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New Mexico’s Poverty

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New Mexico has a new tourism campaign that is, um, somewhat more successful than the laughable tourism campaign disaster of my state of Rhode Island. But of course New Mexico has become a playground for wealthy white people that travel there in the midst of (and sometimes because of) endemic poverty among the Native American and Hispano populations that make up the majority of the state. So a group created a parody of the New Mexico tourist video and it has received good public attention, highlighting child poverty.

“This is New Mexico, where we celebrate our unique cuisine and turn a blind eye to our hungry children. New Mexico. Truth,” that ad says.

The parody was created by Allen Sanchez, who runs a Catholic children’s organization with the biggest home visiting program in the state.

“In New Mexico we have an epidemic,” he says. “So if you imagine a potter, and while the pot is being formed, while that clay is wet, that’s like the child’s brain as it’s spinning and they’re forming that clay. But in New Mexico before that clay can harden, we like to poke holes in it. So imagine this beautiful pot, holes being poked in it. Those are adverse child experiences.”

These experiences include poverty. Many experts see early childhood education such as home visiting and pre-kindergarten as the remedy. Sanchez is pushing to increase early childhood programs for that reason.

“How can we live knowing that this is the state that has the highest rate of children in poverty? The third highest in hunger? The worst graduation rate? All of this is connected, and if we do nothing then we’re failing, and we’re failing ourselves,” he says.

Monique Jacobson, who was the tourism secretary when the New Mexico True campaign was created, was not amused by the campaign. She now runs the state’s child welfare agency.

“I found it to be heartbreaking,” Jacobson says. “I do think it’s critical that we draw attention to what’s going on with our children and our families here in New Mexico, but I think there’s a way to do it that’s actionable and that’s positive, and unfortunately I think they did it in a way that was destructive and divisive.”

Destructive and divisive. I have to think these terms in this case mean “might have made rich white people from New York and Texas aware that poverty exists in their playground and might make me personally look bad.” There’s nothing destructive about fighting poverty and there’s nothing divisive about this video, except, again, maybe making white people feel something about the people serving their food.

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