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!
Click HERE to Read Last week’s Episode
(#5) The Negotiating Table, Part 2
I opened my briefcase, removing folders and placing them on the table before me, hoping that at least one might prove useful.
The first folder I’d stuffed into the case contained specifications for playground handicap access required through the Americans with Disabilities Act. I leafed through it and determined it was not likely to prove relevant.
The next folder included economic data about Rio Arriba from a UNM report. It seemed more promising, but only slightly.
The third was a portfolio of my two-year-old daughters’ scribbles. I had labeled each pièce de résistance with a French title, based on the color of the scribble: “Étude en Bleu,” “Étude en Rouge,” “Étude en Jaune,” etc. I was planning to frame them for my mother-in-law who adored Chloe and all things French.
Santiago, who was a real lawyer, got up and poured himself coffee. He strolled up behind me, laid an arm around my shoulder, peaked at my neatly laid out folders, and whispered into my ear, “Nice prep, Babe.”
As I could think of nothing witty to say, I pretended to ignore him.
He sauntered back to his seat and crossed his arms behind his head, waiting.
I started to repeat the obligatory speech about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago that was required at all public meetings in Rio Arriba in the mid-to-late 1990s, but the UNM economic study suddenly caught my eye, and I veered off course.
“You know, people make jokes about Rio Arriba County because of its patron system,” I blurted. “They say that people here vote for whomever will give them a job because they’re too dumb to do anything else.
“But that’s not what’s happening.”
I picked up the 1996 study in my fist and pointed it at Henke and Beefy-chops. “It says right here that fifty-one percent of all wages earned in Rio Arriba are through jobs in the retail and service industries. Those’re fast food and convenience store jobs that don’t produce a living wage or benefits.
“The next largest sector of our economy is local government, which makes up 28% of wages. Those are basically the only jobs that pay a decent salary with retirement and health care.
“Mining, farming and industry each account for fewer than 4% of all wages. Farming produces a whole lot of revenue in Rio Arriba, but that revenue doesn’t result in wages. So if you want a job that pays real wages and benefits, you have to work for local government.
“If we want people to vote based on policy, then we have to build a private sector. Right now the federal government controls over 70% of the land in Rio Arriba. It’s not possible to build a private sector without land.”
“The sister has nailed it!” exclaimed Santiago. “The oppression of indigenous land-based peoples is achieved through control of our lands. Self-determination is only possible for our people if we control our water and land.”
Alfredo looked Beefy-chops right in the eyes. “We are an agricultural County,” he pointed out. “And yet our most important gathering, our County fair, is held in Santa Fe County. We can’t build schools, parks, community centers or even affordable housing for our people without cannibalizing our most important resource: our arable riparian land. Right now, we have to haul all our trash to Santa Fe because we don’t have a landfill of our own. This is an expensive waste of precious tax revenue. All of these activities…operating a landfill, building homes, holding the Rio Arriba Fair in Rio Arriba County…mean jobs that we could bring back into our community. This is why we have to work with you…we need to make a better life for our people.”
Beefy-chops put down the petition. “Alright then,” he said. “Let’s start with the ball-field. We can negotiate a long-term lease. I don’t know about your fair or landfill. But we have to start somewhere.”
I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the meeting while the men did the negotiating.
I hoped that my ability to relate data to people’s lives would make up for my habitual insubordination, and inability to follow basic instructions.
Click HERE to Read Last week’s Episode