Friday, July 2, 2010

It's good to be an American, especially in Las Cruces

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Once again, it’s time to celebrate life, liberty and the pursuit of creative Independence Day celebrations.
The job market is still grim, the economy is limping, the ecology is taking hits from which it may not recover in our lifetimes, politicians are squabbling, corporations are pointing fingers at one another and Borderland problems and tensions are an ongoing concern.
Well, you know — and maybe choose to put out of mind — all the disturbing events that are tough to tune out when you work in a newsroom.
And for all that, I’m glad to be an American, and so were most of the people I talked to for today’s SunLife feature.
A sage once said that we should celebrate our defeats and mistakes, rather than our victories, because we learn more from the things we got wrong.
Americans have always been willing to take risks, to fight for what we think is right, even if it isn’t, always. And to correct injustices, face up to our mistakes, recognize we’ve taken wrong paths and change our course.
We’re willing to embrace new ideas and different cultures, a tradition that dates back to our continent’s indigenous peoples, who welcomed Europeans and taught them skills that helped them survive and flourish in a new land, demonstrating a generosity of spirit that many generations might rue in retrospect.
It hit me that the United States really needs a holiday or two to celebrate those who first settled our continent, the wealth of nations whose traditions many historians feel inspired so much that is right with America today.
I’ll be thinking of them today, from the Potawatomi of the Midwest to Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, from Seminoles of Florida to Umatilla of Oregon and all the groups in the heartlands, Hopi, Navajo, Apache, Cherokee, the Crow and so many others who have shared their knowledge, history, art and customs with me over the years.
I wish we had an official national holiday to celebrate those original residents of our nation together.
I’ve been inspired, here in Las Cruces, by multicultural celebrations of Martin Luther King Day. And Juneteenth, which recognizes the date, on June 19, 1865, when news finally reached the Southwest about President Abraham Lincoln’s Jan. 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation. Both days acknowledge the tragedies — the assassination of a brilliant leader and the horrors of slavery — but then find ways to celebrate progress made and hopes for the future.
Two regional Juneteenth celebrations, in Las Cruces and Alamogordo, included American Indians in their commemorations this year. It’s a step in the right direction, but a separate holiday to honor our nation’s original founding fathers and mothers is long overdue.
If such a celebration is to be, its birthplace could well be New Mexico, the best model I’ve seen in America, or anywhere in the world, for innovative, inclusive celebrations.
Even the way we celebrate the birth of the United States is a model of multicultural joy and inspiration. This year, it took me most of a working day, even armed with lists researched over almost two decades, to list all the ways we’ve come up with to celebrate Independence Day in this region.
In addition to the traditional parades and fireworks throughout the area, there are ice cream socials and parades (with horses) in Silver City and a Powwow, Dance of the Maidens, traditional Apache dances and wild horse races at Mescalero Apache Ceremonial Grounds.
If you cover enough territory this Fourth of July weekend, you’re likely to encounter multicultural fun that ranges from melodrama in Cloudcroft to mariachi music and folkloric dancing.
We even celebrate aliens — the not-of-this-world kind — at the Roswell UFO festival.
It’s a perfect day to spend some time thinking about where we come from, why we’re here and where we’re going.
It’s a day to be thankful we live in a place where change for the better is not just a dream, but an innate and real possibility and promise. And to be glad we live in America, especially this part of America.
Happy Independence Day.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

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