Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Topics: Nuevo Mexicano, Performance, Culture, Chicano, Art
Quote: “I remember growing up on Montgomery Blvd., which was the city limits of Albuquerque. It seemed like growing up back in the 60s and the 70s was a lot simpler. We used to hang out on the streets. We lived by a ditch. We used to wander to the ditch doing foolish things like swimming the ditch when it rained. You wouldn’t even think of doing things like that now!”
My name is Joseph Wasson, Jr. I always use the junior because I’m a proud junior, named after my dad. I am 55 years old. Lived in New Mexico all my life, born and raised here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My dad was from Las Vegas, New Mexico. My mom was from Mountainair, New Mexico. So, pretty much we can track for a long, long time. My parents were both born and raised here in New Mexico. Their family, kids; born and raised in New Mexico. We’ve all lived in New Mexico. We’ve never lived anywhere else.
I grew up here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My mom and dad met in the late 50s and they moved to Albuquerque. That’s where they got married and that’s where they laid their roots after they met. They laid their roots here in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Growing up in Albuquerque, you know, I grew up…The first part of my life was in the Northeast Heights, in the 60s. I was born in ’61, so I lived in the Northeast Heights, San Mateo/Candelaria area. The things that I remember growing up is that Montgomery Blvd. was the city limits of Albuquerque, New Mexico. I mean, right now, Albuquerque pushes all the way to pretty much the Sandia Pueblo. You could drive from Montgomery all the way. When we were growing [up], we lived on a street called Manzano. Then, when I was nine years old we moved to Hilton. Hilton was just about three blocks from Montgomery. So, growing up back then, what we did for recreation and stuff is we used to cross Montgomery and there used to be some big…when it rained…there used to be…we used to call them little lakes. But they were just ponds that used to fill and we would go swim there, in those ponds. It seemed like growing up back in the 60s and the 70s was a lot simpler. We used to hang out on the streets. We lived by a ditch. We used to wander the ditch doing foolish things like swimming the ditch when it rained. You wouldn’t even think of doing things like that now!
My parents were adamant that we follow the arts, too. So, we were lucky that both my mom and my dad loved the arts. So, when we were young we used to always go see shows and ballets, and stuff like that. Little did I know that it was going to become part of what I do now. But I graduated in 1979 and back when I was growing up I had a low-rider. I used to fix that thing up religiously. That was my life coming out of high school.
The Latino, or Hispanic, or Chicano culture was always with me because of my mom and dad. It’s interesting because throughout my life, even through my career and stuff, it always stuck with me. Growing up, my mom was a Flamenco dancer. She was a Flamenco dancer when Flamenco was just coming into its own here in Albuquerque. I mean, Albuquerque is considered the Flamenco capital of North America right now. It’s just one of those things that you take for granted. My mom danced with a woman named Clarita, who happens to be Eva Encinias’ mom, who has now taken over the whole flamenco explosion here in Albuquerque, and has taken it to the next level. Did I know that I would be working and partnering with Eva and the National Institute of Flamenco back when I used to…My mom used to take us to the flamenco classes because she didn’t have a babysitter. So, my brother and I, we were probably eight, nine, years old. We’d go to class with her and we would just go out in the backyard where they were having classes and search for lizards and stuff like that while they were doing their Flamenco classes.
My life growing up here in Albuquerque with the parents that I still have now, thank god; It was a good life, it was a good life growing up here in Albuquerque.
History on my dad’s side is really interesting because people that hear the name Wasson, and then they see me, there’s like, “Ok, wait a minute, Wasson doesn’t go with the way you look.” It’s the same thing with my dad. Everybody tells me now that I’m the spitting image of my dad. Anytime I want to see what I’m going to look like when I’m eighty years old, all I have to do is look at my dad and I’ll know that. My dad, as I said early was from Las Vegas, New Mexico. My grandfather, my dad’s father, passed away when my dad was three years old. So, basically my dad never knew his father. I never knew my grandfather. Really all we have is photos to go by. Only until recently, within the last ten, fifteen, years has anybody really tried to trace where grandpa Wasson came from even though we’re pretty sure that our grandfather Wasson, who looked as Chicano/Latino as myself and my dad; As far as we can trace, they actually came; Wasson from the east, through Colorado down to Las Vegas because they were military men. My grandfather was a military man and I understand my great-grandfather was a military man. There’s actually a Wasson high school. I can’t remember if it’s Pueblo, Colorado, or Colorado Springs. So, there were a lot of Wassons in Colorado. We know that the Wassons came from Colorado, down to, and settled in, Las Vegas and that area. My grandmother was Dominguez. She [was] born and raised here in New Mexico all her life.
On my mom’s side of the family it’s a whole different scenario because my mom came from Chavez and Sanchez. If anybody thinks about Chavez and Sanchez, they were two of the twelve original surnames that came with Oñate way back when. I remember my grandfather, he passed away some years ago, he lived to be 98 years old. As far as my grandfather was concerned, he was a Spaniard. I think of anybody that calls themselves a Spaniard; they relocated here, they weren’t born here. But he was airdropped some hundred and ten years ago [laughter], just kidding. It was just a joke with us because he was staunch Spaniard. We pretty much could probably trace my mom’s side of the family for centuries, definitely, with the Sanchez and Chavez. It seems like on my mom’s side of the family we’re related to everybody. I could mention a name that happens to be a Sanchez or a Chavez or Ortiz, or somebody, and my mom says “Oh yeah, we’re related to them.” It’s like all the time, “Oh yeah, we’re related to them.” It’s like “Ok, so we’re related to everybody, I guess.” My grandfather on my mom’s side of the family was actually born in a little town that no longer exists. It’s called Pinos Wells. Pinos Wells was located somewhere southwest of Willard, New Mexico. We had a reunion, some twenty years ago, maybe even longer, maybe thirty years ago, it was a Chavez reunion. The reunion actually took place at the location where Pinos Wells used to exist. It was amazing, amazing. We had hundreds of people attend that were basically all relatives. The only thing that I remember that existed, still, there was the church and the house of the caretaker that took care of the church.
My mom and dad met on a blind date. You think about a homeboy from Las Vegas, New Mexico and a young lady who grew up; was born in Belen, and grew up in Mountainair with such notable Hispanic names as Sanchez and Chavez; getting together. Myself, my two brothers, and my sisters are the product of that.
It’s interesting because as a teenager I always identified myself as a Chicano. I was a Chicano! I had a low-rider. I wore khakis and little black shoes and everything. Even though I wasn’t thinking about what a Chicano really meant, I’d call myself a Chicano. We had a car club. We were all Chicanos in this car club, Los Suavecitos. I guess in high school, in your teens, you don’t think about things like that. Even though there was a reason why we called ourselves a Chicano. In the back of our minds we’d call ourselves a Chicano for a reason, and that reason came from somewhere. But we didn’t think about what Chicano really meant. The Chicanos of the late 50s, and their struggle and going into the 60s, and the struggles that they had; all of those, you don’t think about. But even lately, as I’ve grown up and matured and really soaked in what this all means…A lot of people, they ask me “Well, what are you?” I think I identify more as a Nuevomexicano than anything else because I can’t say that I’m a Hispanic, even though I have Hispanic blood. I can’t say that I’m a Chicano even though I am mixed-breed. I know that I have Mexican blood in me. I know I have Indian in me from my grandfather and grandmother on my dad’s side of the family. But anymore I think, even now, you know, Latino seems to be the term that most people are saying because “Latino” encompasses a wider range of that influence. And that influence could be the Hispanic influence of the world, or whatever you want to call it.
As diversified as the world is getting now, and as diversified as the U.S. is getting now, and as diversified, you know, going all the way to New Mexico…Above and beyond any kind of title or anything like that, we’re all people. The diversification right now, people are kind of labeling the Hispano/Chicano or whatever you want to call it, Latino because it has a more worldly identity as far as that goes. Growing up, I remember when we were young, my parents grew up speaking nothing but Spanish, both of them. They grew up in the era where you couldn’t speak Spanish at school. No speaking Spanish or anything like that. So, Spanish was discouraged. Nonetheless, they brought us up speaking English. My brothers and I, we never did go back. Although, I could speak a little Spanglish, if you will. But I don’t speak the Spanish that my parents grew up speaking when they were younger. My sister is really the only one of the siblings that can speak fluent Spanish. Growing up the whole idea was; They were trying to assimilate everybody into the American culture, so we were all American, if you will. So, that’s what they tried to tell that generation that grew up in the 40s and 50s, that we’re all Americans, we all speak one language, and stuff like that.
We went through a lot of that growing up. From not speaking Spanish because that’s what the parents were taught, to seeing our grandparents speaking Spanish. That’s part of the identity. The way that things are going now, and as diversified as things are now, it’s a plus to be bilingual or multilingual. It’s an absolute plus. Even our nieces and nephews, we tell them “Please, if you can pick up a second language, do.” Some of my nieces are lucky that they’ve married into families that do speak English and Spanish, and things like that. So, the kids are growing up and I’m so happy to see that. The older you get, you identify with your parents and how they grew up and who they were, and knowing who they were. Being that I’ve lived my entire life in New Mexico, I kind of know where my parents come from. But I probably identify more with “Latino” than anything else anymore, only because it encompasses a little more of the beliefs of where we came from and where we’re heading as a community, as a country, and just worldwide. It’s just one of those things that…the entire worlds is becoming diversified. It’s no longer Japan and you speak Japanese, or whatever. Everything is becoming more diverse and I see that as a wonderful plus. A lot of people may not see it like that, but I see it like that, and it’s awesome to be able to see the next generation of the kids in my family that; they’re being brought up to understand that it’s not just one way. A lot of times I’ll joke if people ask; I’ll think about why they’re asking; And that’s when I’ll say, “Well, I’m a Nuevomexicano.” I was born and raised here. My parents were born and raised here. My grandparents lived here before it was a state, but it was still Nuevo Mexico, New Mexico, at that time. So, I identify myself first and foremost [as] a Nuevomexicano, United States citizen, but I’m a Latino. That’s just who I am because of where I come from, the history on both sides of the family.
If you think about the car clubs from here, you have the more classic car clubs. But then you have the car clubs that I would call the cultural car clubs. The low-rider clubs and stuff like that. I remember my dad, and his cars. He had a ’61 Cadillac. Before that he had a ’57 Chevy, a Bel-Air or something. He always tells me, “If I knew what I know now, then, I would’ve never gotten rid of that. I would’ve never gotten rid of my ’61 Cadillac.” I guess it was part of the, I don’t want to say machismo, but it was part of, “Hey! I want a fancy car. I want a shiny car. I want a car that’s mine, that I can be proud of, that I can do things to.”
My first was a 1968 Malibu. If I knew now what I knew then, I would’ve never gotten rid of that. But I probably made it worth nothing with what I did to it because I turned it into a lowrider. That was the culture, or some culture, of that time, back in the 70s. Lowrider clubs were the thing. Española was the lowrider capital of the world. The majority of the people that had lowriders back then were “Chicanos,” and that’s what we did. It was as if we were expected to do that. Myself, my friends, my brother, we all had cars. We all turned them into lowriders. We all put the cragars, or the tru spokes, or the little tires. Then when hydraulics came into the whole thing and everybody that’s not…”Hey! we can do that too.” We all started putting hydraulics in our cars. And who can get their car the lowest and things like that. I didn’t have hydraulics for hopping or anything like that. I just had hydraulics to raise and lower my car on the back end only. On the front end, I decided just to drop it all the way down. It was to the point where on the back-end I would raise my car and I always scraped my front end, that’s how low it was. You couldn’t even jack-up my car once you got it all the way to the ground. But it was something that you could be proud of. It was something that was yours, you did it. You and your bros did it. You helped each other out doing it. It was a comrade thing, you know. I remember, back then, it was a peaceful thing.
There was lots of car clubs and I remember going to the big car shows in Española and there would be miles and miles of cars driving up to Española, and going into the Española High School and everybody parking their cars, and everybody admiring each other’s cars. Here’s the interesting thing. I don’t know how it was anywhere else in the country, but I knew how it was here in New Mexico because that’s where I was and that’s how I was growing up. And I was growing up with my brother. My brother is a year apart. So, my brother is pretty much my best friend. And growing up back then, he had a Cutlass. He had a 1970 Cutlass. Another friend had…I can’t even remember the other cars there were. All these cars kind of similar. We all bought these cars and we all said “Hey, let’s help each other work on them.” And it was just something that we did. If I think about it now, I don’t think that we ever gave it any thought as to why we were doing other than it was just part of who we were as New Mexicans. It was part of who we were growing up in our areas. I remember our car clubs, Los Suavecitos. It was from the Del Norte area. We were actually the first car club to spawn from Del Norte. There was always car clubs in the Valley, Rio Grande. But then we got to know all the other people, so that we all hung together. Sometimes, dare I say this, we would decide not to go to school and we’d go to another school and we’d all meet up, and we’d all cruise around. It’s weird because, back then, nobody questioned it. I think we all turned out OK. But it was a whole different life back then.
Here’s the interesting thing. The motorcycle was kind of a mid-life crisis, I guess [laughter]. I’ve always been into cars. I had that Malibu, and I had a couple of older Cadillacs. Growing up and getting busier in life…I finally got rid of one Cadillac, and then I got rid of the other one because they were just sitting there. My wife would tell me “What are you going to do with them?” And I noticed that them sitting there wasn’t good for the car. And so, I said “OK, reality is reality. Get rid of them.” But I’ve always been interested in motorcycles as well. And here’s the interesting thing. Dare I say this as well, one time my wife and I were driving. This was twenty years or something, and I saw this scooter, motor scooter. My thinking…that would be cool because I don’t live too far from work. It’d be nice. They get 50 miles to the gallon, and stuff like that. I went and bought a little 150cc scooter. So, I drove that thing around. Jet black, beautiful. I took pride in it. It was something that…if you have lived in New Mexico, even for a few years, you know that motorcycling is a part of life here because of the open space here. You see them everywhere. Everybody has motorcycles. Motorcycles are as important to somebody as cars are, still, and were in the past.
So, I had this scooter. My brothers-in-law had bikes, and they had Harleys. And I’m like “You know, that’d be nice. I’d like to get a bike.” So, I went and signed up to take the class because I’m like, “I don’t know how to even get a D-Class license to ride a bike.” Most people probably don’t even know that. So, I said, “Heck with it, I’m gonna go take the class.” So, I took the class, and the rest is history. I bought my first motorcycle and it was a 650, but it was a cruiser, total cruiser. Old school all the way. Pearl white, old school. And I lowered the back end. I dropped it, put on the pipes, put on the gangster white walls. And it had the spokes on it, chrome spokes. Beautiful bike. I loved it, and I drove it, and I enjoyed it. But it was a 650, small engine, and I said “I need to get something bigger.” So, I bought a 950, and had that for a couple of years. But still, there was something missing. So, then I went back to the old school-style looking bike, with the big fenders and stuff. So, then I bought this 1700. It’s a Road Star. Totally chromed it out, and same thing, put the big gangster white walls on it. It looks like an old school, kind of, Harley or something.
But there again, thinking about it now, not really ever thinking about it, my brother rides a motorcycle, I ride a motorcycle, my two brothers-in-law ride a motorcycle, my three nephews ride a motorcycle. So, there again, it’s just one of those things. It’s just part of life that you don’t think about it. And when you do think about it, you’re like, “You know, what? Is it a cultural thing? What is it?” But because my two brothers-in-law rode bikes all their lives. I used to ride smaller off-road bikes, dirt bikes, when I was growing up. Mini-bikes and things like that, and then stopped. But here we are, all of us have them. We ride together. It’s a family thing. It’s a comrade thing. It’s a family thing. And I’m talking, not blood family, but just family because when we ride…The last ride we went up to Red River for the big Red River Run, the rally up there. Its family, blood family, but then its family because there’s a bunch of us riding and we’re having a good time, and we’re enjoying each other’s company. We’re not thinking about what we’re doing. We just know that this is what we want to do. Most of the time I’ll ride with my brother or somebody. But there’s times when I just like to just hop on the bike myself and ride. My wife will not get on it with me, she refuses. She’s seen too many things on bikes. But she says “have at it.”
But there again, it all goes down to, I guess probably one thing: the whole idea of family and being together with people that you’ve been growing up with, that are part of your life. I go back to what I said earlier. The idea of, “Does this happen other places in the US?” I suppose it does, but I just know that this is what we do here. It’s second nature. We don’t think about it. It’s just what we do. You have friends, and your friends are for life. Some of my friends have been my friends for 55 years. There’s a couple of friends that are still good friends of mine who… my parents and their parents were friends from the 50s, from Mountainair. They were friends from Mountainair. They all moved to Albuquerque together. They were all friends together. Their kids grew up together. We’re all in our 50s and we’re still friends. And people will say, “How long have you guys known each other?” Since we were born. You have friends like that. They’re family, they’re brothers. They’re friends, they’re brothers, they’re family because the families have been friends for at least two generations. Our families and their families and in some cases, our grandparents and their grandparents probably knew each other. You think about New Mexico and you think about New Mexico in the past…the communities were a little more isolated because of the fact that back in the 40s and 50s, yeah, you were able to get around in cars and stuff. But even earlier, they were isolated. So, the East Mountain area, you know, its Mountainair, Chilili, Estancia, Escabosa, Willard. You talk to people of that area and they say they’re the center of the universe because it was once an isolated area because it was isolated because of the mountains and stuff, isolated from the big city.
I’ve been reading this book on Mountainair and it’s the history of Mountainair from the late 1800s-2003. I started reading because I took a cousin of ours whose family is from Mountainair. Their dad is my mom’s brother, he has since passed. But they grew up in California. These are first cousins of ours, Chavez-Sanchez, just like me. Born and raised in California, worlds apart, yet our blood is like that, together. So, a cousin came down during the summer, and she stayed the summer, so we spent a lot of time. She wanted to go to Mountainair and kind of see the place where her family is from. So, we found this book. She bought one, she wanted to take it back to her mom. I bought one and I started reading. And just hearing about the history of that area… Mountainair was the bean capital of the world. Most of the beans were grown there and stuff like that. So, you think about it and you read that book, and you’re like…you know, I ride my motorcycle to Mountainair on a regular basis, and we go up there and come back. But it was isolated for the longest time. Las Vegas, New Mexico, same thing, up in northern New Mexico. It was even isolated from Santa Fe. So, these little areas were isolated, so, you either got along with your people or you didn’t. And in most cases, you got a long with your people and you see that. You see how the friendships grew and they continued and, “I’m moving out to Albuquerque. You know I’ve been thinking about it too, there’s jobs out in Albuquerque. There’s nothing going on here.” So, everybody’s moving out to Albuquerque. They all moved to Barelas first, and then from there they moved out. You learn a lot of these things when my mom said, “Oh yeah, I used to live in Barelas on Pacific.” And I’m like “You lived in Barelas?” “Yeah that’s where we first lived.” I’m like, “Geez, man.” You learn something new every day.
I’m the Performing Arts Program Director here at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Programs and Operations. So, I oversee the programming of the Performing Arts Program and the operations. I make sure this building continues to stand and make sure that…not just me, there’s a team…We basically make sure that everything is operational for everything. You heard the opera singers outside and downstairs you saw the tables from event today. So, I’ve been here for sixteen years. I started working here when it first opened, back in 2000. It’s interesting, I could tell people that my life led me to here, and I fully, and honestly, and truly believe that. And I say that, in that, I’ve always been this person who is been into cars and motorcycles and stuff like that, but believe it or not, in high school my mom was the performer of the bunch. And she started working. She started with the first show with La Compania de Teatro de Albuquerque, one of the first Latino/Hispanic theater companies to ever come into Albuquerque. And this happened back in 1977. So, she brought my brother and I along. She said, “I was cast in this show.” And it was Bolas de Sangre. So, we came along and before we knew it we were doing tech work. And the director basically said, “Hey! I have a great show that you guys would be perfect in.” And we’re like, “What do you mean ‘perfect in’?” “To act in! You would be actors.” And he told us, “I’ll make you the toast of the town.” This was José Rodriguez, who was the director of La Compania. Probably about a couple of years later he finally came to us. He says “I’m ready to do that show I told you guys about.” We’re like, “What show?” And it turned out to be The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. And so back in 1980 was my first experience as a performer.
Little did I know, and I can sit and reflect on this, but, my path to the National Hispanic Cultural Center started probably around that time because I had just graduated. I actually took the entire accounting course at TVI, which is CNM now, Technical Vocational Institute back then. I took the entire accounting course, and I thought to myself, “Why did I do that?” because I don’t want to be an accountant. So, I kind of made it my point that I was going to follow this career path in the arts, in the performing arts. In the 80s, I was single at the time, and so, I was in shows. I assisted in producing shows, designed shows, and acted in shows. And then before I knew it, I was doing pretty much full-time tech work in theater. And that kind of led me to going on tours. So, I started doing tours with theater companies throughout the country. With dance companies, flamenco companies. That’s when I hooked back up with Eva Encinias, who back then, her and I were, you know, we’re the same age, practically. So, we were kids when her mom and my mom were dancing flamenco. I hooked back up with her flamenco company who was touring.
So, I toured with them. I toured with them all over the country. And they toured this show called Imagenes de Garcia Lorca. It was a flamenco show based on the poetry of Lorca. And so, I toured with them and I did some touring with La Compania which took me to Chicago, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, California, all over New Mexico, Texas, Arizona just touring with all these shows. And all these shows were culturally relevant to the Latino/Hispano arts. So, I continued doing that and in the late 80s I met my now wife. I started realizing that I have no job [laughter]. I’ve been doing all this stuff, and it’s been great, but I don’t really have a job. I’ve always worked for myself, and I’ve done some stints with APS and things like that, but I was like “OK.” And I met this wonderful woman who was steady in her life and everything, and why does she want me in her life?
But I’m a firm believer in faith and in the 90s, that’s when I landed the position with the City of Albuquerque overseeing the Summerfest events, and the arts in the parks programs, and all the outdoor events that they did. All the while I still continued doing theater work because me and a bunch of friends in Latino theater formed a theater company Lost Tribe Productions. It’s weird how the name even comes in because I lived with my cousin in this house, and I had this painting, and I named the painting Portals of the Lost. It was a painting that I basically worked with another good friend of mine, José Garcia. He was producing some shows and he said, “I don’t have any money.” But he was an artist, and I said, “I’ll take that painting.” And so, I designed the lighting for him and I had this incredible painting that he painted of Chaco Canyon. And he basically painted this painting of an entrance that went on forever.
So, one day we’re sitting there and we’re talking about, “You know what? We need to form our own company. People aren’t giving us…you know we’re not able to do things because people aren’t opening the doors for us.” So, we formed this company and we’re like, “What do we call this?” And on the bottom of the painting I had, “Within these portals travel the lost,” because back then, I admit it, I was a little crazy in my lifetime, too. So, we used to say, “Yeah, that’s where we’re gonna go when we don’t know what to do. We’re gonna travel into that portal.” And so, then we we’re saying, “What are we gonna name our theater company?” Then we said, “Within these portals travel the lost, we’re the lost tribe. We’re the lost tribe that travels these portals. That’s how we’re going to get things done.” And so, we all started talking like this and we’re like, “Wow. What are we talking? Where is this coming from?” There’s a bunch of us, and we did it. So, I was working with the city, and for five years we had Lost Tribe Productions, as I was still working with the city doing all the summer programs. I would say around 1990, one of my mentors, Irene Oliver Lewis, she came up to me we we’re renting this house where we had this painting on, from her. And we lived next to her, and she says, and she called me Anthony, by my middle name, “Anthony!” She goes, “I want to tell you something. I’m going to a series of these meetings to talk about a Hispanic Cultural Center, here in Albuquerque. You need to keep your ear open for this. This would be perfect for you.” And I’m like, “Wow.” This was even before I started working with the city, she said that.
So, here it is, late 70s, starting to work with the Latino/Hispano theater company, and all of the sudden she mentions this. And she worked with the same company, La Compania. And then I start working with the city, and I’m still doing Latino theater with a bunch of Latinos, see here I’m calling “Latinos” now. And we’re still doing Latino theater, and most of it is original work that we’re coming up with. And I’m working with the city, and towards the end of the 90s I found myself as the Operation Manager of the Kimo Theater. It was still part of the cultural services for the city, and it was at that time that, then-Mayor Baca came to me and said, “I want you to sit on the planning committee for the New Mexico Hispanic Cultural Center,” at that time. I’m like, “Wait a minute, this is what Irene talked to me about almost ten years ago.”
And so here I am, sitting in this room working on the grand opening for the New Mexico Hispanic Cultural Center. And I’m freaking out because I just got a cool job at the Kimo but hearing about everything that’s happening here. And the only two buildings that were built at the time were the History and Literary Arts building, which is the old-school house, and the Visual Arts Complex. The building that we’re sitting in. The Performing Arts Center was just an empty field in the education complex. This was just one big empty field, just those two buildings. At that time, I met the director of performing arts Reeve Love. So, we’re sitting in the meeting and we’re talking about, we’re going to bring in Los Lobos, but we want Al Hurricane, and we want Ivon Ulibarri, and who’s going to logistically set up all of this stuff? And they all looked at me and they said, “Isn’t that what you do?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And they said, “Can you do this? Can you be the production manager and oversee the set-up of all the stages?” And I’m like, “Sure.”
My brother had been a DJ for thirty-five years. We started a DJ company in 1980, and we’re still doing it. I’m trying to retire out of it but people still call. Anyway, we did it under our company, and they hired our company to oversee all of the production. All of the tents and the stages, and sound systems, and lighting and everything for the stages. There were three stages that we set up. So, we did all of that. As all of this is happening, I’m like…finally I got up enough nerve to ask Reeve, I’m like, “Reeve, once this opens, what’s gonna happen? Who’s working here?” She says, “Well, we’ll start hiring people.” That’s when she told me about the break-up of the performing arts program, visual arts program, history and literary arts program, education program, the rental program. And I’m like, “Really? So, what are you looking at as far as the performing arts program?” She told me. And so we started talking and I said, “Well, I’m gonna ask you to use this as part of an interview because I wanna apply for a job.” What they actually did, because they knew they weren’t going to be able to hire everybody right away, they combined two positions, a programmer and production manager. That job opened up, and I’m, like, pumped. I did everything I could to make my resume look good and applied for the position. And I got it.
So, we opened up the center in October of 2000 and I actually started working for the center March 1st of 2001. So, [I was] programmer production manager, overseeing all of the performing arts needs, production-wise, and programming and curating our own season. We actually started a season even before the performing arts facility was even built. We were doing stuff outside and we were doing something in the small Wells Fargo auditorium because that was already built. One of the first things that they told me is they gave me all of the plans to the construction of this building and said, “Take a look them and see what you think.” And I was like, “What the heck?” I’m looking at these plans saying, “Oh my god! What is this that they’re looking at building?” And this is an 85000 square feet [building]. Three theaters, two rehearsal halls, state of the art lights and sound. And so that was part of what I was doing, and then this facility opened in September of 2004.
I think in April of 2014, I was promoted to the Performing Arts Program Director and that’s what I’m doing now. I think about it. I think about working here. I’ve been here sixteen years now, since the beginning, since day one. Right now, there’s only three of us that have been here since the beginning. I think about this a lot. What I’m saying is not anything that…was it rehearsed? You can say it was rehearsed because I always think about it. I always think about the fact that I’m here. I will finish my career here, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, whenever that is. It’s a lot closer to the end of my career, than the beginning of my career. If you think about it, I always tell everybody, “I didn’t start my career sixteen years ago, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. And I didn’t start my career twenty-four years ago, when I started working with the City of Albuquerque doing events.” It’s always been my career. It’s been something that was instilled in me. My mom always tells me, still now; my mom and dad are going on 80 years old. My mom still tells me that I’m the one that followed in her footstep because she was always in to the arts. She was a dancer, she was a performer, she acted. When everybody else said, “Why don’t you figure out what you’re going to do with your life?” In the 80s, that was in my twenties. My mom always said, “I’m gonna back you up.” Even now when she tells me; I always think about my when I remember going through the struggles; My sister, who’s a year older than me, and my brother, a year younger than me; [They] were already in their careers, and they’re already doing their thing and I’m still travelling around with companies and coming back broke and going off somewhere else and coming back broke.
But when we [were] celebrating our tenth anniversary, of this center, I was doing tours. Part of the celebration was doing tours of the performing arts center. I will never forget my mom and dad came to the anniversary. So, they’re sitting in the audience and my mom stood up and said, “I’m so proud of my son. That’s my son up there. I’m so proud of him. He followed in his mom’s footsteps and look at where he is now.” And I was look, “Whoa!” Totally blown away, practically brought to tears, going, “Wow!” In front of a bunch of people that I didn’t know and that she didn’t know. But they had signed on to take the tour at that time and I toured them the facility. I’ve always thought about that. And I’ve always thought why I’m here. I mean I could’ve been an accountant at an all Anglo accounting firm or something.
But I’m here at the National Hispanic Cultural Center doing basically the same thing I was doing back when I first started that first theater production back in 1977, only on a bigger level. But embracing the culture that I was born into. Embracing the culture that I always identified from the time I was born until now. Embracing that culture and tying that culture into the arts. Tying that culture to New Mexico, where we’re at. And tying that culture from New Mexico out to the world. And bringing the world, that is already coming in here by the people that are coming in here, to the National Hispanic Cultural Center. I’m blessed. I really, truly, am blessed because I’ve never had to leave New Mexico. I never had to leave Albuquerque to do something that I grew to love at such a young age. I said, “Through thick and thin, I’m going to continue doing this. Even if at 55 I’m going off touring or whatever.” The performing arts and the arts that I’ve ever done have always been based in the culture that I grew up with. Subconsciously it may have been a choice, but consciously it just fell into place that way. Even if you look my artwork. I’ve collected art for a long time. Johnny Tapia, over here. Zoot Suit, over there. Cesar Chavez, over there. The Latino or Hispanic way of portraying the heart, and stuff like that. It’s just something subconsciously and consciously; It just guided me.
The easiest thing to say would be not to give up. But, above and beyond not giving up, you should always keep learning and educating yourself. Not just in what you do, and the work that you do, and honing your skills, but learn to network. Learn to talk to people. The one thing that I can always tell everybody is if you’re going to be shy, and not reach out to anybody, that’s what’s gonna happen.” Nobody is ever going to come to you. No matter who you are, no matter what walk of life you come from, if you ask somebody, they’re going to appreciate the fact that you asked and they’re gonna answer. But if you don’t ask something, you’re never going to get an answer. “I’m an artist, where do I go from here?” “Hmm, look at this young kid, that’s awesome. Let’s see what we can do. Let’s see how we can help you.” I always tell; I have a twelve-year-old niece; And these aren’t even my nieces, my nieces and nephews are in their thirties already. But this is the next generation. I always tell my nieces and nephews, I say, “Whatever you do, make sure your kids graduate. Make sure they graduate. After that they’re on their own. But as long as you’ve always been there with them, they’re gonna know.” As a parent, let your kids ask questions. Let your kids say, “Why?” Because if you answer them openly, and without hesitation, then they’re going to know that they can go out to the world and ask those questions. And they know that people will answer them without hesitation as well.
I mean, sometimes they won’t, but in most cases, they will. Don’t give up and learn to ask. Seek out. They’re there. Any more information is in the palm of our hands. If you’re afraid ask somebody face-to-face, Google. “I’m a Latino artist, where do I go.” “Wow! M.E.Ch.A. Oh! This. Oh! That. Woah, cool. Here’s some phone numbers. Here’s some people that I can reach out to.” Just reach out and do it! There have been so many people that have come out of the center that I’ve seen that are so successful. The first person I think of is Carlos Contreras. I mean, Jesus! This guy was a student of the Voces Program. And I see where he’s at now and I’m like, “Oh, to be him with what I know now!” David Torres. These people that are young. That weren’t afraid to get out there and ask the questions and sit there and say, “Is this for me? Oh, my god, what am I doing here?” Or whatever. Just, don’t give up.
And for the parents: don’t discourage your kids. Don’t ever discourage your kids. You see it everywhere that the parents just tell the kids, “Leave me alone.” No, no, no. Be with your kids. You brought that kid into the world. Expect to be with that kid for 18 years, and do everything you can to bring [up] that kid. To nurture that kid. To love that kid. To let that kid answer questions. To take the kid to soccer, and after one soccer practice that kid says, “I hate soccer.” “Well what do you want to do now?” “I don’t want to…But I want to do this.”
I’m proud of my nieces and nephews because they’re doing that. They’re allowing their kids, and two of our kids; I call them our kids, too. We’ve never had kids, but two of the kids are going to be twelve years old and their parents, our nieces, and nephews, are allowing them to experience things. So, my nephew; he was in basketball, football, and baseball, and they wanted to keep him in all sports. And he says, “I just want to play football.” And so, they said, “OK.” So, now he’s just playing football. My other; [the] oldest of our great nieces and nephews, a twelve-year-old, she’s into cheer. She’s awesome. It’s done so much for her. She’s a gymnast and it’s allowed her to grow, and open up, and not be shy. She use to be shy. So, the parents are supporting them and giving them everything that they need to ensure that when they’re 18 years old and they are ready to make their own choices; maybe they’re not ready, but if they are, they’re going to make the good choices. My hope is for parents to instill into their kids support and love. To instill in them a piece of them, how they grew up. It sounds simple, and I know it’s not. But that’s really all I can say because if you force your child to go to college and you know they’re being forced, it may not be a good thing. But if you encourage them, then they may say, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do.” I don’t have a college degree. But it’s probably wise to have a college degree, but, you know.
All I can say is I’m blessed and I think that everybody, they’re blessed in their own way. They just need to find that and nurture that. But I’ve been very blessed in my life. And I thank you Humans of New Mexico. This has been a wonderful experience for me.
Photo Credit: Jim Holbrook