by Tom Collins, Albuquerque Journal

Once upon a time, in a cafe in Ramallah, or somewhere in the West Bank, I was trying to explain to some young fellow where it was that I was from in the United States. Mexico? NEW Mexico? Never heard of this. Where was that? I drew a map. Even I can draw a map of the Southwest and western Plains. Kansas, New Mexico, etc., how tough is that?

There, I said, pointing at my well-drawn, ink-on-cafe-napkin map. Right there, see? The West Bank of Texas, I concluded.

This he laughed at, without even really knowing the implications – social, political, racial, economic, religious. He knew what it meant.

This memory intruded this week as Gov. Susana Martinez opened the 30-day legislative session in La Villa Real with her State of the State invocation on Tuesday.

A few hours before the governor’s speech to legislators, and her fellow citizens, an Albuquerque-based advocacy group called New Mexico Voices for Children held a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda as part of Celebrating New Mexico’s Children and Youth Day, and released the 2015 report by Kids Count Data Book (an annual national study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation first issued in 1990) with the following shocking, extraordinarily depressing, enraging news.

  • New Mexico is 49th in child well-being in the United States.
  • New Mexico has the highest rate of child poverty in the United States.
  • 62 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in New Mexico are not enrolled in preschool.
  • 79 percent of children are not proficient in reading by the fourth grade.
  • Nearly 80 percent of New Mexico eighth-graders are not proficient in math.
  • 43 percent of N.M. children are raised in single-parent families.

And here’s another awful statistic from Richard Eeds’ indispensable morning show on KVSF, 101.5 FM:

  • For 60 percent of children 6 years of age and under in Rio Arriba County, the primary caregiver is a grandparent.

Now, you can blame Republicans and Democrats for this, true. This disaster just didn’t happen in the last couple of years. That’s just not the nature of disasters. They take time. That’s what makes them disasters. (Though, say what you will about Bill Richardson, he thought BIG and he had a VISION for the future, spaceports and all. The current governor is obsessed with driver’s licenses. Say no more.)

Which brings us to the powerful, provocative, ingenious ad campaign by Catholic Health Initiatives St. Joseph’s Children that has been highlighting childhood poverty issues in New Mexico while making great fun of the state’s “NM True” tourism advertising campaign. The governor and court responded, as they do, not from a third-floor balcony this time, but just as foolishly with lawyer-rattling and copyright infringement threats.

Copyright infringement? Really? How are you going to copyright a sunset? Anybody can take a picture out here. It’s being proven as I write this and you read it. (Didn’t you hear, it’s the new state motto: “New Mexico – Photographer’s Best Friend!”)

Juxtaposing kitsch dream-images with boldly printed, if unspeakable, truths (well, facts, anyway, and while facts aren’t truths, they mean something) is nothing new, but it’s interesting how the ads exploit several modernist art strategies and tributaries, and blend them into the perfect anti-agitprop. It’s a powerful example of the cross-pollination of “Mad Men” and Madison Avenue, and artists like Ed Ruscha, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, et al.

And when you put the words “Touch the sky and uncover the third highest child hunger rate in the nation” over the image of a dawn balloon ascent into the name-your-mountain-range and the high-tension wires, well, now you’ve got something worth looking at.

Yes, the Land of Enchantment offers expansive and expensive views and, down the road, the costs of child insecurity will be even more costly than the acreage depicted in those tourism ads.

And who’s really taking it in the neck over the long haul, and in the short term, too?

The most vulnerable in our society: Children.

Yes, I was right then and I am even more correct today. New Mexico is the West Bank of Texas, and it’s shameful and an absolute disgrace.

Copyright 2016, Albuquerque Journal