By Johnny Martinez
Elephant in the Room
I am not a writer, but after speaking with members of old Corrales families, I was prompted to write this piece. I would like to solicit similar stories and sentiments from those who perhaps are reluctant to write about “stuff”, especially our older Corraleños. I will provide my contact information at the end of this article.
I was raised here in Corrales. My family has been here for generations. We are Corraleños. I left in 1982 and was privileged to serve 34 years in the military during my time away.
I had a wonderful career, saw the world, worked on things I cannot speak about, had the opportunity to fly an F-16, spent time on Air Force One, worked on a congressional campaign and even saved a life. However, life has a way of returning one to his roots. I returned to Corrales in 2016 to be closer to my elderly parents who are very much vested Corraleños.
Unfortunately, much of present-day Corrales is not as I remember it. More than anything, I have noticed the type of person in Corrales is what is most contrasting from what I grew up knowing. I want to share a couple of stories to provide a contrast of community and culture. My aim is not to create a divide, but rather to expose the “elephant in the room” so to speak. Please keep in mind that the idea of writing this comes after speaking to members of over 10 Corrales families who have voiced the very opinions I will be voicing in this piece. I am not conveying anything others are not expressing.
When I was a young boy, our neighbor’s cows broke down our fence to graze on the property where I now reside. Back then it was just natural grasses on a rolling hill filled with chamisa (rubber rabbitbrush). My father and that neighbor spatted over repair of that fence for a short bit.
Then one day the other gentleman came over with a six pack of beer and apologized to my father; it was probably Old Milwaukee back then, or maybe even Hamms. In any case, they shook hands and the whole ordeal was considered over. Years later, my father was instrumental in rallying neighbors and contacting our police when this same neighbor’s house was being broken into late at night. The thieving duo was caught on West Ella Road by the Corrales police.
I believe the arresting police officer was Benjie. Everyone knew Benjie. Speaking of West Ella, I remember when Corrales flooded in the 1970s. If you own a house on the south side of West Ella that existed during the aforementioned flood, I have been in your house. The community all rallied together, and we helped those families salvage whatever we could from those flooded houses for one another. I do not know what it was, but I just knew we would be helping because as a boy, I had heard the story of how in 1957, my grandfather’s house burned to the ground.
Harvey Jones, who owned a construction company on the property where the community center, soccer field and Post Office now sit, donated material for my grandfather to rebuild that house which is on Corrales Road just across from the Village Office. You see, Mr. Jones was a Corraleño.
Everyone lived and existed humbly, even those who were affluent, all because they were Corraleños. We looked after one another because that is what Corraleños do.
Today, we have come to find there is a new breed of people who have moved in. They come from elsewhere, build a new house and complain about their neighbors. I see fences going up everywhere because passersby do not like what they see or hear. Then, I read articles in the Comment from those complaining about the “canyon effect” the walls and fences create. Heck, as a kid the only fences we needed were to keep in livestock. And if we could see Mr. Doe’s truck or heavy equipment was broken down in the yard, it was because he may not have been able to afford the fix. Neighbors would trade tractor work and provide rides; not complain about the disabled vehicle. We felt for the fellow Corraleño.
Now, it is apparent that people are forced to build solid fences or walls to keep people from looking in and to avoid continuing complaints from the new neighbors or village officials. Recently, I talked to members of five families that are well established on a certain stretch of a popular road here. Their homes have all been here since before I was born. Their newer neighbor has complained about every one of them.
Why did you move in there?
I read how newcomers have stated they love to embrace our local culture and heritage, but then I cannot help but think: hypocrite! You say you love the “rich Hispanic culture” yet, you cannot stand to see his humble house across from yours because it lowers your property value.
This very house or yard you may be complaining about is most likely older than you. Its cocina has hosted neighbors of all walks, and the matriarch, Doña Josefina once bragged about how her sobrino, Larry, who works at Yonemotos on Fourth Street, joined the Army and will be leaving soon.
“Let’s invite everyone and give him a wonderful send-off!” is what was expressed. Perhaps, a matanza… but oooh, don’t even mention that long standing cultural celebration taking place across from your new estate.
Keen to keep the focus on complaints, I will say that while I may not be 100 percent correct in my perception of things, a likely scenario is: a person who has recently moved here to Corrales complains to a Village employee who does not live here. That employee cites ordinances voted on by people who are new here, and a citation, warrant or whatever you want to call it, follows that conversation and is delivered by the dear, underpaid police officer who can’t afford to live here, to the homeowner, whose family has been here for generations and is doing his best to pay his increasing property taxes to maintain that home and pass it along to future generations. All the riff is external… expat if you would. What unfortunately remains: quarreling neighbors.
Recently, a man I know approached a neighbor who cannot stand to look at him. In a neighborly effort, he said “I know we have our differences, but we need to make this right; we’re neighbors and it’s Christmas time.” The neighbor’s reply was simply: “I’m fine with the way it is.” Boy, somehow that does not read well in a children’s book. You know the one we read to our kids and grandkids about being good citizens? I cannot help but think “Wow, how ugly is that?” I suppose this embittered neighbor is not, and will never be, a true Corraleño.
I also was recently conversing with a long time Corrales farmer. The summation of the conversation is Corraleños do not get involved in our local politics, but in their defense, they are busy being Corraleños; they live simply and place much trust in man’s good nature and honesty.
But you see, trust and honesty are now out the window. In a council meeting a while back, the topic of restricting marijuana growth in our village was discussed. The outcome entailed some restrictions regarding marijuana growth in the village. Many reasons for doing so were shared. I even spoke, as I have many years ministering to youth and even working alongside some of the Tucson Police Department Gang Unit members with troubled youth.
I have personal experience dealing with the consequences of marijuana use by our youth. Trust me, it will find its way to your adolescent children. Perhaps my voice was discounted and not given weight for lack of being an attorney or not possessing my PhD. In any case, I have learned many do not feel our council cares about the voice of Corraleños as much as they may be interested in, or possibly connected to the supposed money in this industry. The council mysteriously changed their disposition. Since that initial meeting, I believe Steve Gutierrez wrote about this incident in a Comment article and cited the possible dishonesty of the mayor and council.
I challenge readers to watch KRQE’s Dean Staley’s report on the negative consequences legalized marijuana has brought to Colorado. He interviews law enforcement officials, educators and district attorneys regarding the problems legalized marijuana has brought to their communities. A present saying is “listen to the science or statistics.” Well, smart council members of Corrales: Please do so. I say that respectfully.
New Mexico is already at the bottom of education metrics. The last thing we need is to introduce something to our community that is hurting our youth’s education or ability to learn and comprehend as a whole. It is already an issue. As you read this piece, I challenge you to consider your income and where you are from. If you possess higher education levels or are fortunate to earn a significant and above average income, more than likely you’re an expat, meaning, not from here. My point is, we should not effectuate something that has the potential to negatively affect the local education metrics even more than they are.
Corrales property is not “cheap,” and our crime rate is low. There is a reason pot growers want to be in our community. Perhaps the pot growers think the associated crime might be mitigated by centering themselves in a safer community. The projected grow houses are suspiciously near all the older and smaller homes in Corrales. I find it interesting that none of the million-dollar homes in Corrales are likely to have a marijuana grow house adjacent to their property.
Regardless of your belief in the right or wrong of its consumption, I cannot see the benefit of introducing this industry to our farming village… a village that was never divided on whether corn was a good crop to grow. Corraleños back in the day would never have introduced something that caused a disturbance to the community. New Mexico is a vast territory with a sparse population. Do you mean to tell me there is not another place you can grow your weed? Cheaper and with no resistance from the local community? You would not do that in the name of community harmony? Council member, you don’t consider that?
I remember Ann Dunlap singing a song about Corrales: “It’s between Bernalillo and Paradise Hills on a crooked old road by the river… where guitar players croon in the local saloon and the locals play heck with their livers…blah blah blah…one thousand people and two thousand dogs, and three thousand registered horses…” blah blah blah…. (If anyone knows the entirety of that song, I would love for you to share it with me as I have forgotten most of it). I mentioned the song to emphasize that in years prior, we celebrated Corrales because we loved and appreciated each other. So much so that we could even sing about it. What a wonderful place we had! Now, people outside of Corrales think people living in Corrales are full of themselves. I know this because I hear it all the time at work. Sometimes, I cannot even argue their sentiments.
There is a reason Mary Davis wrote about Corrales families. She tapped into something beautiful and historic. I challenge you to buy a copy of her books from our local gift shops or markets…
Read about the families and how they built and shaped Corrales and its neighborly culture.
I am proud to say my family is mentioned in at least one of her books. My grandfather and great uncles worked on paving the road through Corrales in 1946. My father, the nicest man you will ever meet, served on the Planning and Zoning Commission here 1980-86, and a further 18 years with the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission. I even recall that once, Governor Bruce King called our house and sought my dad’s perspective and input on an issue.
When we had that flood in the 70s, I remember my dad firing up a bulldozer left on a neighbor’s property and shoring up the ditch on Loma Larga, ultimately saving many of the homes east of Loma Larga between La Entrada and West Ella. And then there of course is Margie from Alameda who, whenever I see her, tells me of how my father saved her life from drowning in the Rio Grande. I could go on… I mention my dad not only because I am enormously proud of him but because a neighbor told me that code enforcement personnel were complaining about his stuff on his property. Shame on you! What have you contributed to the village outside of your paycheck?
My family name is not the only name having contributed in the building of Corrales. Just look at the roads: Montaño Road, Chavez Lane, Rupert’s Lane, Armijo Lane, and so on. Did you ever ponder those names?
I encourage you to take a drive through beautiful Corrales and take notice of the road names. The names are of the families who owned strips of land and built roads, farmed, and volunteered in the shaping of Corrales. Take the time to learn this and appreciate their legacy. When you see their humble homes consider they never felt the need to have a large home. “Para que? The kids will be grown soon and then it’s just me and the vieja.”
You may not know this, but many of these families own substantial ranches elsewhere in New Mexico. They just choose to live humbly here, in Corrales.
Having worked in technical fields my whole career, I understand change and how it is embraced.
However, not all change is good…. Just ask an aging and sickly person. Even though they may know a lot more now than back then, they will surely admit that sometimes, things were better “back in the day.”
I understand many of you reading this may not appreciate this article. That is perfectly okay. I do not appreciate many of the things I see and hear around town, but I served to defend my right to speech and feel I deserve to voice it. I guess you could say, I have some skin in the game… I am a Corraleño!
What I would love is to hear stories from Corraleños. You can write me at Corralesstories@gmail.com. Watch your language and type elephant in the subject line. I’ve spoken with Jeff Radford from the Comment who has graciously said he would accept written communication to me through his drop box for those who do not use email.