The Norteños and Mr. Right: Insights from living in a Hispanic Community in northern New Mexico

In the family in which I grew up, *my parents judged everyone by their looks and their pedigree. In order to meet their standards, there was a very specific criteria:  they must come from what my stepmother called ‘a nice family’ which meant they belonged to an exclusive country club,


Houston Country Club Houston, Texas

dressed well etc. Their clothes should come from [in those days] places like Brooks Brothers, Neiman Marcus etc. Of course they were Anglo, had probably gone to boarding schoolhockaday_5 and hopefully graduated from an Ivy League University. They usually went to one of the Episcopal churches in one of the wealthier parts of the city…St John the Divine comes to mind. Church was a social thing, not a religious thing and it was also part of my parents’ criteria.

My dad had an extreme dislike for ex president Jimmy Carter because not only was he a Democrat but he didn’t wear a tie!  He hated Martin Luther King; we lived across the street from the George H. W.Bush family.

I remember a story my stepmother told me when I was about 14. I had gone out a few times with Cary Marcus, whose father and uncles owned Neiman Marcus and my stepmother told me that although everyone really liked the Marcuses, Nancy Marcus, Cary’s mother who was not Jewish, had made a big mistake by marrying Lawrence Marcus who was Jewish. This mistake had prevented Nancy Marcus from being in the Junior League and other exclusive organizations; this was a warning to me about the consequences of marrying the ‘wrong’ person from the ‘wrong’ religion.

I thought my stepmother was crazy..I was only 14, not planning to marry anyone and I most definitely did not want to be in the Junior League or belong to a Country Club.

This was how I grew up…as soon as possible I escaped.

  • My parents were just following in the footsteps of their parents, they didn’t know any other way but what I learned from them was invaluable: I learned that I never wanted to live like they did.

I lived through what seemed like several different lifetimes in various parts of Texas but eventually I was able to move to northeastern New Mexico and this is where I live now.

I live in a tiny, very rural Hispanic community which I have written about before. los hueros rdchurch:san juan bautistaLiving in this place was not intentional, rather it was destiny. When I was in Texas I was never around Hispanic people with the exception of one friend and in fact, I remember feeling irritated when I made a phone call and the recording said “press one for English, two for Spanish”. Why don’t they just speak English was my thought.

But everything changed for me when I moved to this tiny community: judgements and opinions I had were wiped away, I was in the minority [New Mexico is the most Hispanic state in the US] and finally I felt at home.

I’ve written about some of this before but in this post, I’m writing mainly about the Hispanic men, the norteños [referring to people from the north, not a gang] who could not possibly be more different from the men I grew up around…

jody-don't come here

Jody Armijo [sometimes known as The Brown Piglet]

When I was in high school, there were lots of parties around Thanksgiving and Christmas. These were connected to the debut parties and in Houston, they were usually held at either the Houston Country Club or the River Oaks Country Club. If you were invited to one of these parties, you received your invitation from an invitation service and the name of your date who had been chosen for you, would be in the invitation.

You would never get the same boy’s name twice..this was so that you had plenty of opportunities to meet ‘Mr. Right’ These boys were always immaculately dressed, they came from ‘nice families’ but I felt a huge emptiness and there was a cold rigidity that was part of that culture. As a result, there were quite a few suicides.[watch The Dead Poet Society film clip below]

I was a teenager, very emotionally unstable and not in touch with myself however there was one thing I knew: I could not relate to these I didn’t understand relationships  but I knew that eventually I would have to marry one of these boys in order to get approval from my parents….and I would be doomed to live a life of ‘quiet desperation’.

I lived, barely surviving emotionally through these times; I got married, I had a son and then my life fell apart and I rebelled.

Many years passed but eventually after a huge of therapy and many painful experiences, I moved to this little community where I’ve learned so much. And because I live with a Hispanic man, definitely a norteño….


Jody Armijo and Shiloh

I’ve been able to learn about and understand the culture in a much more personal way.

Most of the men in this area look very macho, very tough with shaved heads, their bodies covered in tattoos and many have been to prison. I was afraid at first but eventually I came to see that the tattoos, do-rags and shaved heads are part of their culture just as the suits and ties were part of the culture I grew up in.

And when I understood who they really were inside, I saw that so many of them are ‘soft hearts’. There are lots of artists, musicians and craftsmen..many of them love to cook.easter-cake 2 They are used to hard work, they know how to ride horses, shear sheep, brand cattle…. branding 2grow a garden and build thingswilly:jody vigas …they grew up that way. They have the greatest respect for the Elders,ED'S GRANDPARENTS 1 copy they cry easily…they are an emotionally warm and passionate people.

Today is a beautiful day here in this little community I live in. It’s early spring and I am surrounded by flowers….irises:sunlight.jpg

lilacs and gardens, a thriving greenhouse with vegetables and herbs [including marijuana which we have a license to grow for medical reasons],jody:his big plant.jpg an outdoor garden just beginning, our animal family: horses,puck eating.jpg doves, chickens, wolfdogswhile wolves sleep.jpg and 2 cats.phantom stare.jpg

We have hardly any money, we’re always working toward being more self sufficient. We’re off the grid so the sun provides our electricity, wood from the forest, our heat. Our days are spent caring for the animals, the garden and the greenhouse and for Jody, creating art: personal altars at the moment.heart of gold:tortillas2 altars nightI could have lived in the culture I was raised in but absolute conformity was required and I could not do that. I would have had plenty of money, no worries about material things but by now I would certainly be dead because I would have been SO POOR in terms of LIFE, SPIRIT and CREATIVITY.

Below are a couple film clips very much related to the world I grew up in-one from The Dead Poet Society– very sad but absolutely true, the other with a little more humor and also true. And I’ve posted a clip from The Milago Beanfield War which is related to life here in ‘El Norte’.


A Lilly and a Loaf of Bread/Living in the NOW/Die before you Die

first iris may 16When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.

– Chinese Proverb

more tomatos on steps“Consider how I fed the children of Israel with manna from Heaven…Always remember it was their daily needs I met. Therefore never hoard anything. Whatever you have, use it as a gift from Me and know there is plenty more from where it came from. My gifts are unending for all is mine. Whenever you attempt to put something away for a rainy day, remember this and you will cease looking ahead, you will cease looking behind and you will live to the full now. As your needs are met, give constant thanks.”

-Eileen Caddy from The Findhorn Garden Story

chard may 16.jpgDoes anyone really live this way….THANK YOU GOD MIRRORNot hoarding but rather sharing, living in the now, having the faith that they will be be provided for? Honestly, do you know anyone who does?peaches and hydrangeas 2

Of course it’s in the Bible:“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns — and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?”

apple:plum:egg still lifeAnd there are probably lots of sermons about this and those who hear these words say “Isn’t that beautiful, what a wonderful way to live!” They “Love Jesus” and his teachings on Sunday but on Monday, many of them, as well as the preacher, go right back to their lives of so called security: life insurance, pensions, stocks, gated communities; everything all taken care of or so they imagine.

With some exceptions, these are not the people who will likely share with the poor or who will look with compassion at a homeless person and think “that could be me”*Actually it is the poor who share with the poor. I’ve experienced this so many times in the community I live in.


Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to “die before you die” — and find that there is no death.”― Eckhart Tolle

In the last 6 months or so, 4 people who I was very close at some time in my life, have died. With some, their deaths were expected in a way but nevertheless, they’re gone now.. forever..

Last week I went again to visit my friend, Taos artist extraordinaire, Anita Rodriguez. Before going to Anita’s, I went to a feed store and on the front door was a poster of a woman who had been missing for over a week.holly missing She looked familiar and when I read the poster, I realized that not long ago, I had worked with her very briefly on a screening eventmovie poster final copy that I put on at Taos Center for the Arts.

She had disappeared one evening, her car had been found, her phone and purse but as I write this, she still has not been found.

It shocked me..I remembered emailing her, talking to her…and she’s gone.

I sat down in Anita’s magic home studio and Anita began talking about when you reach a certain age, you have to focus, make the most of your time because there’s not much time left.


Anita Rodriguez

She said that she felt that she needed to live now by intuition alone.


I had been coming to this same conclusion.

2 altars nightCease trying to work everything out with your minds.
It will get you nowhere. Live by intuition and inspiration
and let your whole life be Revelation.

-Eileen Caddy

I have, for much of my life, worked with dying people and as I experienced death early in my life, I learned at a very young age that nothing lasts or is permanent, however death was always in the future. Now it’s much closer..

big orange flowers:tomatosLiving in the Now with No Resistance

“Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”

— Eckhart Tolle

So as everything in terms of any financial security has recently been been taken away from me, when I look at a future for myself, I can’t see one.

And because I’ll go crazy if I don’t, I’ve been learning to live in the NOW where we’re all supposed to live anyway  if this  so called ‘civilization’ is to survive.

zuchini container-may '16.jpgI do wonder, sometimes with fear, sometimes with sadness, sometimes with bitterness…. why at this time in my life has so much been taken from me, what all the work I’ve done was for…. but then I remember some things…..

I remember something Elisabeth Kubler-Ross often said: “You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, if people bring you beautiful food, but you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.” 

And I think about my stepmother who I was never close to until toward the end of her life. Her whole life and she lived to be 91, she sat in a beautiful garden with people bringing her beautiful food…..literally

Hip Grandma

Anne Lewis David, my stepmother- age 91

And then at the end of her life, she often said to me: I’m so proud of you, you’ve done so much and I’ve done nothing.”


Anne David, my stepmother at my photo/oral history exhibit, Between Now & Forever Christ Church Cathedral Houston, Texas

I think too of a terminally ill woman who experienced the death of her 2 year old son, her 34 year old husband and 28 year old her brother, all in a period of 4 years. File_01 gerriThere is a quote from her in our film, Turning Toward the Morning which I never forget:

“If I could relive my life and choose a completely normal life with no illness or death, I would still choose my life today without a doubt. The understanding I have gained far outweighs the option of living a normal life.”

-Gerri Briggs 

So really my whole effort now, what I really want is to learn, is to live in the NOW, to say every morning, as the old man did in the Milagro Beanfield War “Thank you God for letting me have another day”…. and to Die before I Die which means:

Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to “die before you die” — and find that there is no death.”― Eckhart Tolle


mothers day hearts:andy*I wrote this post last year, 2016 for Mother’s Day…for my son. I’m re- posting it because it’s just as relevant today as it was a year ago. I’m re- posting also because there’s so much more hate, sadness, grief in the world today than there was this time last year… I want to try to post stories that are hopeful and happy….where love is the answer. “Whatever the question, love is the answer.”

PS In the past few months, I have started an online store, La Casa de Roses/House of Roses. There are hearts and crosses and home altars for Mother’s Day, Graduation, Weddings etc….pink heart:purple rose wedding

for the times of transition and TRANSCENDENCE……….

Mother’s Day 2016

I wasn’t going to write anything today..not feeling very hopeful or inspired about anything lately..but then my son, Andy posted this on my Facebook page:

“Happy Mother’s Day!! Thank you for the great experiences you gave me like the time you took me to see Bob Marley and the Wailers when I was seven years old.”

And I remembered.

I was 22 years old when Andy was born in July of 1969. I had had a miscarriage on my 21rst birthday and I didn’t want to get my hopes up..actually it seemed like then that I was cursed somehow, that everyone, everything around me died..but there he was, such a miracle, strong and healthy and weighing 8 ponds 3 ounces.

From that time on, I took him everywhere with me…andy 5 wksWhen he was a tiny baby, we often drove back and forth from Galveston to Houston. There weren’t real car seats then..just kind of flimsy canvas things that attached to the seat..but he did just fine.

He went to movies with me like One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest and like he said, I took him to see Bob Marley when he was seven, an experience of a lifetime that would never come again because Bob Marley died just a year later.

When there was something happening that seemed important, I just took out of school. Once to see the Dalai Lama, once to see Prince Charles, sometimes to visit close friends in Austin….andy:nicole Once to visit a friend on Sea Island, 60s boyWhen he was five and I was seeing John Bradshaw for counseling at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, I took Andy with me and he would play quietly outside the room. As he got a little older, he drew a lot …about life..

andy draw-life.jpg

LIFE IS GOOD by Andy Pickard

Of course, none of this would be allowed in these ‘advanced’ times where there’s so little freedom and a new law every day. He would have been taken away from me, sent to live in a foster home probably.

When Andy was a teenager, I often took him with me to visit the hospice patients I was working with and sometimes he was there just moments before they died. Out of these experiences came the many documentaries we later made together on death and dying, hospice etc

filming ekr

Filming Elisabeth Kubler-Ross  for our documentary, We’re Almost Home Now

films of the dying:peter

I wasn’t a great mother. I was young, EXTREMELY emotionally unstable and I had no role models and no support really.File_01 hippie family copy I did the best I could, though there are many things I would have done differently if I had understood..but I wouldn’t change these experiences, none of them. I think, actually I know, that they have contributed to making him the amazing, wonderful person he is.premie rb

andy, p, cbutterfly family

As things have grown more and more difficult for me recently, there are very, very few people I have been able to count on..maybe 4 or 5 at most but my son has always been there for me….ALWAYSANDY THE EDITOR