January 30, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Not Leaving Las Vegas

'If only the city would obey its own rules: Be courteous and respectful of others. Take turns. Have fun!'

By Frances Madeson

Written Word, Spoken Word

Creatively Searching for Dignity, Justice and Laughter in Unusual Places

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I ain't gonna lie—I love the to and fro of the drive from Santa Fe to Las Vegas, New Mexico. One's eyes are called to beauty. Even at 75 miles per hour the passing scenery induces a kind of prideful elation. To be alive, sighted, and smart enough to have it in view, coming and going, right side and left, drama and splendor—the Sangre de Cristos, the mesas, and Starvation Peak where the locals vanquished a marauding band of Conquistadors by chasing them to the summit where they, in good time, perished.
 
So if a brother-in-struggle (Lee's on the board of the New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights among other forward-thinking commitments) lets me know that Las Vegas New Mexico Skatepark Advocates are staging a sit-in at the Abe Montoya Recreation Center to protest the arbitrary closing of the city's one and only skate park, then my day takes a welcome detour. I go where the energy is!
 
Those readers who are easily shamed by ignorance or made queasy by austerity-budget public projects so aesthetically displeasing that they gut the word “amenity,” should probably stop reading this post right around now. On the other hand, if you enjoy gallows humor, Norteño-style, stick around.
 
A panel from 'The People's History of El Norte' mural in Las Vegas, NM.
 
There's an awful lot of talent among the young players in Las Vegas.
 
Zacarias Ras Tafari Lujan, co-organizer of the action, and marvelous practitioner of muralismo.
 
The sunshine was warming the air, and the kids were busy making signs and playing music, or successfully gathering petition signatures. I was people-watching and visiting with the youngsters, a trio of whom were cyclists sitting-in in comradely solidarity with the skaters. Patrick E. Pacheco, who's skilled in both bike riding and skateboarding is an equal advocate on behalf of both sports.
 
“You can do either sport with passion, they're both fun! But if we try to make something happen—like dirt pile jumps, some competitions—then we get in trouble,” said Pacheco. 
 
Justin Garcia, 15, a first-time-ever participant in political action concurred, “They get mad if we're in the parks, they get mad if we're in the street. A friend of mine at Highlands, he's only 14, he got arrested for trespassing, just trying to ride somewhere fun.” 
 
Imagine Patrick Pacheco, Justin Garcia and Cory Almanzar as baseball players without a diamond, bowlers without an alley, b-ball players with no hoop, tennis aces without access to a court, swimmers without a pool, etc.
 
The third young biker, Cory Almanzar, told me that in his ideal park bikers “would be allowed to ride on the ramps and practice all day long. The ramps are made to do tricks, it's a different style than street riding.”
 
Las Vegas appears to be adamant on the topic, but at some of the skateboarding facilities in Albuquerque, bikers, skate boarders and in-line skaters all share the same uncaged park.
 
If only the city would obey its own rules: Be courteous and respectful of others. Take turns. Have fun!
 
"Let's get a blowtorch and recycle these bars at City Hall," one of the adults joked.
 
We cracked so many jokes about those iron bars–“Hey, put a little razor wire around the top, do it right!” “Yeah, then let's put the golfers in there!”–that I thought maybe the City of Las Vegas did itself a favor by locking the kids out. Maybe after the laughter dies down it can take a look at the youthful residents of Las Vegas who dare to dream of a beautiful well-designed park where they and their friends can feel untrammeled and free.
 
In addition to the matters of the hour, Reyna and I spoke about conditions in the women's prison in Grants
 
...and about possibly forming a study group to learn about the societal transformations in Marinaleda, Spain.
 
Reyna Medina, 17, is friends with the skaters, but not a skater herself. She's a Social Work student, a community gardener, and a member of Youth in Action.
 
“I'm here today because the skaters are always being put down and their sport is not taken into consideration. There are No Skating signs up everywhere, and then the City goes and closes the skate park which isn't even sufficient to begin with," Medina said. "The equipment is so basic, and the skaters are more serious than this, but they weren't even asked about the design. We're treated like we're powerless, not significant; they don't include us or empower us. We hate being minimized, belittled.”
 
Yellow caution tape on the broken-down structures. Instead of making needed repairs, the solution? The kids were locked out for over a week and perhaps would be still if not for the sit-in.
 
The kids just skate around it.
 
Medina is able to tell the difference because she has the good fortune to be mentored by Georgina Ortega, who serves on the board of Casa de Cultura, an organization that “seeks to create a cultural environment that is community based and collectively operated utilizing the wisdom of cultural and folkloric traditions.” Medina was one in a carload of students that ortega recently brought to Santa Fe to spend three lovely hours looking at drawings by Spanish artists at the “Renaissance to Goya” exhibit.
 
Georgina Ortega, Reyna Medina's mentor.
 
Medina told me that it really matters when caring adults spend time with young people.

“It's kind of inspirational to see that they actually care. A lot of kids are leaving town first chance they get. There's no record store, no book store, no movie theater. We have this Rec Center, the ball fields, the drive-in movies (in season).” 

There are many factors, no doubt, for Las Vegas' rather alarming depopulation in recent years, but one of them is definitely youth-flight with the resulting brain-drain.
 
“I understand everyone wanting to get out,” Medina explained, “but I don't want to go somewhere else where there are basically the same problems. I want to address them here in my own town, not someone else's. I feel like Las Vegas is a diamond in the rough. With a little polishing it could be beautiful. We could make it clean, we could be productive...if we unite.”
 
There was only one garment more fabulous than my own super cool graffiti jacket picked up in NYC a few months ago.
 
Not Cory Almanzar's Bob Marley jacket–though that too was stylish–but, this one!
 
BrianTheLion, the co-organizer of the sit-in rally and petition-drive, has "hope in his heart and scars on his hands."
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