In the Valle: Prejudice and reconciliation series – John Nichols

John Nichols discusses the ways in which racism and prejudice have manifested in Taos in the last several decades. JuanIsidro Concha interviewed him as the first in a series for the Taos News

Few people in our community require no introduction. Among those is John Nichols, author of the New Mexico Trilogy, most notably “The Milagro Beanfield War” (1974), which focuses on the complex histories and ethnic diversity, along with the cultural harmony and chaos that exists, in his fictional version of Northern New Mexico. A fictional world not too unlike our own.

Nichols has been a part of our community since 1969. “I remember people from the pueblo were very poor, Hispanic people were pretty poor also, businesses were mostly owned by newer immigrants, you know Anglos, controlling the economy,” says Nichols about his arrival to Taos.

When asked if Taos suffers from systemic racism, the Milagro Man simply shrugged and replied, “Yeah.” Nichols recalls only a handful of businesses in Taos being owned by Hispanic families and can only remember two Taos Pueblo–owned businesses: (the late) Tony Reyna’s shop and Sonny Spruce’s gallery.

Nichols elaborated by stating in a subsequent press release, “Taos can’t avoid all the inequality in our country anymore than the world’s slaves – in Brazilian gold mines, South African diamond mines, Mexican border maquiladoras or Bangladeshi sweatshops – can avoid inequality in their countries.”

During the interview Nichols told Tempo of the time when he engaged Taos Pueblo artist Geri Track to construct a horno for his wife. When he asked people how much he should pay Track, the response was usually, “Oh, you can get ‘em to do it cheap,”

Undaunted by the obvious lack of respect given to Taos Pueblo artists at the time, Nichols reached out to others. In the interview, Nichols said, “I didn’t want to do it that way. So finally, I went to a couple of carpenters, builders ya know, and I asked what would a really good finished carpenter get per hour for doing a job?”

Nichols reported that Track was shocked to hear his offer based on what a master carpenter would receive.

Nichols feels his acceptance into Taos’ community is due in large in part to his knowledge of the Spanish language. “For me it was a huge thing to be able to speak Spanish … and I could communicate, I could go to meetings and people wouldn’t have to adopt English.”

Nichols did ask if he could learn Tiwa from Taos Pueblo friends, but you’ll have to tune in to the In The Valle series to learn how Nichols learned the importance of language.

When asked if he himself had experienced any forms of racism or prejudice in Taos, Nichols told Tempo, “I integrated really quickly. I immediately got involved with the acequias, worked along with water rights and water struggles.” The connections and friendships Nichols cultivated in the valley are time-tested and true. Just ask notorious “Gringo Lessons” author, Bill Whaley.

Though accepted, Nichols’ life in our valley was not met without prejudice. During our conversation Nichols told Tempo about an old flame by the name of Maria Garcia, who loved to dance. “Often I would get guff from other people at the bar, other Hispanic people,” said Nichols.

Nichols went to protest various causes during the 1960s. He stood with the tribe of Taos Pueblo during its fight for its most holiest of holies, the Blue Lake. Nichols marched in Central Park and was among the thousands of Americans who took on Fifth Avenue. “Everything you’re watching on television today was happening then,” said Nichols, in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement that is occurring at the present.

During our talk he went into great detail about his experience when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Nichols was on a personal journey to learn more about the people of the Southwest, but when struck with the news of Dr. King, “I just couldn’t stop to talk to people, I was just so angry and horrified,” said Nichols.

Nichols’ tales of the other side of war are nothing short of epic. “History is brutal, there is no history that isn’t,” he stated. Yet, the actual miracle of the Milagro Man lies in his wisdom – a kind of wisdom about Taos that can only be gained through experience and patience. “I would like to see somehow a unity… of people to join together, to be together,” said Nichols.

Nichols describes racism as “a tool to maintain class divisions for economical reasons.”

“You know racism isn’t just against Black people. It’s against Native American people, it’s against Hispanic people … it’s against women … racism against LGBTQ, racism [comes] in many forms,” said Nichols.

Tune in this week on our YouTube channel and other podcast platforms for Tempo’s full conversation with John Nichols. This isn’t a resurrection of the past. This is peeling back the scab – relatives talking with cousins, talking with primos, and moving forward together.

See the full interview video here and on the Taos New YouTube channel. 

 

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