Reader Edwardo Quintana recently suggested I call Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and urge her to welcome Afghan refugees to Santa Fe and house them in dormitories and apartments at the midtown campus.
The governor’s not likely to take my call, and I think the spaces are currently occupied with other populations in need, but Quintana’s spirit of generosity and bienvenidos is a hallmark of Santa Fe and has been for generations.
In 1992, Santa Fe was selected as one of 15 American cities to welcome and resettle some of the 1,000 Tibetans allowed to emigrate from refugee camps in India and Nepal. A well-stablished Santa Fe organization called Project Tibet stood ready to ease the transition.
The Dalai Lama had toured Northern New Mexico in April 1991, visiting pueblos and even riding the chairlift to the top of Ski Santa Fe. He reportedly said the pueblos and mountains reminded him of Tibet and the pueblo leaders looked like cousins.
Part of that settlement process connected the growing community with Mike Loftin, then executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services, the precursor to Homewise. Loftin was planning a subdivision in the first phase of Tierra Contenta called Los Portales. His organization established a Tibetan Loan Fund for down payment assistance for Tibetan families eager for homeownership in the new south-side neighborhood.
By the mid-’90s, some 20 Tibetan families had settled in the neighborhood, and prayer flags strung across portals were soon flapping in the wind. The community grew and built the Bodhi Stupa in 1997 that graces lower Airport Road. Twenty-five years later, they are Santa Fe friends and neighbors.
Tibetans, with their persecution by communist China and a charismatic leader of a religion many Westerners embrace, might seem easier to imagine in our midst than those from a country we have been at war with for 20 years.
Islam, the religion of peace, is also the religion of the Taliban.
Now, 120,000 Afghans could be coming to America. As many as 50,000 of them reportedly are Afghan American citizens or legal residents who rushed back to Afghanistan to rescue family members. But many of the thousands only know America from their days helping our soldiers in the endless war. They don’t yet know the depths of our ugly prejudices nor the sincere warmth of our welcomes.
Which will they find in Santa Fe and New Mexico?
There is not yet a Project Afghanistan today like there was a Project Tibet in 1992. But there are a number of Afghans already here and in Albuquerque. There also are welcoming mosques, including Masjid Al Rahma in Santa Fe whose imam, Sheik Ibrahim, says he has more than 50 families from 40 different nationalities. It is a mosque that welcomes all sects, including non-Muslims. It is integral to the interfaith organizations doing good works in Santa Fe with members of Jewish synagogues and Christian denominations.
One connection we do have with Afghanistan that we did not have with Tibet is a large community of military veterans who spent time in the country of the refugees. Sometimes as combatants, but often as friends. It is those friends who made the mad rush to planes leaving Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
There are more still there who will undoubtedly make every effort they can to join their brethren in the country they literally pledged their lives to help. We owe them our support. While it’s true there isn’t enough housing for those already here, our hearts and resources are big enough to overcome the challenges.
They say Northern New Mexico looks like Afghanistan. Let’s welcome Afghan refugees here and make them feel at home.