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Gov. Lujan Grisham apologizes following critical comments of Española

“The display of superiority in that address shows only callousness and dismissive arrogance,” he stated. “Are we truly to believe that the governor slowed down enough to see into our dark tinted windows to find no masks hanging from rear view mirrors? At this rate of condescension, I would be very surprised if the governor’s vehicle even slowed down to a rolling stop at the red lights. How empty those words sound coming from behind the windows of an air-conditioned vehicle while peering in at us like we are children who haven’t cleaned our rooms.” 

Here is Mayor Sánchez’s letter, in its entirety:

“The City of Española has endured, absorbed and defended itself from stereotypes for decades. So it is with great reason that we stand now and say no more. When choosing which city to chastise during Thursday’s health order address, the Governor did a great disservice to the hard-working people of Española.

The display of superiority in that address shows only callousness and dismissive arrogance. Are we truly to believe that the Governor slowed down enough to see into our dark tinted windows to find no masks hanging from rear view mirrors? At this rate of condescension, I would be very surprised if the Governor’s vehicle even slowed down to a rolling stop at the red lights. How empty those words sound coming from behind the windows of an air-conditioned vehicle while peering in at us like we are children who haven’t cleaned our rooms.

Like so many others, the Governor has chosen to stroll by Española and make blanket assumptions about our people. To say that we have to work harder goes without saying. Every loss of life due to COVID-19 is tragic. We must do everything we can to prevent it. But if we are to take the higher road – one paved in science – then we must hold true to the parameters set forth by the method. Using anecdotal evidence to say that “no one was wearing masks” and conclude that we’re careless tells a story clouded by prejudice and falsehood.

The Governor chose to make assumptions about the true Española at a superficial glance. Yes, people were witnessed going to their vehicles from the grocery store and gas station without masks. But no mention was made of whether they had them on within a close distance to others. Or whether the stores required masks. Those observations would actually require someone to step out of their vehicle and into our friendly town. My friends at Center Market, Food King, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Walmart and every other place I know of in Española ensure that customers wear masks when entering places of business. But did the Governor deign to stop and visit any places of business, worship, or friendship? Apparently not because according to her address, she continued on her way “through” Española to some other place in Northern New Mexico – perhaps to some better destination? Cherry picking anecdotal evidence to draw generalized conclusions makes a mockery of our beautiful city. We deserve better.

Here is the science: The County of Rio Arriba has currently performed 15,148 tests. Of those, 353 people have tested positive for COVID-19, or .84% of the population. Unfortunately, our Jicarilla members have suffered with a majority of those positive numbers. If you remove those, Rio Arriba has 129 positive cases. That is .32% of the population. Española’s Presbyterian Hospital currently has zero patients admitted for COVID. That deserves to be repeated: Zero patients currently in a hospital that serves approximately 40,000 citizens in the county of Rio Arriba.

Science should be one component in the decision-making process. Stay home if you feel susceptible. Always keep at least a six-foot distance from people not in your immediate bubble. When that is not possible, wear a face covering. Respect each other and love each other. Work hard to make a living. Work hard to make a community. And work hard to protect each other because this virus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

And yes, we in Española work hard. Very hard. My friend, a teacher at Tony E. Quintana Elementary School works 12-16 hours a day trying to keep her students alive. She is on the phone with parents most of the time getting them logged on. Exhausted, she thrives. An employee I know has to switch shifts at the restaurant she works at, doing everything she can to make sure her 8-year-old son logs on before she goes to work – never knowing whether her mother will keep him on-line. The shaming of Española by the Governor adds to the stigma that exacerbates our need.

Leadership ought to project pride. We ought to prefer lifting up those who need it the most rather than continuing to embarrass those who have seen it before. Shaming only makes worse our long-held belief that we’re not worthy. But we know better. Like I said, we’ve heard the stereotypes before. We define the word resilient. We are low riding, paño wearing, aqua net infused, farmers, hermanos, and just plain, plebe. But we are proud, honest, smart, hard-working people who should not be made an example of on a joy ride through Northern New Mexico. To see anything less than the hard work we put in, is to ignore the humanity, love and community that is Española. Defending our honor and people is my privilege. It should be our Governor’s too.”

Gov. Lujan Grisham issued the following statement Friday in response to the mayor: 

“On Thursday, I talked about Española in my statewide public briefing on our response to COVID-19. I mentioned that I drove through the valley recently on my way to El Rito. And I said that I saw no one in the community wearing masks as I drove through, and I made an example of that in my presentation.

My comments were taken as a lack of respect for Española and the work the community has done to fight this virus. I apologize for making that impression. That was not my intent, and I take responsibility for the way my words were conveyed and heard.

It is true that I did not see any masks that day on my way through town north and south, but that doesn’t mean I should have made the point that I did in the way I did it. If my intent was to highlight where we can improve and what we can do better, and it was, then I could have communicated that in a different way, and I should have.

I have highlighted other communities in the state where we can and must do better in responding to COVID-19. My intent is always to encourage us all to do better and, whenever I can, praise the success different communities have had. I didn’t do that here. On Thursday, I could have talked about the thousands (and thousands, and thousands) of Española Valley workers, businessowners and families who have sacrificed and made the right decisions to keep themselves and their community safe day after day this year. I know the people of the Española Valley have given so much. Instead I only focused on what I saw, the negative, and I hope my comments – and the response to them – do not ultimately overshadow the commitment and sacrifice so many residents of the valley have made.

I saw what I saw, but what I saw was only a snapshot in time. Yes, not wearing a mask for any amount of time in public increases the risk you will contract the virus or be exposed to droplets from another person. But the fact of the matter is Rio Arriba County has done very well in suppressing the virus. Masks have been a key part of that.

I have heard from constituents in the valley. I want them all to know: What I presented was not necessarily a complete representation of the hard work you have undertaken ever since COVID-19 hit our state. Please keep up that hard work. I am so grateful to you. I wish I had said that, as well, on Thursday.

Española is a proud town, and I love that. It’s the fighting, never-say-die spirit of the valley that makes it one of the most beautiful places in this beautiful state, with some of the best people, families with deep roots, folks with a hard-working attitude, neighbors with a helping hand for anyone who needs one. Those are values worth fighting for, worth being proud of. 

It’s no wonder that folks like that will stand right up and be proud of their home community. It’s also no wonder folks like that have worked as hard as they have to fight COVID-19 and keep their neighbors safe. I regret that my words left the impression they did. Please accept my apology for that, and please know that your efforts in fighting COVID-19 are so important and are making an enormous difference for our state.”


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