Expressing New Mexico, Reviewed by Miquela Rivera

Phillip B. Gonzales, ed. University of Arizona Press, 2007. 319 pgs. $24.95 paper. ISBN978-0-8165-2628-4.

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Expressing New Mexico, funded by a grant to the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute (SHRI), examines the state’s diversity and lifestyle through people’s ties to the land and their cultural practices. The University of New Mexico, a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), developed the SHRI to influence the university’s climate and improve Hispanic student graduation rates, increase the number of Latinos in the student pipeline, create cross-disciplinary learning communities for first-year students, build direct-ed advisement services and inform faculty who are unaware of the backgrounds and lifestyles of New Mexico Hispanic students.

Arguing that Hispanic student retention would increase if students could see their personal experiences in the curriculum, this book was to serve as the basis for considering innovations in the lower-level humanities courses targeting Hispanic students. Developed largely from the writing of scholars who participated in an Expressive Culture symposium, their symposium discussions also inspired ideas of curriculum development and innovation aimed at retaining Hispanic students in higher education.

This multidisciplinary anthology looks at performing arts and community rituals as ways of defining community culture. “Place” is distinct in the identity of New Mexicans, with annual traditions such as returning to the Santa Fe Fiesta and ritual cleaning of the irrigation acequia. Its contemporary look at social and political controversies such as the depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a cultural icon versus religious figure and the monument to conquistador Don Juan de Onate with the history of his maltreatment of Native Americans illustrates the internal struggles of a people seeking to be distinct yet one.

Phillip Gonzales, a sociologist, makes a strong attempt to capture part of what makes New Mexico unique. If read by those who have lived the culture and lifestyles, the book points out some of the common practices and places that residents love and often take for granted as central to identity. For those new to the scene, it may feel like starting mid-sentence, with-out a broader context. Because it is an anthology, the style of writing is diverse, from an easy read to more stilted academic language. If you want to learn more about New Mexico’s Expression, come see it for yourself. Much of what is described in this book will then be in its full context.