What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Explore : New Mexico

Ideas

How New Mexico’s “Peons” Became Enslaved to Debt

A System Inherited From Colonial Spain Kept Americans in Servitude Even After the Civil War

kiser-wimtba

By William S. Kiser
November 2, 2017

Imagine a time and place where a small debt—even just a few dollars—could translate into a lifetime of servitude not only for the debtor, but also for his or her children. For much of the 19th century, the American Southwest was just such a place. There, a system commonly called debt peonage relegated thousands of men, women, and children to years of bondage to a master.

This system of unfree labor came into existence in the 1700s, when the region was …

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Places

Manifest Destiny, That Atrocious Ideal

A Wintertime Visit to a Onetime Nuclear Test Site Reveals the Lengths Americans Go to Own Whatever They Please

Frank on winter LEAD WIMTBA

By Matthew Gavin Frank
March 31, 2016

On the outskirts of Tularosa, New Mexico, I drove among sacred mountains. It was three days before Christmas, 2014, and it was over 70 degrees. With the A/C cranked, I passed the cookfires of shantytowns, children with strings of meat hanging from the ends of sticks, their parents drinking Coca-Cola from cool glass bottles, mezcal from plastic washtubs. Sheep grazed at the road shoulders. Skeletal motorcycles sashayed around buses laboring up the slopes.

My mouth was numbed with spice from pulverized …

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Journeys

A Young Bride Among the Roustabouts of Santa Fe

My Great-Great Grandmother Missed the Gentle, Green Valleys of Germany, But Our Jewish Family Needed a New Start

Staab House on Palace Ave. SF

By Hannah Nordhaus
June 16, 2015

When my great-great-grandmother set out for New Mexico territory in 1866, she spoke no English. Nor did she speak any Spanish.

German was her native language; Yiddish as well. Julia Staab was a German Jew from a small village in Prussia. I don’t know how her marriage to my great-great-grandfather Abraham Staab came about—if it was arranged beforehand, or if they chose each other. But I do know that they were in a hurry to begin their married life in …

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