Rudolfo Carrillo is a native New Mexican and was the news and music editor at Weekly Alibi from August 2015 until March 2020, where he used the pen name “August March” to write about Albuquerque culture, history and politics. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico’s fine arts program. His award-winning writing and analysis have been featured at international academic conferences, in notable literary journals as well as in local media outlets like the Albuquerque Journal. His latest work can be read at Infinity Report with the link here:
This Labor Day guest opinion was written by Rudolfo Carrillo and submitted for publication on this blog. The opinions expressed in this article are those of Rudolfo Carrillo and do not necessarily reflect those of the political blog www.petedinelli.com. Rudolfo Carrillo was not compensated for the guest column.
“SOMETHING TO BE, A LABOR DAY REMINISCENCE”
I’ve always viewed myself as vaguely Mexican-American, a member of the working class; I’ve got the name going on, after all—though I’m named for my Pops, who was named Rudolfo for Valentino, who died two weeks before his birth.
The family that birthed the original version of Rudolfo Carrillo has been hanging around this part of the Earth for at least 400 years. When you add my mother’s story—including the birth and normative human ascent of three children cursed with unusually fierce intelligence and fortitude—the tale of where I came from stretches back millennia but remains centered on the land that stretches between Chihuahua City and Albuquerque, between the Rio Grande and the Pacific Ocean.
Anyway, with starry credentials like those, one must come to the natural conclusion that I’ve had a great and easy time dealing with the status quo and its representatives in a state that is—at last glance—nearly 50 percent Hispanic.
Larry, Frankie, Dasha & Rudolfo
Interestingly, though, that isn’t the case. Although incidents of discrimination and racial injustice were part of everyday life for me growing up on the border of the Navajo Nation, I simply never got used to seeing people of color being treated poorly, abused and even killed. I was there when Larry Casuse fought for all our rights and died.
By all accounts, Casuse’s death could have been prevented if not for the outright capitalist greed of Gallup, New Mexico’s local bar and liquor industry. A prime mover of that literally ongoing, poisonous enterprise was Emmett “Frankie” Garcia, the mayor of Gallup. Disclosure: My father worked in Garcia’s administration as director of a federally funded Urban Renewal and Relocation program.
Garcia had a profitable stake in one of the city’s most notorious watering holes and was also a contender for a seat on UNM’s Board of Regents when undergraduate and Kiva Club President Larry Casuse kidnapped him from his office in Gallup before duck-walking him over to the local Downtown sporting goods store in March of 1973. By the end of the day, Garcia had escaped and Casuse lay dead of a gunshot wound in the back of the store as FBI agents pored over the scene.
“The Life and Death of Larry Casuse, 40 Years Later”, by David Correia in La Jicarita, An Online Magazine of Environmental Politics in New Mexico, March 15, 2013.
I was in the third grade back then, attending Roosevelt Elementary School in Gallup, which is just up the hill from Downtown. One of my close friends was Dasha Casuse, Larry’s little sister. Other than Dasha, my twin brother Albino, a Chinese-American lad named Howard, and a Mormon girl named Kim, everyone at the school treated the Diné kids like hell; the teachers either ignored them or were openly hostile to them.
By the time we left Gallup for Albuquerque three years later, Larry’s sister Dasha had also died; the effects of institutional racism and neglect seemed to have little respect for life, even young life, in that place.
WELCOME TO THE NORTHEAST HEIGHTS!
As a child who was used to the various desert environments where his parents dwelt and worked, I was always filled with wonder when we visited Albuquerque. The bright swath of bosque running through the middle of the city when approached via freeway added to the feeling that here was where life and civilization began.
So filled up with the verdant glory of summers here was I, that I also imagined that this would be a place where there was no racism, no neglect, no shame in being a person of color or an outsider of any sort—how could any of that not be so when the forest that ran through the middle of town seemed to speak deeply of belonging, of rest?
The plain truth, though, is that such bleary optimism got me absolutely nowhere in terms of figuring out how deeply embedded the patriarchy and racism are in the common institutions that arise from public education and private business in this town. My first exposure to that sort of ruling nonsense came via a 6-year engagement with Albuquerque Public Schools—at some of the best schools the organization had to offer in the Northeast Heights.
During the first week of seventh grade at Eisenhower Middle School, my main teacher asked everybody to bring something from home for show and tell, as a way of getting to know about her new students’ backgrounds.
That was easy enough, I thought. My old man had just replaced his prized slide rule with a Casio multi-function calculator that a friend of his at General Dynamics had given him as an early birthday present.
I brought the calculator in and started to show the class how to do basic math functions. When I mentioned that it also did something called “trigonometric functions”, the teacher literally shouted me down and dragged me out into the hall. She couldn’t believe that I possessed such a device, much less that I knew how to use it. She demanded that I end the presentation, and outraged, she asked me to hand over the calculator and sent me to the main office for counseling. And she didn’t believe it was my father’s calculator either. As I walked away, she asked me if I had stolen the device. My face turned red, but I ignored her.
Later that week, after meeting with my parents, she gave me a C-minus on the project. When I asked her why, she said, “Because you have no idea what trigonometry is, and besides, you never smile; all my successful students smile.”
NAVIGATING THE LEVELS WITH VIRGIL
For some reason, small business seems to be a perfect breeding ground for institutional and systematic racism in Albuquerque. In small, top-down management environments, inherently racist and misogynist worker-hostile policies can thrive while hyper-capitalism drives ethical decisions.
These sorts of practices, by the way, are not anomalous; in fact they are and have often been practiced by students of various business schools (including UNM’s Anderson School of Management) at state universities in the 1980s and ’90s. This same sort of messianic, lone wolf, pirate capitalism has long been the weapon of choice among certain cultural leaders like that one dude, Donald Trump.
Here’s how I saw such practices manifest in our town. This has been my experience as a middle-aged Chicano man.
A PHOTOGRAPHIC IDENTITY
One time in the late-1990s, I applied for a position at a local software development firm. They specialized in legal software and had just begun to market a breakthrough product from here in Albuquerque.
This up-and-coming small business was owned and operated by a local visionary who was treated as a larger-than-life figure by those in his employ. At a recruiting meeting, I noted that his presence was everywhere; a cult of personality had somehow arisen in his wake. When I asked an employee what that all meant, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “he gives us as many free candy bars as we can eat.”
Anyway, as they were processed, each applicant had a Polaroid photo taken of them, on which their name was written. They were then told to keep their back to interviewers and recruiters down the line. At some point, an unknown person removed my photo from my back, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Did you know that this software is in English?” It’s okay, you can still stay for so and so’s presentation; they’re illuminating, even if you have trouble understanding the words.”
I recall that I stayed behind just so I could repeatedly interrupt the speechifying of the head dude, their leader and messiah. When he got tired of my interjections about workers’ rights, I stood up and left through a back exit. On the way out, I walked past a storage room that was filled to capacity with boxes of candy bars.
“One-on-One with Bill Bice”, by Jessica Dyer in The Albuquerque Journal, January 25, 2016.”
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
More recently, my presumptions about equality were challenged when I suggested to certain employers that the actions of one of their subordinates could well be a result of an accepted level of institutional racism in the workplace.
This actually happened twice in recent memory. Both instances, in retrospect, were credible. At one job, about six years ago, I was called into the director’s office where I was bluntly told:
“How dare you pull the race card on us, buddy?! You know that no one in this building is a racist. If this happens again, you’ll be subject to termination.”
A few weeks later, I was indeed terminated for saying “negative things” in front of the other staff. Later that spring, the man who signed my termination papers was also summarily replaced, ironically.
A couple years ago, I objected when one of my supervisors said that I talked too much and was too verbose. Stop using such big words, they told me, they don’t fit you. When I complained that such descriptions were not only hurtful, but supported a stereotype that Hispanics were not easily capable of grasping deeper meanings, much less expressing them, the incident escalated.
My boss really wanted to know, he asked me in a meeting later that week, if the thing called institutional racism really existed, if in fact the term “white privilege” was just something I was making up to cause trouble and foment dissent between labor and management. Luckily, the pandemic came and saved me from that storm of privilege and intellectual neglect.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN ALPHAVILLE
This past summer, I applied for a job at the City of Albuquerque. The process required an interview onsite, at the Albuquerque Sunport. On the day of the interview, much of the place was still closed. I didn’t know this at the time (dumb Mexican, I guess) and arrived early, hoping to get a bite to eat at one of the facility’s luxurious restaurants.
I guess it was obvious that I wasn’t there to catch a flight or retrieve an incoming passenger because, within a few minutes, I had been profiled by the local security team and at least one uniformed individual was not so surreptitiously following me around as I browsed the model airplanes and began to look for a place to take a leak.
This individual followed me into restroom and then out again as I headed for the aviation office. A few minutes later, after I was seated, another uniformed individual stuck his head through the office door, looked around and waved to the receptionist.
I tried to ignore that, but it weighed heavily on my mind as I was interviewed by two very young and inexperienced managers as well as a much older bureaucrat from some financial department or the other. All of them were white. The only other Hispanics I met at the facility were the overly friendly receptionist and a humble janitor.
Anyway, at one point, I told some true tale from my professional past. Completely verifiable stuff. Afterward, the main interviewer looked at me, incredulously raised his eyebrows and said in a contrived tone, “Wow, that’s an amazing story!” He then rolled his eyes. I looked over at his assistant, who was writing something in their notes and apparently, stifling a laugh.
IN A RAIN BARREL
Now like all good cynics who came before me, I am not going to completely certify the above-described events as ultimately or definitively racist. I think a lot of times such situations develop because of ignorance and insecurity on the part of members of the status quo. For instance, it’s a safe bet that those kids at CABQ were intimidated—frightened that I might know more about how to do what they are doing than they did, et cetera.
Living life in the full glory of the spectacle has its consequences. Constant fear of replacement is one of them. Further, in the carceral state, authorities are trained to fear and question the motives of anyone who fits a certain profile.
It’s clear that such misdirected and unfortunate actions create more distance between those who wield power and privilege and those who remain relegated to the sidelines, whether they choose to reside there or not. This has negative repercussions for society as a whole.
As underrepresented outsiders are denied access to the same language and opportunities as their more-privileged fellows, a rift is sure to grow. Using compassion to bridge that gap is possible, but as it grows wider, so does the ability for love to make a difference wane under the weight of disappointment and fear.
It is clear that such exclusionary behavior is much more commonplace in educational settings and the workplace than many of my white friends, colleagues or associates care to believe or even consider. And changing such deeply entrenched behavior and attitudes (including an overriding reverence for business owners, youth, capitalism and even the so-called normative) requires peacefully complicated measures be taken.
Of course it begins with education. Children need to be taught early to believe and understand that we are all the same—that, indeed, we are one organism. Further, since we are all basically the same thing, we should kindly treat one another as brothers and sisters. Next, a sense of community must supplant a sense of competition. Further, service to the community, not personal ambition, should be a key factor in developing meritocracy in the workplace and in schools, too.
All this needs to be done with rigorous attention on developing the critical thinking faculties of the human mind. By the time an American graduates from high school, they should be well-versed in math, civics, ethics, science, literature, the media, and basic/practical economics. Then they should spend at least one summer of service in a developing nation or region of America (like the Rez, for instance).
Sustained efforts like these may signal the beginning of the end of a perpetually cruel cycle of institutional racism, white supremacy and white privilege that continue to haunt and hurt American culture while also disrupting the equality of educational and professional business processes here in Albuquerque and throughout the state of New Mexico.
The cool gray overalls (in a multitude of sizes), massive redistribution of wealth, shouts of “Hasta la victoria” and little red iPads can wait. First, we all need to agree that I am not who you think I am.
“White Supremacy, With a Tan”, by John Blake, from CNN, September 4, 2021.