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115 PART II Economic Depression in the Land of Clear Light As World War I drew to an end in Europe in 1918, the United States of America emerged as a major world power. The 1920s was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. Former secretary of commerce Herbert Hoover was elected the thirty-first president of the United States in 1928. Charles Darwin was a pariah, and Thomas Malthus barely lingered in memory’s shadowlands. White Americans danced to the Charleston, black Americans sang the blues and jump-started jazz, and Native Americans in the Southwest continued to dance to songs of reverence celebrating Nature’s seasonal cycles, while Hispano narrative ballads called corridos recounted significant incidents in their history. Then the stock market crashed, and America was plunged into the Great Depression, which lasted for more than a decade, from 1929 to 1941 and the outset of World War II. Fortunes disappeared, and one out of four Americans was unemployed. President Hoover, a Republican who had originally gained great respect for his heroic relief efforts during World War I, was criticized for his approach to economic restoration and soundly defeated in his second bid for the presidency by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, governor of New York, in 1932. Roosevelt focused on a program of economic recovery that came to be known as the New Deal. Three issues of the New Deal were direct 116 / Economic Depression in the Land of Clear Light relief, economic recovery, and financial reform. Hardest hit by the Depression were the urban populations. Much of rural America took a softer hit because many still practiced subsistence farming, and hunting and fishing contributed to the family larder. The American Southwest was lightly populated, largely with indigenous peoples whose lifeways spared them the need to rely solely on the coin of the realm. Many were poor, even poverty-stricken by the economic standards of the 1920s, but my conversations with elderly Navajos, Puebloans, and Hispanos suggest that their poverty was largely in the eyes of outside beholders. Al Largo is a Navajo who grew up along the Continental Divide near Thoreau, New Mexico. He recalls his grandmother telling him about the Depression: “My grandmother had over a thousand head of sheep. They were fortunate enough to have these sheep. They were selfreliant throughout the Depression because they would sell their lambs to the trading post. And they had plenty. So that is what was instilled in me at a young age—that if you have sheep, you will never go hungry. The sheep will take care of you. But you are the one that has to take care of them first.” The late Willie Apodaca grew up in San Geronimo, New Mexico, a rural community where subsistence farming had been a way of life for many generations: “In any house you went [to], there was always plenty to eat—plenty of beans, plenty of chile, plenty of potatoes, biscochitos [cookies], pumpkin pies. And if you didn’t grow no pinto beans and I grow pinto beans, maybe you had a lot of pumpkins, so you give me pumpkins, and I give you pinto beans, or you might have a big patch of blue corn to make blue corn tortillas. So you trade me, and I trade you. The people used to help one another.” It is ironic that New Mexico, which had been a state for less than a quarter century at the time, became a major recipient of New Deal funding. Many who had subsisted satisfactorily within the context of their cultural traditions for hundreds of years were transported almost en masse into the dominant economic paradigm that both prevailed in and threatened much of the rest of America. The lingering presence of the New Deal is still ubiquitous throughout the state. Economic Depression in the Land of Clear Light / 117 The interviews in this part give a sense of the New Deal in New Mexico in the 1930s, where echoes of the great Indian wars and the Mexican Revolution still lingered throughout the landscape. The air was pristine, and magic light enchanted artists from beyond the seas. Though money was short, the spirit of the land provided riches beyond measure. ...


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