Away in Albuquerque – By Jason Shriner


Are we still talking about New Year’s Resolutions even in March? Because I sure am. Early January I decided that in 2019 I was going to focus on me and my family, and I figured the best way to refocus was through vacation time. Essentially, 2019 is the year my husband and I will travel to the places we have been putting off.

Last week, we went to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This has been on my list of places to visit for some time although not Albuquerque specifically. I chose Albuquerque because it was central to two places I really wanted to visit – Santa Fe and the Acoma Pueblo. Although I found out that Albuquerque is amazing city with so much to offer all on its own.

Statue at the Acoma Sky City Cultural Center

The first place we visited was the Acoma Pueblo. I heard about Acoma (pronounced AH-koh-mah) on the podcast 99% Invisible. Through the podcast I learned about the cruelty the Acoma people endured during Spanish colonization and about the struggle New Mexicans face with celebrating Oñate as a founding father of New Mexico and his role in that cruelty.

In the podcast, they describe how activists cut off the foot on one of the Oñate statues to symbolize how Oñate ordered that all Acoma males over 25 years of age have one of their feet cut off as a punishment for refusing to provide food to Oñate’s soldiers. During the tour of the Acoma Pueblo, we learned that the first encounter the Acoma had with the colonizers was peaceful and during summer when food was plentiful. The next encounter the soldiers demanded food during the winter season – and were rightfully refused. The soldiers tried to forcefully take the food and all but one were killed.

When Oñate heard about this, he sent soldiers to kill hundreds of men, women, and children – and while the Acoma were able to hold off the attack for two days, the village was taken over the third day and 500 prisoners were put on trial. The Acoma religion was oppressed – the Catholic Church was established in Acoma – women were enslaved, children given to the church or to Oñate’s military, and the men had one foot cut off.

Beyond the Acoma homes lies the church

The leaders of the church established in Acoma continued that cruelty. They required the Acoma to build a church and that they use the wood from heavy trees located at Mount Taylor (approximately 40 miles from the village) and that each of the trees be carried on foot. In addition, the church required they bring four logs back within four days of leaving and that those four logs never touch the ground – those logs would be used for the altar. If they did touch the ground, they’d have to start over. The building of the church, the distance of Mount Taylor, the brutal manual labor, the harsh and unfair requirements of the altar pillars – these were all designed to be penance for the Acoma.

Oñate was eventually convicted and punished by the Spanish crown resulting in him being banished from New Mexico – which perplexes many Acoma on why statues of him would even be built.

Homes in Acoma’s Sky City

The story of the Acoma is not all tragedy, of course. They are an amazing and resilient group of people and the Pueblo consists of four villages. The village we visited, Sky City, is known to be the oldest continuously lived in village in North America. Sky City is a village of historical and cultural significance and does not having running water or electricity (the other villages do). Very few people live in Sky City – and even fewer live there permanently – but there are several caretakers and the village is extremely lively during feast days.

Acoma pottery and artistry is incredibly ornate and admired all over

The Acoma are especially known for their beautiful and remarkable pottery and art skills. They create pottery by hand using the coil method and use natural pigments to paint and decorate the pottery. Some artisans use horsehair during the firing process to create fascinating designs in the pottery which they then carve into to add even more designs. Large pieces can be worth thousands of dollars!

The House of Eternal Return by Meow Wolf features incredible light installations and unique rooms. I’m couching in the photo because the ceiling was only about 3-4 feet high here.

Our next stop was Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe. Video of this immersive art experience has been virally shared on social media for years. Meow Wolf is an artist collective that works to create immersive art experiences and the House of Eternal Return is their first permanent installation. It combines themes from fantasy, surrealism, science fiction, and more to create a mesmerizing, if not sometimes haunting, experience for their visitors.

Rooms had themes such as this candy room

Exploring the House of Eternal Return felt like I was recharging my creative energies. Sometimes working in government – and even being in Northern Virginia in general – can feel very rigid, routine, and predictable. But the House was unusual, challenging, exciting, and surprising all at once. The designs seemed welcoming and impossible at the same time. If you ever get to visit, let the shapes, colors, lights, and themes wash over you. I guarantee your creative energies will be recharged as well. (And for those who can’t make it out to Santa Fe, Meow Wolf is building an installation in DC opening in 2022 or you could always check out Artechouse).

Guests were encouraged to interact with many of the pieces in the rooms including this old school toon kitchen.

We spent the greatest amount of time exploring Albuquerque – there’s surprisingly so much to see and do there especially when it comes to art and art galleries. One such gallery we visited is housed in the National Hispanic Cultural Center. We learned about the Center from searching events on Facebook. The gallery had its grand opening on Saturday – I think they said 900 people came to the reception! – for an exhibit called Que Chola. As explained by the curator, Jadira Gurulé,

The term Chola refers to women of a particular (usually Chicana/Latina) subculture in the United States characterized by a cultural pride, a tough demeanor, and a distinctive style. She is a figure that many young Chicanas grow up admiring or emulating for she symbolizes youthful rebellion, strength, and resilience in the face of racial, gender, and economic adversity.

Gaby in Red by Gaspar Enríquez is featured in the Que Chola exhibit in the National Hispanic Cultural Center of Albuquerque.

As we approached the exhibit, I thought that for me – not being Latinx – that this would be very much an experience of looking from the outside in. An experience where I could learn and appreciate the art and the culture, but from a distant perspective. It was really exciting and uplifting to learn that there is appreciation for LGBTQ culture in the Chola community. As David Saiz, the Curatorial Research Assistant, shares,

Like other labels “Chola” has had negative connotations. However, the Chola’s non-traditional brand of femininity is being explored for the ways it can open up possibilities for queer and gender-non-conforming identity expressions. For some, the Chola (or Cholo) offers the possibility to resist normative gender roles, critique sexist ideology, and express varied identities. The Chola has become a figure through which some Chicanx and Latinx individuals find cultural expression with varying levels of gender fluidity while holding onto the power of resistance and strength the Chola uploads from beyond the mainstream.

A volume from Q-Sides by Amy Martinez, Vero Majano, and Kari Orvik. Click here to learn more about this piece.

Before we left to visit Albuquerque, I wanted to see what venues would be available to play pickleball. It was really incredible to discover that pickleball is played in Albuquerque every day, often at several different locations at several different times of day. In fact, one community center was within walking distance of where we were staying. All the locations were available to play for free and the outdoor venue had 18 courts with 6 of them being lighted! It would be an understatement to say that pickleball is popular in Albuquerque! I ended up getting to play at five different locations during my stay, which was a great way to meet local people and learn about some musts to check out during my visit. We also offer pickleball here at the Manassas Park Community Center – every Monday-Friday from 8:00am-10:00am – so come join us to try a new sport, stay active, and discover an easy method for connecting with locals on your trips!

So many places to play pickleball in Albuquerque and most of them completely free!

I’m looking forward to more adventures in 2019 and sharing them with all of you – and hopefully discovering even more pickleball courts along the way!

Jason Shriner is the Marketing Manager for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703-335-8872 or via email at

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