a sky of wideningrnblue. This is the Rio Abajo, one of thernoldest settled areas of European NorthrnAmerica and the most distinct of the variousrncultural components—Indian,rnSpanish, “Anglo,” Californian, Midwestern,rnEastern—that make New Mexicornamong the more socially complicated ofrnthe Rocky Mountain states.rnRio Abajo civilization dates from thern16th ccntur) when the Rio Grande Valleyrnwas the corridor connecting thernSpanish colonies of New Spain and NewrnMexico, in which the Camino Real ran.rnIt is a mixture of Spanish, Mexican, andrnIndian culture and blood, in which thernSpanish tradition claims dominance.rn”Hispanics” of the Rio Abajo disdain andrndislike Mexicans, having about as muchrnenthusiasm as Americans in Californiarnfeel for immigrants from south of thernborder. Here the regional aristocracy arernSpanish surnamed—Baca, Luna, Sanchez,rnTrujillo, Aragon, Jaramillo, Otero, Gallegosrn—and man’ of them are blue-eyed. Yetrnthe cuisine is not Spanish but Mexican-rnIndian—chili, “tortillas” (tortilla in Spanishrnmeans a sandwich, not the familiarrndisc of flour dough or maize), and refriedrnbeans—and the lingua franca the Southwesternrnequivalent of the franglais of thernAmerican Northeast and of Quebec.rnSpanish as it is spoken in the Rio Abajornwould be recognized only with difhcultyrnin Castille or Andalusia, but it is not thernpatois of Mexico, either. As for Rio AbajornEnglish, while the grammar, syntax,rnand vocabulary are recognizable byrntransplants from Chicago or California,rnand also visitors from Wyoming, the pronunciation,rnintonation, and inflexion arernstrange, and wholly original. I was madernconsciously aware of the fact the winterrnbefore last when Jim Rauen drew mvrnattention to it while we shopped at thernAlbertson’s supermarket in Los Lunas.rn”Did you hear that?” Jim asked. “That’srnstandard English in New Mexico.”rn”What is?” “Checker on line w-a-a-a-an,rnplease!” a female emplo’ee yelled againrnover the intercom. After that incident Irnpaid close attention to the local speechrnhabits, picking up such examples as “Oh,rnhe is a school t-e-e-acher”, and, “I’mrnglad you l-i-i-ike it, man!” In leaving thernRio Abajo, you also leave the peculiaritiesrnof speech behind. In Reserve, New-rnMexico, or in Gallup or Earmington,rn”Hispanics” may speak English with arnSpanish accent or with no accent at all,rnbut they will not direct you to take yourrngroceries to line w-a-a-a-nn. There isrnmaterial here for a doctoral dissertationrnon the American language, but I havernnever known anyone besides Jim Rauenrnwho recognized the possibilities.rnEnthusiasts for multiculturalism andrncultural diversity might expect to discoverrnthe New Jerusalem in Belen (Spanishrnfor Bethlehem), Los Lunas, et al. If so,rnthey would find disillusionment instead.rnWhile “racism” is as frequently discernedrnand adverted to in the Rio Abajornas in any other portion of modern-dayrnAmerica, intolerance and prejudice arernfar more likely to be expressed by thern”Hispanic” majority than by the “Anglo”rnminority. Condescending as these selfclaimedrndescendants of the Spanish conquistadoresrnmay be toward Mexicans andrnIndians, they are still less appreciative ofrnAnglo-Americans—and of blacks, ofrnwhom there are few, even in Albuquerque.rnIn spite of a large influx of Anglos,rnmany of them retired, from thernNortheast, the Midwest, and from California,rntwo decades and more have beenrninsufficient to dissolve the cultural barriersrnbetween the old New Mexicans andrnthe new. Hispanics tend not to acknowledgernor even to make eye contact withrnAnglos in public places except when absolutelyrnnecessary, or to acknowledge arnlifted forefinger on the steering wheel—rnthe recognized high-sign of neighbodinessrnthroughout the great open spacesrnof the Intermountain West. Theologicallyrnspeaking, the Catholic parish churchesrnof the Rio Abajo are united in one Body;rnsocially, they are divided by race and culture,rnthe two groups having little to dornwith one another and maintaining a perceptiblernlevel of mutual suspicion, if notrnof outright hostility. A year and a halfrnago, a blue-eyed scion of the pure Spanishrnculture, alarmed by what he regardedrnas a takeover by “Anglos” of the BelenrnSchool District, announced his candidacyrnfor an open position on the schoolrnboard in a race against a well-do-to “Anglo”rnbanker. He won. The truth is, withrnthe influx of Californian and Midwesternersrnto New Mexico—most of themrnsettling in Santa Fe and m Albuquerque,rn65 miles south of the state capital—inrnthe last ten years, the custom and culturernof the Rio Abajo are indeed endangered;rnthey may well be overrun and obliteratedrnin the next 20 years, unless haruspicesrnpredicting an end to the alien migrationsrnand the resulting economic boom are accurate.rnThe town of Belen is run by arnhandful of powerful citizens: the SpanishrnMafia. In the next ten—even five—rnyears, their control is likely to be broken,rntheir influence swept away by tides ofrnnewcomers preceded by cadres of real estaterndevelopers, builders, and monied interestsrnwith influence of their own.rnThe new people are mostly retirees orrnAPRIL 1996/49rnrnrn