Reflections on Albuquerque, and, a Broadway Discussion

By Roberto Alvarez
SFAA President’s Column


01In June I had the opportunity to visit Albuquerque, New Mexico the site of our upcoming meeting in 2014. Although I’d visited the city before, on this trip I was there to assist in the planning for the annual conference. I trailed along with Erve Chambers (our Program Chair) and Tom May (SfAA Business Office Executive Director) as we met with UNM faculty, practitioners, the Convention Bureau and visited the National Hispanic Cultural and The Indian Pueblo Cultural Centers. We explored a variety of ambiences: places, people, and ideas that will make up the 74th SfAA annual meetings.

I initially thought that the visit would be simply perfunctory, meeting administrators and arranging possible activities. Yet there was nothing perfunctory about our tasks. At each venue I enjoyed meeting the various actors, and learning of their dedication and interests. I experienced the city in meaningful new ways. I rediscovered Albuquerque, and importantly I learned more about our Society.

02From the onset, Tom, Erve and I worked as a team, but also made individual excursions. A particular highlight for me was the National Hispanic Cultural Center ( Here Erve arranged a tour of the facilities and the archival collection that celebrates contemporary Hispano art and expression. Erve also focused on connecting with local grassroots organizations. Tom carefully reviewed a number of hotels and motels that meet our needs and ethical code (such as the relation to labor, and the communal reciprocity of our primary hotel). Our conversations revolved around the 2014 meeting, our membership and Society goals. This was about serving the Society, and connecting to the Albuquerque community.

Erve and Tom arranged a primary meeting with interested University of New Mexico personnel who later enthusiastically agreed to be on the local program committee. In addition to anthropology faculty, the group consisted of practitioners who work and live in the local neighborhoods, and are connected to the Native American, Hispano/Chicano, Euro/ diversity for which the city is known. Erve has planned an Albuquerque Day during which SfAA members can connect with many of these community/neighborhood groups in discussions and presentations of local projects and issues. Albuquerque Day is still in the planning stages, but the local enthusiasm and interest in SfAA expertise was encouraging.

By the time I left the city I felt we had accomplished a great deal due primarily to the good work of Erve and Tom. (An important aspect of the visit was reviewing local restaurants. I couldn’t get enough red chile, but I think Erve was ready for greens.) Our visit was not just about having an enjoyable meeting but about engaging the community and giving back as well.

The South Valley

As part of our planning, I had the distinct privilege of visiting EleValle: the South Valley Healthy Communities Collaborative (SVHCC). Bill Wagner, a UNM trained anthropologist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker escorted me through the South Valley (SV) and to a variety of grassroots partner organizations that serve the community. The South Valley lies just south of Old Town, and across the Rio Grande. Here the river is a boundary (as it is farther east where it separates Mexico and the U.S.).

The Valley is over 75% Hispano/Latino/Chicano and marked by poverty, but also by a deep communal and cultural sensibility. Like many other long-standing Latino communities, the SV suffers from an historical lack of resources. The difference from the “city” just across the bridge is striking. Open lots and small houses cluster under cottonwood and elm trees. Pick-up trucks, and other vehicles park lazily under the shade. The day was hot and the streets were quiet, yet I learned how the South Valley Healthy Communities Collaborative (also known as ELeValle -Elevate the Valle-) has been connected to and is serving this community.

The SVHCC consists of six partners that provide exemplary service and models for community collaboration throughout the country. (For a glimpse of their exemplary work and programs, see the sites I’ve listed below). EleValle is exemplary in that partners work “together toward a healthier South Valley by strengthening families through community-driven solutions.” At La Plazita Institute, for example, I learned of projects aimed at previously incarcerated youth, traditional healing programs for Native Americans, and a certified organic farm where “culture, spirituality and horticulture come together.” In addition, the La Plazita farm sells produce throughout the city providing income for participants. I related personally to La Plazita’s broad philosophy—“La Cultura Cura.” Each EleValle partner illustrates a profound collaboration with individuals, families, and community through a network of social-cultural, health and educational services that are defined by the community. At each partner site, I met vibrant, engaged individuals who were eager to share and demonstrate their programs.

Our last stop in the Valley was Centro Savila where my host Bill Wagner is the executive director. This is a treatment program devoted to the recovery and healing of individuals, families and communities suffering from emotional and psychological distress. As other EleValle partners, the Centro provides services regardless of members’ ability to pay. Here I met staff and clients, and again came away with the sense that these programs offer vital services, but also connect deeply with the community. EleValle is one such collaborative; neighborhood collaboratives dot the city offering similar services.

Albuquerque will offer us programs and people who are engaged, collaborating and that exemplify SfAA. Through these connections our association provides great venues for sharing the knowledge and expertise of applied social science.

From the South Valley to New York City

Just a few days after leaving Albuquerque, I was in New York City, a far cry from the South Valley. I went primarily to visit my colleague and dear friend, George Bond whom I had met at my first post-graduate appointment in 1980. He and I worked together at the Program in Applied Anthropology at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. At that time, I also met other close colleagues including Leith Mulling, the current president of the American Anthropological Association.

On a warm Sunday afternoon, George, Leith and I sat, uptown, in a small café on 105th Ave and Broadway. We reminisced not only about the early days of our careers, but Leith and I discussed our “coincidental” positions in our respective associations. Since becoming president, I had planned to meet with Leith, to share ideas, and connect our organizations. Leith and I compared experiences of being President and the issues faced by our organizations; we spoke of advocacy and application. We also laughed together recalling old times as well as the academic, disciplinary, applied struggles that we, along with others, have engaged. George reminded us that we (fledgling novices back in 1980) would never have dreamed of being in these positions and certainly not during the same period.

Visiting with these friends reminded me of the challenges that brought us together. I was reminded of the work we, and others, have attempted, our commitments, the struggle of representation, the fight for relevant social science and taking a stand for social change. The fact that we, Leith and I are the presidents of AAA and SfAA may be coincidental, but it also says much about how our organizations have changed. (Who would have guessed that a Chicano and a Black Woman would preside conterminously over these two organizations?) The challenges we faced have not ended.

Seeing these struggles through presidential eyes offers new meaning. The SfAA was always home and a niche in which the applied, practical focus of my work was well received. Yet I ask myself now, what is it that truly makes our organization distinct and what are our future goals? On that Sunday on Broadway, George, Leith and I re-created that special commitment that resides in our efforts to seek justice, practical change and equality. Over the years we were among the many that confronted the lack of representation in anthropology and the academy. We invoked a disciplinary engagement with relevant research and work. Much has changed but the struggles continue to haunt anthropology and the social sciences. Today the AAA is a different institution. The American Anthropological Society is engaged in applied efforts and research illustrated by NAPA and other interest groups.

This AAA evolution is the result of the long-term challenges to anthropology, and its past neglect of applied efforts. This change and the inclusion of applied and relevant anthropology is a good thing. It illustrates the results of critical and practical engagement. And it also raises a question that I continue to ask myself: What makes the SfAA distinct? How do we define ourselves? How are we of service to our members and the world of which we are a part? How has the SfAA met the challenges of diversity and equality not only in our work environments, but also within our own institution?

Our question in the past has been centered on how we serve our membership. This continues to be crucial, but how the organization engages the world is also of great importance. Certainly our renewed international thrust, the enactment of institutional members and our long history of acceptance and strong member relationships are a part of who we are. Our determined focus on relevance and interdisciplinary efforts in advancing applied research and practice continues to be central to our tradition. The questions about the society participating in our world continue to surface. And they are more relevant as we approach the 75th year of our founding.

Sitting on Broadway, I was reminded of the issues that brought the three of us together and the collaborative history of the work we shared. I thought of the South Valley and the other communities in which we work. The contrast of the South Valley, and the insights of the conversation on Broadway have helped me look back and forward, raising the question of our own association’s relevancy, our future goals and our organizational connection. These are topics we need to revisit. The upcoming meetings in Albuquerque offer this venue, as does our upcoming 75th.           —

The following sites provide excellent information on the South Valley Healthy Communities Collaborative.

One Response to Reflections on Albuquerque, and, a Broadway Discussion

  1. Thomas Weaver says:

    Robert, congratulations on your fieldwork in both urban centers and for the assessment of our two organizations. did you talk about collaborative programs? I look forward to the Albuquerque meetings. I lived there for a chunk of time while attending UNM.
    Tom Wever

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