Ode to Albuquerque, a Native City

Filmmaker Jason Asenap writes about his adopted home of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Julia Jones as Agnes. Photo by Michael Coles, mcolesphoto.com

I’m driving down Central Avenue in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. It’s dusk here and a Navajo song is on the radio. After that song a bird song will play. The weather is cool on this May evening, the breeze is soft, the sun is beaming down on the purple Sandia mountains behind me and I am heading west, to my apartment downtown.

Like everyone else, I can get blue from time to time, and tonight was one of those evenings. It had been a rough weekend and I was frankly glad to see the day end but on this particular drive I was reminded of this beautiful city that I live in. It’s truly a Native city, and I don’t think anyone would argue that. Sure there is large Hispanic contribution and population here, but for those of us Natives like me, who moved here from another place, this place can feel very comfortable for a Native.

Nineteen pueblos reside in this state in addition to a large Navajo population and in just about every nook and cranny in this city you will find a Native face. I’m pretty sure the checkout kid at the Target I just left was Native. A Native man in an Obama t-shirt greeted me as I perused the aisles for bread, a little head nod. He saw my OU hat and must have guessed me for an Okie. He would be right.

I moved to this little metropolis close to nine years ago this summer from Norman, Oklahoma, an Okie moving to New Mexico. I was excited about the move for I had planned it for some time, and finally got the courage to do so after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from OU, a long and arduous task that took many years, with plenty of breaks along the way, but I did it, and when I did it was ready to high tail it out of there, for a new adventure.

I took a job at the Albuquerque downtown public library and it was quite a cultural shock. It was my first true urban experience. I remember on my first day a fight had broken out in front of the building between a hot dog vendor and a random person, possibly drug dealer. Someone was stabbed I had heard. This was my first day on the job in downtown Albuquerque.

I was very excited to see Native people everywhere and I greeted them everywhere I went. Yatahay! I would say, I spelled that wrong on purpose because that’s how a Comanche says and spells hello in Navajo. Navajo people would greet me back, quite nonchalantly. Knowing certain key Navajo words was not a novelty in Albuquerque, I would learn.

The city has been good to me. I have slowly worked up the ranks to more challenging employment at the University of New Mexico, made excellent lifelong friends and contacts here, and even managed to fall in love a few times, in addition to suffering some heartbreaks, the stuff of life. There’s hardly a path in Downtown Albuquerque that I haven’t walked on. 

Just to the north is lies our artsy neighbor, Santa Fe. The downtown railrunner train has a direct route there, if you choose not to drive. If you want to drive to Santa Fe, the Turquoise trail is a beautiful drive, and goes right through the small art town of Madrid, a must stop for anyone with it’s many art galleries. Also you have to stop at The Mineshaft tavern, home of the the longest bar in New Mexico they say.

I will always be an Okie at heart, being that both my tribes reside there, Comanche and Creek, but for now, and quite possibly for some time, Albuquerque, New Mexico is my home. And I can’t write about New Mexico without mentioning the food! Oh man the food. There’s nothing like the red chile enchlida at the original Sadies on fourth street or a fat breakfast burrito loaded with green chile from Lotaburger.

There’s turquoise jewelry to be found everywhere of course, from Old town to downtown, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up plenty of last minute gifts at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center gift shop. And, as I said before, there’s always Santa Fe, forty five miles to the north, which offers a vast supply of (often expensive) jewelry, art and charm. To list those would take more space than allotted here.

As an expat Okie, I can say that New Mexico, and Albuquerque to be more specific, has been good to me. It’s a city fit for a Native.

Jason Asenap (Comanche/Muskogee Creek) is a writer and filmmaker from Walters, OK now based in Albuquerque, NM. Asenap was selected to the 2011 Sundance Institute Nativelab fellowship and his short film, Rugged Guy, is currently screening at film festivals around the country. He will begin graduate studies in Art History in the fall of 2013 at the University of New Mexico, where is also is employed at the Fine Arts and Design Library.