Ernesto Vigil, resident community scholar at JSRI during June, made a presentation on June 7, 2017, titled “Identity as a Social Construction: ‘Indigeneity’ for Box-checkers and Miscellaneous Comments on Identity Politics.” Vigil addressed the variety and complexity of current social “identities” frequently categorized as race/ethnicity and gender/gender preference as tallied by figurative “boxes” that are “checked” by institutions concerned with documenting “diversity” or allocating affirmative action “benefits.” In addition, he featured a slide show of photographs he took of sites in northern New Mexico.

The photos capture architectural styles of churches and buildings in the region before the American takeover and during the territorial period. They were shown with commentary on the need to give consideration to the historical context. That is, to demonstrate the social and political context of a region that is often overlooked or misinterpreted. The complexity of the Catholic Church’s role in Mexico, and therefore in New Mexico (USA), was noted since the Church was a tool and beneficiary of conquest and maintains the oldest archive of historical documents in the region regarding birth, marriage, and death.

Paper records, according to Vigil, were about the elites - church, military, landowners, merchants - but what of the region’s oral and indigenous history, which is even longer but less known? The presentation was intended to raise questions rather than to address them. During the discussion that followed it was noted that President Trump insists on building a wall to deny entry to “foreigners,” “illegal aliens,” and “bad hombres,” thereby adding more boxes to check! And more questions to ask! How are race and identity shaping White House policy? Is it true that “illegal aliens” in Flint, Michigan did not have a right to bottled water in the middle of a lead water crisis? “Can I see your papers, please?”