3 – Albuquerque, NM

Episode 3: A Strong Economy Based on Sharing, Love, and Compassion with Christopher Valles

Christopher Valles describes a Great America with “a strong economy based on sharing, on love, on compassion, on humility and on an equal distribution of wealth.”

He is a small business owner from New Mexico, born and raised. Openly gay since he was 16. He is mixed race hispanic from a family with a long heritage in New Mexico.

His connection to nature and people is his refuge during these hard times, helping him stay solid and grounded for his family, friends and broader community. He runs three meetup groups to help others have this connection to each other and nature.

Gay ABQ Funky Bohemian

Albuquerque, NM: The Great America of 2000-2020

Albuquerque, New Mexico, may be unique among the cities discussed in this project because its best times as a community could arguably be our present era. Nearby federal facilities like Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Labs have made the area a magnet for investment in the tech and alternative-energy sector, making for a vibrant and growing economy. New Mexico’s aggressive pursuit of the entertainment industry in the 2000s have made Albuquerque a center for film production, giving the southwestern hinterlands an outsized place in American popular culture. A diverse and forward-looking local political leadership promotes sustainable development, having invested in transit and promoting local arts and culture. It has all contributed to a new sense of civic pride in a community which, unfairly, had been the butt of jokes for decades.

While the city’s prosperity seems inclusive across its diverse population, the current boom time has its discontents. Though Hispanos have long been well-represented in local government, Chicano and Native American activists have long argued that these were just a manifestation of an old landed elite which is often out of touch with the rank and file citizenry. A recent scandal which revealed how Natives and Spanish-surnamed residents were targeted for brutal treatment by local police tended to show that mere representation is not enough to ensure equity and justice from the government, even in a city where Anglos are in the minority.

The way that the city has developed also poses potential long-term problems. The city’s growth has largely passed over the city’s south-western quarter and adjacent unincorporated communities, which still cling to an older economy harkening back to the days when Albuquerque was a transportation hub for agriculture in the Río Grande Valley. These largely Hispano “traditional” communities are losing population to other parts of the city, leaving them hollow and vulnerable to gentrification. Activists in the unincorporated area south of the city are contemplating incorporation as “South Valley” in an effort to have some control over development.

While other cities have experienced similar growing pains, Albuquerque’s unique history and political culture arguably make it well-equipped to deal with these issues. At the very least, its successes as a community show that it should not be easily dismissed as it once was.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

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