August 29, 2011 at 10:51 AM

Tupac or Biggie?

"Someone just turned to me, demanding to know: Tupac or Biggie? Without any hesitation I said..."

By José Smith

The Beans & Chile

José Smith is a writer, stay-at-home dad and fiend of excellent essays.

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Recently, I started working at a local nonprofit in town. It’s the kind of place that, to put it simply, has it’s own kind of vibe. If this place had a symbolic uniform it’d probably be oversized t-shirts, ridiculously saggy pants, baseball caps with flat bills (worn aslant), accessorized with cells phones and cigarettes. It’s motto might include a few “f” bombs, the word “youth” and something about poverty and education.

It’s mission is lofty. It’s reality is often sobering. And as the moniker nonprofit indicates, it’s not the kind of place where one gets rich. It’s the kind of place ones goes for a modest job, basic education skills, guidance, support, some sort of positive link to the community. It’s also the kind of place where one gets a taste of Santa Fe’s shadow people, the statistical representations that propel talking-heads into rhetoric that decries such things as family values, failing school systems, illegal immigrants, processed foods, television, etc. It’s the kind of place that begins to untangle such disconnected rhetoric.

Some of its clientele look rough. You’d think the place was a tattoo parlor some days. Glances are sharp, suspicious, hidden, innocent, eager. I’m still getting a feel for my clientele. Do I shake their hands firm or do the hand-slap and knuckle tap? Do I say good morning or wha's up! with that ol' Santa Fe head nod? Do I teach them about punctuality and punctuation? It’s all a bit confusing at times.

The place made me smile the other day though and sink a little more into a sense of comfort with this place. I actually got involved in a fight that really seemed to define this place and it’s culture of people, both staff and clientele. It wasn’t a fist throwing kind of fight though. It was the verbal kind. The passionate opinionated kind. The philosophical kind. The draw-a-line-in-the-sand kind of fight. Many of us laughed. Wailed. Threw our hands up in disgust. Walked away from one another in amazement, giggling. Happy that the debate would go on, perhaps never end. I don’t even know who started it. Someone just turned to me, demanding to know: Tupac or Biggie? Without any hesitation I said, “Tupac!”

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