Column: Rancheros Con Huevos
By Lauren Reichelt
Rancheros con Huevos is a column written by me where I share some of my memories and experiences of the “old days” in Rio Arriba County (or at least the old days from 20 years ago when I first came to work for the county). The people and places I’ve written about mostly existed and I gave everyone the right names if I remembered them. Sometimes, if I didn’t like a fellow, I renamed him “Dirk.” I hope I have not offended any of my old or new friends, as I love you all. Rio Arriba is my home and my passion. Gracias!
(#4) The Negotiating Table, Part 1
A few weeks after the showdown in Velarde (see earlier story HERE), Alfredo arranged for a meeting between County and BLM officials at the Oñate Center to discuss land acquisition.
Surprisingly, he’d added my name to the invitation list.
I’d been lying low, concentrating on playgrounds, daycares and other hard-to-oppose projects, trying not to draw attention to the aura of whiteness that hovered around me. I’d even made a few recycling presentations without being asked.
Lorenzo had still not brought up my recent adventure in league coordination. When he called and asked me to come to his office, I steeled myself for the obligatory lecture.
But that’s not what he wanted.
“We’re meeting with the BLM at the Oñate Center next Tuesday,” Lorenzo informed me. “Alfredo and I would like you there.”
“Keep quiet and listen,” he instructed. “No cowboy maneuvers.”
“Yes, sir,” I answered meekly.
He peered over the rim of his glasses, suspicious of my newfound docility.
“I mean it Lauren,” he warned me. “You’ve ticked off some important people. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself.”
The day of the meeting, I donned my most conservative navy blue power suit with an ivory chiffon blouse, a beige pencil skirt and a pair of matching suede stiletto pumps.
I tied my unruly hair back in a chignon, and accessorized with a yard sale briefcase. I stuffed a few random folders into the briefcase, along with a pair of Walgreens reading glasses I didn’t need. I dropped my daughter off at daycare, leaving her portable crib and diaper bag at home. I was determined not to annoy Lorenzo by engaging in unconventional activity.
I swiped on an attempt at lipstick and eyeliner. I hoped that my conservative attire made me look as though I’d graduated from Yale Law.
Alfredo’s team assembled outside Oñate, as was their custom, and entered the room flanking him like guerillas surrounding their commandant.
Patricio Garcia, the County’s Planning and Zoning Director, was a tall, slightly portly man with piercing but emotionless green eyes. Lorenzo Valdez, County Manager, served as the team’s historian, scholar and conscience; he prefaced most speeches with genealogies extending back to Adam and ended them with a dicho. Norman, the Economic Development director, ironed creases into his jeans and drank pepto-bismal straight from the bottle.
Santiago Juarez was the newest addition to Alfredo’s entourage. Originally from Roswell, he was an attorney who had worked with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in the early 70s, and in El Salvador during its civil war. Santiago resembled a Vietnam vet more closely than a lawyer, which in fact, he also was. He had the habit of scaring Anglos at meetings without saying a word. He wore his hair in a long ponytail. A bushy mustache and aviator glasses hid his face. He capped off his ensemble with cowboy boots and a leather vest.
Most of Alfredo’s team had roots in La Academia de Nuevo Raza, affectionately known as La Academia, a movement initiated in the 1970s to spark philosophical discussion amongst ordinary villagers in El Norté. It was New Mexico’s unique expression of the Civil Rights movement. Alfredo’s attempt to increase local self-determination through land acquisition was its logical outgrowth.
Steve Henke, director of the Taos BLM office, was already seated on one side of a square table. He had brought along his boss out of Farmington, a tall, broad-shouldered oilman with strawberry blonde hair and a Texas twang.
I couldn’t remember Henke’s boss’ name so I privately referred to him as “Beefy-chops.”
Alfredo sat down at the square table opposite the BLM. I placed my brief case on the table beside him and slid into my seat. Henke and Beefy-chops were giving me the evil eye. I looked around for the amiable Charna Lefton, but she was nowhere to be seen. In fact, other than me, there were no women in the room.
While Patricio, Lorenzo, Norman and Santiago were settling in, I got up and poured a cup of tea for Alfredo, straight up with no cream or sugar, just the way he liked it. I placed it in front of him, and took my seat without offering anything to Henke or Beefy-chops.
I pulled a pen and stenographer’s notebook from my briefcase, poised to pretend to take shorthand should Lorenzo or Alfredo require it.
Beefy-chops had not removed his eyes from me. Color rose up his neck and face to his hairline, until he took on the hue of a bowl of borscht. He grabbed a stack of papers from the table in front of him in his substantial fist, leaned forward menacingly in his chair, and pointed them in my direction.
Belatedly, I realized they were a copy of the petition the citizens of El Ríto had circulated lauding Lorenzo as a genius, Alfredo as a dedicated public servant, and demanding cooperation with the taxpaying citizens of Rio Arriba from the malignant bureaucrats at the BLM.
“I have no idea what happened in El Ríto a few weeks ago,” Beefy-chops thundered. “But whatever happened, I’m sure she was behind it!”
Santiago, who was watching Beefy-chops watch me, smirked.
“I don’t know anything about that,” said Alfredo. “I think our vecinos in El Ríto are very well informed and can make up their own minds. We’re here to discuss building a more cooperative relationship with you and your staff, and to work out a new lease for the ball-fields in Velarde. We would also like to work with you to identify land near the Oñate Monument to construct a fairgrounds.”
He paused. The corners of his lips were twitching as they did when he was about to pull a prank. “I would like Lauren to present an historical overview for us before we begin.”
I dropped my stenographer’s notebook. “What?” I blurted. “Me?”
“Yes,” he said. “You did such an excellent job of framing the discussion at your community meeting last week. I thought you might repeat it for us.”
Now everyone at the table was smirking.
“Umm…just a moment,” I stalled.
(To Be Continued…)
Click HERE to Read Last week’s Episode