While I was born in Kansas and have lived for most of my adult life on the Atlantic Seaboard, if you ask me where I’m from, I’ll tell you that I’m a New Mexican. More specifically, I’m from Albuquerque. That’s it in the photo above — you’re looking across the Rio Grande, past the glowing downtown, with the Sandia Mountains squatting on the city’s east side. Pretty nice.
I moved to Albuquerque when I was six years old — and while I briefly attended junior high school in the Midwest, I still did most of my growing up in the Duke City. I played Roadrunner little league baseball on scraggly grass fields hacked from vacant lots we always called “mesas,” even if they technically weren’t. I considered three inches of snow to be a snow storm. I drove my first car on old Route 66 in the center of town, and ate carne adovada burritos at The Frontier. I graduated from Eldorado High School and the University of New Mexico. I oriented myself using the Sandia Mountains. And to this day, I still know how to answer The Single Most Important Question a New Mexican Will Hear: “Red or Green?” (Green, thank you very much — and why would you want it any other way?)
Those of us from New Mexico are used to our state causing confusion. Certainly, having the word “Mexico” in your address can lead to a bad case of Mistaken Identity with our neighbor to the south. During a brief move to the Midwest, for example, I was asked if we had lived in huts or rode horses to school. When I moved back to New Mexico in the early 1980s, one of the movers nervously asked if it was okay to drink the water.
Even in the mid-1990s, New Mexico still wasn’t always feeling the love. During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a New Mexican called to order tickets for the games — and when he informed the ticket agent where he was calling from, he was told he had to consult either the Mexican or Spanish delegations.
“No, no, no — it’s NEW Mexico,” the exasperated Santa Fean told the attendant.
“New Mexico, old Mexico, you still have to go through the Mexican delegation,” he was told.
And Albuquerque? Forget it. It was a punchline. When the seven-year-old daughter of one of my coworkers found out I was from Albuquerque, she burst out laughing. She had heard Bugs Bunny complain that he “shoulda turned left at Albuquerque,” she said, “but I never knew the place was real!”
Now, though, things are changing. Suddenly, it’s positively hip to be from ‘Burque. All three installments of High School Musical take place there, for instance, though it doesn’t appear an inch of film was actually shot in town — when you see Troy and Gabriella on the roof of the fictional East High School, the palm trees in the background are a giveaway that you are definitely not in the Duke City.
On television, AMC’s Breaking Bad takes place in Albuquerque — and unlike the High School Musical series, is actually filmed in the city, though it uses some of the less charismatic locations, in keeping with the main character’s drug selling business. Things look better on USA’s In Plain Sight, which follows a federal marshall housing witnesses in the Witness Protection Program. Not bad, considering the last major features to take place in Albuquerque (regardless of whether they were filmed there) were the gloriously trashy made-for-TV movie Sparks: The Price of Passion, with Victoria Principal, and the gawdawful serial killer film Suspect Zero.
I’m not sure if it really has become hip to hail from Albuquerque, but that’s all right. I’m still pretty pleased to call it home.