Roots in NM
I’m Sofia Sanchez, and I’m from Albuquerque, NM. I’m 30 years old. My dad is born and raised here. My mom was an air-force brat, but she claims California. That’s where they [her family] were most of the time. At Beale Air Force Base in Northern California. My Dad was born and raised in West Gate, Albuquerque. He went to West Mesa [high school], 1 of 5 boys. We’re one of those families that have been here 400 years. We’ve traced our family back to 1690.
I am serving as the ABQ Volunteer Coordinator, under Mayor Berry. It is an office to promote community engagement and really just make volunteering and service important to our elected. So, I just try to keep in touch with our nonprofits, and our volunteers, and get them to help us too. I’ve been there three years. So, not that long.
Albuquerque Chicano Police Association
My dad’s dad, was a part of Atrisco Land Grant, which is an old Spanish Land Grant, and covered pretty much all of the Westside. On that side of the family, they were record keepers—they kept everything. So I have pictures and journals and articles and stuff like that. So I really know where I come from, on that side. My grandpa was born and raised in Albuquerque, he went to Albuquerque High—the original Albuquerque High. It’s so cool to hear his stories, of him getting out of school and just walking up Central Ave. with his friends. I always try to imagine Albuquerque, back then. Like what he saw, how it’s changed. My grandpa, he was really guerro, blue eyes, but he comes from an old Hispanic family. He took pride in that, and he really loves Albuquerque, and where he’s from. He loves the South Valley, he loves West Gate. He became a cop. He was looking for a job, when he married my grandma. It was either a land surveyor, or a police officer, and he took both tests, passed both tests with the city. Police officers made $1 more, so… He made a career out of it. He retired after 27 years. And, he sued APD with twelve other officers and started the Chicano Police Association. Because, they weren’t promoting people with Hispanic surnames. My grandpa could have passed, right? He did. He looked white, he had blue eyes, but, you know…he didn’t—he saw the injustice in that. So him and twelve other officers sued the city. Because my grandpa was a—I forget the ranks—but he was a sergeant, and wanted to be promoted, and you had to be a sergeant for so many years, and he was a sergeant for thirteen years, before he got promoted. They just kept bypassing him. And there were people there, that weren’t even there that long, that would get promoted. So, they did that and they won the case. And in that, they formed the Chicano Police Association, he got his promotion, other officers did [get their promotions]. That was 1974. So, by 1982 they had to “up” the police department by 34%–or 50% Hispanic—something like that. And they were able to meet it. So my dad, and my uncle, were a part of that class in 1980. So you look at that class, that my dad was in, and my uncle, and it’s all Hispanic surnames. And it’s still active. There’s a lot of APD officers involved in it, so…it’s alive and well. My grandpa flew to LA all the time, for those conferences, and Cheech—from Cheech and Chong– his dad was a police officer. So him and my grandpa were friends. He was with LAPD, and he was a part of their Chicano Police Association.
Lawyers505. That was a brief little project… [where] I worked for the Daily Lobo, I went to D.C. and reported for Talk Radio News Service, for a little bit. I’ve reported from Capitol Hill, White House, and Pentagon…and, you know, I’m a New Mexico girl. I had to come back. I was out there, and…I would talk to my grandpa every Friday on my way home from work. I just couldn’t do it. I loved D.C. but I came back and I reported here. With New Mexico Broadcast Association, the Round House, and I joined Americorps. So, I did Americorps, in my early 20’s—in the summers with my land grant, helping them do stuff with their nonprofit.
And then, I was in this stage where I didn’t want to do reporting anymore. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Atrisco was like “we have this vista opportunity in the Mayor’s office if you want to do it.” It was implementing a program in Title I High Schools, to alleviate the workload for high school counselors. So we got forty community volunteers to go into those schools, and help them. That’s how I got into the Mayor’s office—was doing that project. Then they needed an ABQ Volunteer Coordinator, I was there, they interviewed me, and I got it. I believe service is important. I come from a family of public servants—police officers, my parents worked for Social Security.
Running Starts for Careers is an initiative in the Mayor’s Office that helps Juniors and Seniors get real life working experience while they’re in school, and they can get college or career ready. They’re not four year college kids, and that’s okay, right? My sister wanted to work. She said “I’m not going to college.” She wanted to be herself. And that’s what she did. That’s what we help kids do.
We just took part in the National Day of Recognition for National Service. We do that every year. Van Overton got the Volunteer of the Year Award! He’s awesome. When the board was deciding, because I have no input ‘cause I’m just the staffer, I was like “Choose Van Overton.” I explained to the board what he does. He really stood out. We need more people like that, and that’s why I love what I do, ‘cause I get to meet people like Van.
My dad even said, “I think, grandpa would be proud of you because, you know, you understand what he went through.” It’s generational. I feel it, even if I haven’t gone through the things he went through… It just carries over—like he imprinted on me, as a child.
If people got more involved with the community, they’d understand the community. They’re like “Oh, Albuquerque is this, or that,” “It’s on this list.” But when you’re not volunteering, and you’re not in service, you don’t get to understand those people. You’re not helping by sitting there and saying bad things about those people.
No matter what part of town you’re from, those are my fellow citizens. I mean, that’s how I feel. Working in the Mayor’s office and I hear about something happening, I feel, these are my people. That’s why I take offense when anybody says anything bad about Albuquerque. To me it’s like you’re saying something bad about a family member.
That’s the one thing I will say about New Mexico, that the culture here is very unique. I’ve never seen it like this anywhere else. In California, the Chicano movement is very big, but it’s—it’s just very different. It’s very, very different. When I came out there, it was kind of a culture shock.
Identity and Resistance
I grew up with… “we’re NOT Mexican.” Because, it’s a “bad word.” I grew up like “we’re conquistadors”. And then I got older, and I read things, and I was like “Oh my God!”
My grandma’s side is from Pena Blanca, New Mexico— it’s right by Cochiti Pueblo. There’s a lot of racism towards Native Americans there. I was born dark. You see indigenous in my family. I was dark, and my family is very—they’re very white looking. Very European looking. And then I was born. My grandma told my mom “Don’t take her to go see my parents, ‘cause they won’t like her.” It’s so deep rooted, that even my mom said that she seemed worried that they’d say something mean. So just don’t even take her. And I was like…oh.
My grandpa had sky blue eyes, I mean, he could have just kept quiet. But he didn’t and he wrote letters to the editors all the time, and newspapers. And I have those now. He did an interview with the Atrisco Heritage Foundation before he died, and that’s what he said. He said “we’re not stupid people.”
I think that it’s important for outsiders who come in and don’t understand Albuquerque. You have to understand this history. It is painful.
We need to put money into communities. That’s where philanthropy comes in and provides scholarships for kids. That’s where all of our scholarships should be going. I mean, I was a product of that. I got scholarships from my land grant. When we sold our land, that was a priority of theirs. They gave out forty scholarships a year to heirs. So our families could prosper. We could educate our children, and we could get out of any—any bad situations we were in.
My family is from West Gate, South Valley. But, my parents raised me in the heights. I have cousins who make fun of me. You know, they were the “cool girls” from the valley, and I’m over there in the heights, going to Sandia. I think that’s why I hold on to my culture so much. I kind of get mad at my mom, ‘cause I could have grown up in the valley and had more culture, and know more about who I am other than weekend visits with grandma and grandpa. Because, they wanted better, right? That was a better area of town, better schools… I understand. That’s what they wanted for their children.
My sister cheered for La Cueva. And in one practice, they were doing their makeup. One of the coaches said “don’t do your lipstick that way, you look like one of those girls from the South Valley.” My sister said that all she felt was a tug on her arm, and she’s like “I’ve never seen dad so mad.” He took her out of practice. “I didn’t understand why he was mad.” Until she got older, and she said that the whole way home she was like “What does that mean ‘You look like a girl from the South Valley’?” That’s all she kept saying—what does that mean? ‘Cause, that’s where he’s from. My dad didn’t let her go back. My mom had to convince him, for her to go back. He was just like, “This is why I didn’t want them going over there.”
My grandpa used to write a lot, and I think that’s where I get my writing from. He wrote me a letter when I was seventeen. He had all the family history there, and he said, “You know, we weren’t rich people, in gold. But, we were rich in family and history.” I consider myself rich. Because I have so much love, and a huge family, and so much history.
We have a drug problem here. And it affects every family. I don’t care if you grew up in the richest neighborhood, or the poorest neighborhood. My brother and I were raised in the same house. He’s addicted to either heroin or meth, I’m not sure. And he’s homeless. He’s on the streets. We see him panhandling sometimes. People see me, I have the appearance of my life together. I live life. I work, and I take care of myself. And my brother—I don’t know. It just happened to him. So, we’ve been struggling with it. It’s awful, but I think that’s another thing about this town, and it’s everywhere. You can’t discriminate with drugs. I grew up in the heights, and I went to Sandia High School, and I know five kids that died of heroin overdoses.
Every once in awhile I’ll see someone on the street that looks like him, and think that might be him, and I’ll have anxiety the rest of the day. ‘Cause, I’m like “Where is he, What is he doing?” It’s scary. It is.
My mom even said that this changed her perspective. She would see a panhandler, in the past, and she would think “Where’s your mom?” “Why don’t you have food, and why are you out here?” Now, you know that she has a son, that is a drug addict and homeless, she says “What did you do to your mother, that you’re out here?” That’s what she wonders now. ‘Cause, she would have her son at home, right? He has her house, he has my house, my grandma’s—he has places to go.
One time he stole from my parents, and he stole my dad’s wedding ring. My mom had to go to the pawn shop and buy it back. And that day she changed the locks; he was trying to get in at two in the morning. She talked to him through the window and she said “No, you’re not coming back here, don’t bother your grandparents.” And I had to see my mom watch my brother walk down the street, and she cried the rest of the night. It’s not easy. She got pregnant with him at eighteen, had him at nineteen. It was just them two until she met my dad.
I’m very proud of her. For a while there she was enabling him and letting him walk all over her. She’s been really strong, ‘cause every day that’s not easy. My brother had a good life. He never went without. We had the same childhood. So, I don’t know what happened. Where he tried it, why he tried it.
I reach out to him, every once in awhile on Facebook. He reads my messages, he never writes me back. But, I think he loves us because I think that’s why he’s staying away. He doesn’t want us to see him like that. He’s written us a letter, you know, “I’m staying away because I love my sisters. I don’t’ want them to see me like this. I was supposed to take care of them, as their older brother, and I don’t want to.” I’m very open about my brother. There’s no reason to be ashamed.
I’m actually really proud of the city of Albuquerque. We have a really good network, to help people get housing. And help them get themselves on their feet. And, that’s where we excel. I believe in what we do, with our Heading Home project. As far as drugs, I don’t think there’s enough programs.
The Heading Home Initiative has relieved the city by 39% of homelessness. According to HUD, to their definition of veteran’s homelessness, we’ve ended veteran’s homelessness in this city through Heading Home. They permanently house people. They don’t play around, they get you into a program, and they permanently house you.
Drugs have hit me on my brother’s level, my uncles, and my ex-boyfriend. My ex-boyfriend of seven years, my college sweetheart. He came from a white family, in the heights, that’s affluent. He was an engineer, went to UNM, got a mechanical engineering degree, had a job at Los Alamos Labs, and got into heroin. He was homeless, panhandling. We’d see him on the streets. That’s what I’m saying, it doesn’t discriminate, right?