exercises in compound storytelling

Monday, October 6, 2008

hearing Spanish in Santa Fe

Flag of Santa Fé, New MexicoImage via WikipediaThis is one of the best parts of the year to live in Santa Fe, but a dodgy time to visit. The weather is typically mild, the aspens are turning, and the tourists have gone home, so the traffic is lighter and more predictable. The weather can turn on a dime, though. We got snow in the mountains east of town yesterday, and the balloon fiesta an hour south has been playing events and launch times by ear.

We spent a big chunk of the weekend running errands: consolidating accounts at the bank, buying stuff for one house or the other, assembling things, etc. And at our local Home Depot (I prefer Lowe's, but we had a gift card) we heard Spanish advertising announcements for the first time that I can recall; Home Depot also features signs in Spanish saying they're hiring bilingual workers. Not only that, but we dealt with a customer service representative at Los Alamos National Bank who gave herself away as probably not local by swapping "b" for "p."

Santa Fe has a substantial native Hispanic population, and has since the time of the Conquistadors. The local Hispanics speak mostly English, though: either they speak English all the time, even at home, or they speak English at home and Spanish at home. The newly-arrived Mexican population, on the other hand, speaks mostly Spanish. My best guess is that Home Depot and Los Alamos National Bank are serving the needs of the Mexican population.

This is a big deal; on my end of town there are already a fair number of business that cater explicitly to Mexicans: Mexican ice cream places, video stores, and carnecarias (grocery stores, sort of). And of course the shuttle bus to Chihuahua. These businesses mostly offer Mexican brand consumer goods, and the carnecarias offer among other things ways to remit dollars to Mexico and of course there are the ever-present Mexican phone cards. The changes at Home Depot and the bank represent something different: they represent Mexicans earning money and possibly buying durable goods but definitely buying financial products instead of sending it home immediately.

I don't pretend to understand Santa Fe racial politics; it's my understanding that the local Hispanics don't like the Mexicans and wish they'd all go back south, so I've never understood why local politicians are so friendly to Mexican immigrants. I don't understand the tax implications of Mexican renters or homeowners, for that matter, or their impact on the local school districts. But I have to think it's significant when big mainstream businesses start spending marketing and service dollars on them.

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