Soul Talk from Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States

Photo by Shawn Miller

(Story by Megan Kamerick)

The United States has its first Native American poet laureate, and although Joy Harjo is originally from Oklahoma, New Mexico played a significant role in her creative evolution. Harjo, 68, is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She first came to New Mexico in 1967 when she was 16 to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She later went to the University of New Mexico.

Harjo has written eight books of poetry, a memoir and two books for young readers. She’s won a slew of awards. But she told the radio show Native America Calling in June 2019 that she did not start writing until she went to UNM, where she got involved in the Native student organization Kiva Club and heard other Native poets like Leslie Marmon Silko and Simon J. Ortiz. “That’s when poetry happened for me,” she said. “As part of the Native rights movement.”

Her poems are suffused with nature and landscapes. They incorporate ancient stories, mingling them with the collective feelings and challenges of living Indigenous in mainstream culture. In “Rabbit Is Up To Tricks,” she deftly combines tales of Rabbit, a trickster figure, with critiques of those who seek temporal power. In a world where there was enough for everyone, Rabbit decides to change the status quo and creates a clay man. He teaches him to steal corn and others’ wives.

The wanting infected the earth.
We lost track of the purpose and reason for life.
We began to forget our songs. We forgot our stories.
We could no longer see or hear our ancestors,
Or talk with each other across the kitchen table.
Forests were being mowed down all over the world.
And Rabbit had no place to play.
Rabbit’s trick had backfired.

Harjo calls poetry “soul talk.” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement when the institution announced the poet laureate selection, that Harjo has championed poetry for decades. “To her, poems are ‘carriers of dreams, knowledge and wisdom,’ and through them she tells an American story of tradition and loss, reckoning and myth-making,” Hayden said. “Her work powerfully connects us to the earth and the spiritual world with direct, inventive lyricism that helps us reimagine who we are.”

Harjo’s poems are often intensely personal. Many describe a helping spirit or an ancestor. In her memoir, Crazy Brave, she writes about the night, while a UNM student, when she began to write poetry. It was a time of struggle when she had two young children, a lover who had become abusive and she had suffered a crippling panic attack. Poetry came to her. “I knew this is what I was put here to do: I must become the poem, the music, and the dancer.”

She is also a feminist and her work is steeped in social justice. After she broke away from her abusive relationship, her home became a safe place for other Native women escaping violent men. Harjo graduated in 1976 and later taught in the English Department in the early 1990s, where her students included now U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland. But before UNM, there was IAIA. It was still a more traditional boarding school under the Bureau of Indian Affairs when Harjo entered in 1967. But it was also a fertile ground for new approaches to art education, featuring teachers such as Fritz Scholder and Allan Houser. It gave Harjo an escape from a life of poverty in Oklahoma where her abusive stepfather had plans to send her to a more traditional Christian boarding school.

Harjo said on Native America Calling in June 2019 that she “fled to save herself” and found a place where she no longer felt alone. “Native Arts were being percolated with tribes from all over the US and all of us coming together thinking about what does it mean to be a Native artist? What does it mean to be a Native artist of our particular tribal groups? What are we making of our time and what do we have to say?” Harjo said that became a route to her own art. In the “fires of creativity” at IAIA, her spirit “found a place to heal,” she writes in her memoir. She was with fellow young Native Americans who had similar stories.

“We were all ‘skins’ traveling together in an age of metamorphosis, facing the same traumas from colonization and dehumanization,” Harjo writes. But hers was a generation ready to transform those experiences “poised at the edge of an explosion of ideas that would shape contemporary Indian art for years to come. The energy crackled. It was enough to propel the lost children within us to start all over again. We honed ourselves on that energy, were tested by it, destroyed and recreated by it.”

Harjo’s first book of poetry, The Last Song, was published in 1975. In his essay on Harjo’s poetry in World Literature Today, John Scarry writes that it “is a work filled with ghosts from the Native American past, figures seen operating in an alien culture that is itself a victim of fragmentation.” One of the poems, “3 AM,” is set at the Albuquerque International Sunport, where technology could transport you to a distant city, but not the center of the world, which is how Harjo describes Oraibi, an ancient village on Third Mesa in the Hopi Nation. “Poetry became to me as a way to speak beyond ordinary language the kind of language we use when we remember that we’re related, that we are the earth, and that we’re related to the life here and to each other,” she told Native America Calling. “For me, the language of poetry helps me get to those places.”

An American Sunrise is the title of a forthcoming anthology of Harjo’s poems. It is also a poem with the staccato rhythm of jazz. It has the familiar cadence of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” and Harjo told The Poetry Foundation it was written in response to a call for Golden Shovel poems, a form initiated by Terrance Hayes to honor Brooks’s poetry.

“An American Sunrise” evokes those heady days at IAIA and UNM as the Native rights movement was blossoming and Harjo and her contemporaries were birthing their creative voices.

We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We

were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike.

It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.

Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We

made plans to be professional — and did. And some of us could sing

so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars.

Harjo, an accomplished vocalist and saxophonist with four albums of original music, set the piece to music, working with producer Barrett Martin. “I was writing a musical that includes Muskogean indigenous peoples in the origin story of blues and jazz. We have been disappeared from the story, yet there would be no blues or jazz without our contributions,” she writes in Poetry Magazine. “A few years ago we’d gone into the studio in Albuquerque and recorded drum and leg-shaker tracks for a possible album. I pulled up one of the tracks and built the voice (poetry, singing, vocables) and saxophone tracks over it, at the same kitchen table where I write.”

The song will be part of a musical play Harjo is working on called We Were There When Jazz Was Invented. Poetry has also been part of Indigenous culture for centuries, long before colonization, Harjo told Native America Calling. “We’ve always had poetry but pre-colonization the poetry is our indigenous languages,” she said. “We also understand the power of words and how using words can create or destroy.”

Harjo called much of today’s language “processed.” “Just like we have too much processed food and that doesn’t really nurture us. Poetry comes in to introduce a kind of nourishment where texting language or political speech language doesn’t,” she said.

Harjo’s term as poet laureate begins this fall and she said it’s a huge responsibility. She told Native America Calling she is taking time to consider what she wants to do with the role. “It gives a spotlight not just on me but really it gives a spotlight on Native poets and poetry and we have some of the best poets.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

Joy Harjo

 

 

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

 

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

 

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

 

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

 

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

 

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

 

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

 

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

 

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

 

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

 

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

 

 

 

“Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., www.wwnorton.com.

Source: The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1994)

 

All of One Cloth

(Story by Stephanie Hainsfurther)

From Head Start through high school, singer and songwriter Kansas Begaye felt an inner drive that challenged her to use all of her talents. Sound advice from her mother helped Kansas channel all of that energy and ambition. “She told me I couldn’t just decide what I wanted to do, but that I had to find a way to get there,” Kansas says.

She received her Bachelor of Science and Arts in Native American Studies, with a minor in Women’s Studies, from the University of New Mexico in 2011, but had her eye on an interim stop on the way to the meaningful career she could see in her dreams. The Miss Indian World pageant system handed Kansas a vehicle to go as far as she wanted. Miss Indian World is a five-day competition at The Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, a rigorous contest that includes speaking, writing, dancing and a Traditional Talent Presentation. A portion of Kansas’s talent offering in 2013 shows her on her knees in traditional dress, grinding corn and singing. Her voice is lovely and clear as a bell, her poise unmistakable.

She earned the title of Miss Indian World 2013-14, allowing her to represent Native Americans and forge bonds with other tribal members across the country. Along that path, she became an accomplished speaker, an avocation she continues. Her experience in performance also helped lead Kansas to become an inspirational speaker for Native American students. She regularly grabs opportunities to speak in schools and at private events to young people who need encouragement and direction. “Sometimes, students don’t know a lot about what options are open to them as far as careers go,” she says. “If Dad is a construction worker, for example, then they think they have to be, too. Being a construction worker is fine, but they shouldn’t be limited to just what they see at home. I have this exercise I do with the children, where they state their dreams and the other kids yell, ‘You can do it!’ That kind of positive reinforcement isn’t always present in their lives.”

As a singer, Kansas took her mother’s advice all the way to recording her first album when she was 16. She sings and writes songs in Navajo (Diné) and finds inspiration in world music, Navajo “social songs” and Native chants. Her wide vocal range suits her musical interests, and she sang the national anthem last summer at an Isotopes game—in Navajo. Her own songs are non-traditional but have culture and custom at their base. “I reflect that in my personal appearance, too,” Kansas says. “I don’t always wear my hair in the Navajo style of bun (tsiiyéeł), but sometimes I do. And sometimes, I’m blonde.” (See an example of the tsiiyéeł style of a bun bound with deerskin at changingwomaninitiative.com.)

Kansas had a remarkable personal experience when she sang in Navajo at Yakutsk in Russia for IndigeNOW, a New Mexico organization that has toured several performers and groups under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy. She and Linda Davis of the Chinle Valley Singers were invited to entertain at Ysyakh, the major annual festival of the Sakha (Yakuts) people. “They were very well received by the Sakha-Yakuts people and hope to go back,” IndigeNOW Founder Gordon Bronitsky says.

Of the hundreds of performers at the festival, Kansas and Linda were the only ones who sang in Navajo. Kansas got to sample horse meat, which the Diné also eat, but they do not eat fermented horse milk (kumis). But by far, her favorite encounters were with the Yakuts themselves. “We have so many similar customs and traditions,” she says. “Even our language can be understood by them. I met a woman who had walked many miles with her granddaughter to come to the festival. She said the best thing that happened to them was to meet me and realize that we are one people.”

And Kansas’ connection with and passion for both others and her own Diné heritage runs deep closer to home, too, where she works closely with Native women bringing more traditional childbearing practices back to the forefront at her non-profit, Changing Woman Initiative. Kansas and her sister, nurse-midwife Nicolle Gonzales, cleanse the rooms of Changing Woman Initiative with sage every morning. Examination tables are draped in woven blankets and the colors are soothing and warm. This homey style welcomes their clients and expresses the sisters’ desire to bring Four Corners-area traditions back to childbirth and reproductive health for Native American women. “We are a health collective that is putting ceremony back into childbirth,” Kansas says. She often speaks in Navajo with the women who use CWI’s services in Santa Fe. CWI providers also travel to remote tribal areas. A pervasive problem for adult Native Americans is a lack of prenatal care, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Kansas tells a striking story about a woman giving birth, in the snow, while holding onto a horse. The midwife was the baby’s father. Placing the father’s role back into the proceedings—gathering traditional herbs, making a fire, assisting at the birth alongside the doula and the midwife—is important, and the ceremonial aspects are fundamental to the mother’s sense of well being and connection to her child.

Changing Woman Initiative has captured the attention of InStyle Magazine for an upcoming article, and National Geographic recently sent a film crew to interview them. The nonprofit receives major grants from Every Mother Counts, a fund established by former model Christy Turlington Burns, who attended CWI’s opening. Nicolle and Kansas often travel to speak about the program to potential donors.

Every Mother Counts lists a need for “providers who speak a woman’s preferred language” and for “community-based facilities” as worldwide healthcare problems for underserved women. Discrimination, based on Indigenous status and other circumstances, is cited as a risk factor. The foundation’s site states, “Almost all global maternal deaths can be prevented by ensuring that women have access to quality, respectful and equitable maternity care.” CWI presents that level of care at its own facility and through its healthcare partners. Every Mother Counts writes that part of CWI’s mandate is to “merge respect for tribal traditions and languages with modern, compassionate care.”

Changing Woman is Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé in Navajo belief (there are variations on the spelling). She is one of the creators of the world and a symbol of matriarchy and motherhood. CWI aims to close the pre- and post-natal healthcare gap between the general population and Native American, Alaska Native and Indigenous women living in the Pueblos around Santa Fe. They are working at this task by providing prenatal care, home-birth support and access to traditional plant-based medicines, among other services. Healthy produce is available at office visits, as is nutritional counseling, through CWI’s Three Sisters Native Farmers Collaboration.

In Indigenous cultures, midwives are seen as healers, the medicine women of their communities. Kansas recently attended her first observed home birth, and was startled to see how rigorous the process is—for the midwife, who is on her feet the entire time. How do you say “midwife” in Navajo?

“Auntie!” her sister Nicolle Gonzales jokingly comments.

Outgoing and observant, Kansas is aware of the power of her native language and customs to heal, uplift and inspire. On her album Sacred Reflections of Time she sings: “In this life we come together with our breath and our song.” This expression of unity shines in her music, her oratory, and her work with Changing Woman Initiative. She gathers everything she is, and will be, into one beautiful life.

The Voice of Our Ancestors

(Story by Lynn Cline/Photographs by Jane Phillips)

Listen to Tewa today, the language of six Northern New Mexico Pueblos, and you’re hearing sounds steeped in an ancient past. It’s a language of a Native culture that you’ll hear nowhere else, and yet Tewa is on UNESCO’s list of the world’s severely endangered languages.

This is one of the many reasons why the work of teacher Laura Kaye Jagles, of Tesuque Pueblo, is critical. For the last seven years, she’s been teaching Pueblo youth the language of their ancestors. “It’s about maintaining a sense of Pueblo identity, and reinforcing the knowledge that all our people share,” she says. “But it’s also about grasping an understanding of self and where the students come from in connection with a language that, only by giving it breath does it have life.” And when you hear Laura speak Tewa, you understand exactly what she means, as the words spill forth, seemingly dancing on her breath into the air. “With a lot of our words, it’s almost like you’re forced to breathe them,” she says. “You can’t stumble over your words, because people won’t understand them.”

Since 2010, Laura has shared concepts like these with Pueblo students in a Tewa language program that began as a pilot project at Santa Fe Preparatory School. The project was created after the Pueblo of Pojoaque started enrolling students at Santa Fe Prep to provide additional educational opportunities. Since then, the program has flourished, expanding to four more independent schools to serve at least two dozen Pojoaque Pueblo students, receiving admission to these schools.

Laura’s class in that pilot project consisted of five Native American students from the Tewa-speaking Pueblos of Pojoaque, Santa Clara and San Juan Pueblo. “The experience of teaching Tewa for the first time was surprisingly emotionally overwhelming, and I wondered if I could even do it,” Laura recalls. “Even though I was asked to teach, with the level of fluency I had at the time, I tried to do my best. I was able to teach them everything I could possibly remember, and I just generated methods that were fun and creative. We met during lunch hours, on Saturdays, after school, anytime we could meet. My five students described the experience as becoming a family. Some of the kids called me Giya/Miya, which means mom, and they still call me that to this day.”

Laura has kept in touch with most of the students in her first class, and they’ve gone on to carve out some impressive careers, including a trio of siblings from Santa Clara. Laura points out that Marissa Naranjo pursued Native Studies and is now a policy advocate working at the state and federal levels on behalf of the 20 Pueblo nations. After graduating from the Institute of American Indian Arts, her brother David Naranjo was inspired to launch Khohay Apparel, influenced by Pueblo designs. Their brother Jordan Naranjo, a Universal Banker, whose goal is to support and create more small Native businesses in New Mexico, owns BlueCloud Visions, a clothing design company, and Revolt Pix for his photography and videography work. Then, there’s Poqueen Rivera, of Pojoaque Pueblo, who’s involved in tribal legislative affairs and tribal policy as a Legislative Liaison for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

From that groundbreaking class at Santa Fe Prep, the Pueblo of Pojoaque’s Tewa Language Program expanded to other independent schools in Santa Fe, with great success. The program began during former Governor George Rivera’s leadership and under the former Education Director, Felicia Rosacker-Rivera in partnership with ILI and eventually received NMPED’s Strengthening Tribal Languages funding. It is now fully funded and supported by current Pueblo of Pojoaque Governor Joe Talachy and the Tribal Council. When this school year begins, Laura will teach two dozen students at Santa Fe Prep, Rio Grande School, Santa Fe Waldorf School and the May Center for Learning, shuttling from school to school and meeting her students for Tewa classes, usually held at the same time as the Spanish classes. The program, she says, was created for “highly motivated learners.”

Laura designs different lesson plans for students based on their ages, covering first through 12th grades. “All of the students enjoy games and we try to incorporate skits,” she says. “We create skits about coming to school on the shuttle, the funny translations of Tewa words, a feast day, and one called Rez Newz. There’s a skit about two bald eagles and another incorporating animals that’s about how we mistreat each other and how we can learn to come together. The students like to play Pictionary, where I’ll give them an image and they have to name the image in Tewa. Once they get into middle and high school, they start to have oral and written tests. With the elementary school kids, the way to test them is by asking questions and seeing how well they retain what they learn.”

Growing up on Tesuque Pueblo, Laura learned to speak Tewa from family members who cared for her. As a Tewa Language Teacher, she continually seeks assistance from her mother, brother-in-law, and those willing to help her. family members. After graduating from Pojoaque High School, she went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Allegheny College in Meadville, Penn., followed by Master of Arts and Master of Letters degrees from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. She spent 12 years teaching middle and high school English at the Native American Preparatory School and then at Santa Fe Prep. But it wasn’t until some young Pueblo people asked her to teach Tewa that she even thought about doing it.

“I don’t consider myself fully fluent in Tewa,” Laura says. “I learned through teaching Tewa that there are various levels to fluency, from just naming items to creating sentences and questions to where we might be at the point of having entire conversations. But I would never be able to discuss topics about the entire world or write a research paper.”

Laura’s love for the language is palpable, especially when she talks about the meaning behind the words and how teaching both English and Tewa has given her a unique perspective. “For instance, looking at the word for moon, P’óe Sedoh, I present it as a proper noun because I have that method from teaching English,” she says. “I tell students that P’óe by itself means water, and Sedoh means an old man, so it informs us that not only has the moon been here for a long time, the element of age, but that our people knew that the moon dictated the tides and has an association with water. So that’s a prime example of how a student who may not have been aware of those types of connections are what I make with my students. I make sure that they know.”

Laura also points out how history has affected the language. “As an oppressed people, we lost the sense of confidence and freedom to create new words,” she says. For example, Tewa has no words for casino or phone. “When the phone first came out, people speaking Tewa used Tewa words that meant ‘to throw a line’ or ‘to throw a voice,’” she says.

Laura and some of her students are featured in the 2013 documentary The Young Ancestors, which chronicles a group of Pueblo teenagers as they begin to learn their native language. Their sense of empowerment in speaking Tewa is a joy to watch, and as a viewer, you get an idea of what it might be like for Laura to go to work every day and inspire her students with lasting results.

“This year, we’re going to try homework assignments where students can feel confident in teaching their parents or guardians a word or phrase and know that the language is moving beyond them into their homes and communities,” she says. “I’m going to encourage them to continue speaking Tewa to each other on the shuttle bus. I’d like them to continue building or strengthening the connection they have to each other, even though they might not be in the same classes. They know they’re learning Tewa so that when they’re on their own in a different community and they know a student there speaks Tewa, they can communicate with each other. And I hope that they have a stronger sense of Pueblo identity.”

For more information about the film, The Young Ancestors, visit the production company Camino Verite’s website. The trailer for the feature-length documentary film can be viewed via the website or YouTube.

Believing in Our Past: Allan Affeldt & Las Vegas, Lamy, Winslow

(Story by Lynn Cline / Photographs by Douglas Merriam

It requires a rare vision to bring history back to life, restoring treasured pieces of the past to their full glory. It’s a sixth sense really, and it has guided entrepreneur Allan Affeldt on a remarkable journey, restoring abandoned hotels that once stood as magnificent symbols of America’s mighty railroad era. Along the way, he has helped revitalize communities, transforming people and places with his visionary projects.

“There are beautiful things everywhere that need to be saved,” Allan says in a recent interview. “In every case, someone has to take a leap of faith.” Allan took his first leap of faith in Winslow, Ariz., restoring La Posada, the last great American railroad hotel, designed for the Fred Harvey Company by pioneering architect Mary Colter. As Fred Harvey’s principal designer, Colter created La Posada in the style of a grand hacienda, with lush gardens, secluded courtyards and gorgeous public spaces adorned with antiques. In operation from 1930 to 1957, La Posada drew some of the biggest luminaries of the day, from Clark Gable and Carole Lombard to Howard Hughes, Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein and many others.

After La Posada closed, the building fell into disrepair, ending up on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s endangered list, where Allan discovered it and decided to try and save it from the wrecking ball. In 1993, he put aside the dissertation he was writing on cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine and he and his wife, artist Tina Mion, drove to Winslow, where they found their future.

“It was Mary Colter’s masterpiece and it was about to be torn down,” Allan says. “For me, it wasn’t about the railroad or Fred Harvey. It was about saving La Posada, the most important building of America’s most important woman architect.… The building itself was so achingly beautiful. It was like a temple that had been desecrated. The railroad had gutted the building, and turned it into offices. You could tell, though, in the same way that someone who reads poetry for 20 years recognizes a poem. You could see what it was. You could see what it could be.”

And so Allan purchased La Posada, an 80,000-square-foot hotel on 20 acres, for $156,000—just the cost of the land—from the Santa Fe Railway. He devoted three years to working out the financial, legal and environmental hurdles to his $12-million plan to restore Colter’s majestic hotel. In 1997, he and Tina moved in to the Winslow hotel and re-opened its doors to the public. Today, the historic property is considered one of America’s most beautiful hotels. The Turquoise Room, the hotel’s revered restaurant run by renowned Chef John Sharpe, takes its name from the private dining car Colter designed for the Super Chief in 1936.

Allan’s second leap of faith landed him in Las Vegas, N.M., the home of La Castañeda, the first trackside hotel for the Fred Harvey Company and the site of the 1899 reunion of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders after the Spanish-American War. The luxurious Mission Revival-style mansion, the only property designed by renowned Pasadena architect Frederick Roehrig for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, opened in 1899. The 40,000-square-foot hotel and restaurant, the prototype of almost every Harvey House built thereafter, closed in 1948 and then quickly declined. Despite the hotel’s dilapidated state, Allan saw a national treasure.

“Tina and I came out to Las Vegas in 2000 to see the Castañeda and Montezuma,” Allan recalls. “Las Vegas was the only place with two remaining Harvey hotels.” The Montezuma Hotel, which opened in 1882, became part of United World College in 1981. But the Castañeda was then owned by a local couple who ran it as a bar and were trying to sell the rundown property for $2.5 million. Many phone calls with the owners’ realtor took place across a full decade before Allan and Tina were able to purchase the hotel for $450,000. They then spent $5 million restoring the hotel with a team of 50 local artisans, opening it as the Castaneda this April, complete with a handsome historic saloon and a restaurant, Kin, helmed by acclaimed Chef Sean Sinclair. “It’s the only project ever in New Mexico to receive historic and new markets tax credits,” Allan says. “It was very complicated. Just the financing took three years.”

The day after the Castaneda deal closed on April 8, 2014, locals turned out to celebrate and to shake Allan’s hand in gratitude, according to an Associated Press story. Some people declared Allan’s purchase and plans to restore the old hotel as the best thing to happen to this old Wild West town. Allan is on track to prove them right, having also purchased the Plaza Hotel—known as the Belle of the Southwest when it opened in 1882—and restored it to rightful splendor. The Plaza Hotel’s restaurant is one of Albuquerque’s landmark Range Cafés, now with six locations across New Mexico.

“With the Plaza and the Castaneda, here’s this incredible historical legacy and nobody knows about it,” Allan says. “Las Vegas had a poor reputation in the ’70s and ’80s, but it has an authenticity that has gone in so many places. People in New Mexico didn’t know about the Las Vegas legacy. They didn’t know the Castañeda was a great hotel or that Montezuma was the greatest hot springs resort in the West. By saving the Castañeda and revitalizing the Plaza Hotel, we hope to restore the reputation of the town.”

So how did a graduate student in semantics end up with a passion for historic preservation and reviving struggling communities? “I was always interested in architecture,” Allan says. “Design was my thing. I grew up in Orange County in Southern California. My father was in the tile business. We always had Architectural Digest around, and it was one of the things I enjoyed reading.” Allan also had an interest in international relations and enjoyed a vibrant career as co-producer with Bill Graham of Moscow’s Concert for Peace in 1987, and of international peace walks to end the Cold War. It was during on one of those peace walks, in the Ukraine, that he met his American wife.

Today, Allan and Tina collaborate and consult, selecting colors and making other design decisions for their hotels. Tina’s oil paintings are permanently displayed at La Posada, Castaneda and the Plaza Hotel, as well as in collections around the world, including the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The couple makes their home in Sedona, Ariz., but Tina has a studio in Winslow, and will soon have one in Castaneda, and they also have residences in La Posada and the Plaza Hotel.

Allan juggles many components with his work—raising money, negotiating bureaucratic labyrinths, dealing with the complexity of construction and reviving railroad towns. “These buildings were the center of their communities,” he says. “When La Posada closed down, in an important way so did Winslow, because it lost its sense of place, lost its heritage, lost its pride. By the time we got there, it was an abandoned railroad town. Before Tina and I came to see it, we had looked at pictures of Colter’s work and La Posada was by far her greatest. After 20 years, we’re still making improvements. Last year, we renovated the train station and added on to it as an art and history complex.”

To aid in Winslow’s revival, Allan bought and restored the town’s old movie theater and even ran for mayor. He was elected not once, but twice. Broader change came as investors began buying downtown properties and fixing them up. In New Mexico, Allan is expanding to other railroad towns, buying the historic Legal Tender Saloon in Lamy. Cafe Fina’s Murphy O’Brien and his nephew Rory O’Brien will run the soon-to-open restaurant and plans are afoot to bring back railroad service to Lamy from Santa Fe. Each of Allan’s projects are designed around a love for rail travel in these overlooked towns and an enthusiasm for America’s past.

“It’s historic revival,” Allan says. “It’s economic development. If you don’t have a business model for restoring these buildings, they’re just going to fail again. It’s aesthetics on a fundamental level. The most significant contribution we can make in the Southwest is tying these railroad towns together. We want to give people an authentic experience of the great railroad era. At the turn of the 19th century, the railroads were the biggest business in the country. Nobody from our generation ever really experienced that. There are these testaments to commerce, like the railyards in Albuquerque—a commercial industrial space that even now, as a magnificent ruin, is a temple of light. What we know from La Posada is that there is a business model and we can save these buildings and, in a really fundamental way, we can save these communities.”

The Southside Rocks–Santa Fe Bandstand

(Story by Cullen Curtiss / Photographs courtesy of Santa Fe Bandstand)

Outside In Productions Executive Director Michael Dellheim asks good questions. A while back, he and his board examined the landscape around one of their bigger productions, Santa Fe Bandstand, a free, live-summer-music series on Santa Fe’s downtown Plaza, and asked: “How can we be voted the Best Community Event in the Santa Fe Reporter’s [Best of Santa Fe] Reader Poll, and not serve the whole community?”

Of course, they meant, how can we not serve the Southside (arguably Districts 3 and 4), where our City center truly lives, where the growing population is rivaling that of the North and East?

While the question was somewhat rhetorical, the answer was action. Beginning in 2014, and every year since, the free summer music series can be heard on Santa Fe’s Southside. It debuted on the Plaza San Isidro courtyard, but 2019 marks its third year at the hospitable home of SWAN Park, in the Tierra Contenta neighborhood, which will host four high-energy dance bands on July’s four Saturdays. (The downtown Plaza will host 60-plus musical acts this summer.)

Michael admits he was initially unsure what might excite a Southside audience, but after five years, he’s a cautiously confident curator. He is, after all, at every single show, every single night, all summer, setting up and breaking down, and emcee-ing. He also takes attendance twice in an evening, and reviews audience polls and feedback.

“No singer-songwriters,” he says. “We lean toward dancing, getting out and moving. Big dance energy from bands that really connect to the audience and engage them, like last summer’s Jenny and the Mexicats. We want those who will stay after and sign stuff, merchandise, whatever. We do not have a backstage or green room, so they have to like meeting people.”

Michael uses the metaphor of tree rings to describe what happens at SWAN on these nights. “The dancers are up front; people who like music, but want to watch dancers are in the next ring; the picnickers are in the back; and the people who aren’t sure or want to throw a Frisbee are on the field.”

As a location manager for film in his previous career, Michael is fluent in programming spaces, but says it’s still been an experiment. Not being an “if you build it, they will come” kind of guy, Michael works really hard to get the people to come, including renting six chauffeured carts that ferry music lovers between the auxiliary parking area and the field, an otherwise  7- to 10-minute jaunt. A combination of the City of Santa Fe, and Michael and his team spend Friday night and the bulk of a Saturday transforming a grassy, multi-use park into an inviting outdoor concert venue. “It works out there. There’s grass forever and there’s a playground. There are a lot of families and a lot of food,” he says.

Attendance numbers were up by 30 percent in the second year at SWAN, and Michael has a gut feeling the numbers will continue to rise. “To see it pay off is really rewarding. It’s really satisfying when people describe how important the series has become to their annual summer ritual,” he says. “As a people pleaser, that’s what I aim for.”

And the people do seem pleased. City Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, whose District 3 encompasses SWAN Park says, “Having these performances at SWAN Park makes the residents on the Southside of town feel like they are part of the City of Santa Fe. While we all love going to the Plaza, it can be more difficult for Southside residents to attend the Plaza Bandstand concerts due to the distance. Having music at SWAN Park brings an energy and atmosphere to the park that it otherwise may not get. Families with children from Tierra Contenta are the primary users of [the] park, but the music serves as a magnet that attracts all our residents, which was the primary purpose of the park.”

So, who will be the magnet this year? Michael says, “Al Hurricane [July 20] is going to be great. That rapport is going to be good. You can see Al, but he always does casinos, and that’s an expensive ticket. He’s a treat. He is Northern New Mexico.”

Michael describes Superfonicos [July 6], a band from Austin, Texas, that cost the nonprofit a bit extra due to their being out-of-towners, as “great, super lively, energetic.” And he adds, “Horns!”

Son Como Son [July 27] will bring their hot and exquisite salsa, compelling the picnickers off the ground, and Detroit Lightning [July 13] will deliver their signature Grateful Dead sounds, encouraging twirling, and ear-to-ear smiles.

And when he’s thanked his last sponsor, given his final applause and unplugged that last amp, will Michael start planning next year’s Bandstand? “Sleep,” he answers.

Santa Fe Bandstand runs through Aug. 9. Visit santafebandstand.org for more information.

Southside Summer presents movies and various themed celebrations for all ages at the Midtown Campus, Wise Fool, Santa Fe Place Mall, Meow Wolf and Romero Park. Visit santafenm.gov/southsidesummer.

The Big Ride Comes to Santa Fe

(Story by Melyssa Holik/Photos by McCall Sides and Jackson Buscher)

This June, Santa Fe will join the international community of cyclists as host to the worldwide bicycling event known as Gran Fondo New York. Santa Fe is only the second city in the U.S. to hold this honor. A Gran Fondo is a term for ultra-long-distance bike races (the Italian phrase translates to “big ride”) and is the bicycling equivalent of a marathon. The Gran Fondo New York series of races is the largest global series of this type of event: 20 races, with up to 5,000 riders competing in each one. The series was founded in New York in 2010, and each year, races are held in global locations as diverse as Italy, Argentina, Indonesia, Jerusalem and the Philippines to name just a few—but until this year, there have been no other U.S. events besides the annual New York ride.

According to Mike McCalla, the director of GFNY Santa Fe, the event has been a couple of years in the making. It all began in 2018, when several members of the Santa Fe bicycling community approached the city with the idea to bring GFNY to the City Different. Local cyclist Jake Rodar became interested in creating the Gran Fondo Santa Fe event after riding the GFNY in Cozumel, Mexico. Last fall, Jake, Mike and Mellow Velo owner David Bell applied for a grant from the City of Santa Fe Tourism Department. They won the grant, which allowed them to form a nonprofit to oversee and organize GFNY Santa Fe.

Now, one year later, GFNY Santa Fe is ready for its inaugural year. The event will begin with an expo on June 21 and 22 at the Scottish Rite Temple. The expo will include food from Cowgirl BBQ, beer and spirits from Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery, and booths for bike companies and local vendors. Those who have purchased VIP passes are also invited to a very special Friday night Food and Wine Experience at The Compound Restaurant which avid cyclist and chef, Mark Kiffin will host.

The big ride begins June 23. At 7 a.m., more than 400 riders from all over the world will gather in the Santa Fe Plaza. Clad in GFNY green, riders will set out en mass during the crisp early morning hours to compete to be the North America champion—it should be quite a sight to see.

Racers can participate in a 55-mile Medium course or the 81-mile Long course. Both courses showcase Santa Fe’s breathtaking scenery as riders traverse the multiple climate zones and terrains of the high desert southwest. The 81-mile Long course includes a grueling 7,500 feet of vertical climb, and what Mike McCalla categorizes as “the toughest finish” out of all the GFNY events. The final 15 miles are all uphill, making it the longest continuous climb out of the series. GFNY Santa Fe is also the second highest altitude race in the series after Columbia, finishing up in the thin mountain air at about 10,300 feet above sea level.

The Santa Fe event represents a contrast to the New York race, too; aside from being the only U.S. races in the series, the two locations are complete opposites. In many ways, Santa Fe is different than most of the other venues, which is part of what gives the event a unique appeal. Mike suspects that may be why the GFNY organizers welcomed Santa Fe’s participation. “Santa Fe adds diversity to the lineup of races in GFNY,” Mike explains. “And New Mexico is a fantastic place for cycling. There’s low traffic density, plenty of sunshine and beautiful terrain.” He also notes that GFNY Santa Fe represents an opportunity to “show off the best of Santa Fe” to the visitors who come for the race. That includes our food, culture and natural splendor, as well as the area’s outstanding biking and hiking trails.

After they’ve completed the punishing race, riders will gather once more for lunch and the awards ceremony. In blissful exhaustion, riders can celebrate the challenge they’ve just shared over a round of drinks and indulge in some well-earned revelry.

“It’ll be a lot of fun, and something new to Santa Fe,” Mike says. “We’re looking to showcase Santa Fe as not just an arts and culture destination but as an outdoor destination as well.” Randy Randall, executive director of TOURISM Santa Fe, says that’s one reason why the city awarded the grant to GFNY Santa Fe. He says while Santa Fe has long been known as a center of history, culture and food, it’s still under the radar as a place for outdoor recreation. Randy wants that to change. “It’s time,” he says. “This is the next thing for us to promote.” While New Mexico is often overshadowed by Colorado and Utah in terms of outdoor tourism, Randy says, “We’re next.”

Tourism offices all over the state are developing this avenue for attracting visitors in an effort to set the state apart from our neighbors. Randy credits some of the increased attention to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s newly established Outdoor Recreation Division. “There’s more emphasis on it now,” Randy says. “We’re trying to build the outdoor recreation side of Santa Fe as yet another reason to come.” With an annual race like Gran Fondo New York, Randy is optimistic people will begin to see our city as a world-class outdoor destination. As he says, “Affiliation with GFNY puts Santa Fe into an elite class.”

This is an elite race and there will be extraordinary athletes participating, to be sure, but the race is open to anyone who wants to push their limits and measure their own abilities. As Mike says, “During the event, you’re racing other people, but you’re really just challenged by the course and the satisfaction of doing all that—the entire ride—on your own power.” For Mike, nothing else compares. “You can see the world on a bike,” he says. “A lot of things are fun about it: the group dynamics of riding in a pack, the thrill of speed and endorphins, and you can eat a lot of food after! It’s a really good lifelong sport. It’s something you can do when you’re young or old.” In a testament to that lifetime appeal of cycling, GFNY Santa Fe will have awards for age groups from teens to 75 and over; it truly is a sport for all ages.

Even if you aren’t up for the challenge of an 81-, or even a 55-mile bike ride, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the event. The expo on Friday and Saturday is for racers and non-racers, and of course, anyone can be a spectator to the race on Sunday (provided you want to wake up to watch the 7 a.m. start!) or, if you’d like to see the race a little more closeup, there are many volunteer opportunities available as well—everything from packet stuffing, to manning an aid station, to being a motorcycle marshal. (Bicycling experience is not necessary to participate as a volunteer.) However you choose to be involved, Mike says, “I really hope you come out and see the inaugural event.”

Whether you are an elite cyclist hoping to test yourself against top global athletes in the field, or you simply enjoy the inspiration of watching people push themselves to their physical limits, it’s undeniable that GFNY Santa Fe represents an opportunity for our capital city. It’s a chance for Santa Fe to catapult itself into the realm of world-class outdoor recreation destinations—a distinction most locals would agree has been a long time coming.

For more information and to register, visit gfnysantafe.com.