Shena Han, age 17, Los Alamos

Early fall is chile season. Every year, my mom and I drive an hour down to Santa Fe to pick out a pound or two of Hatch green chiles for roasting. She gets them mild or medium, no matter how much I argue for the really hot ones. We watch as the chiles are loaded into the roaster, all crosshatched metal, and as they tumble around and blacken. My mom pats my hand and smiles at me while we wait.

When we get home, she spends hours cleaning them, clearing away the charred skin and seeds. She seals them into plastic Ziploc bags and pops them into the freezer to preserve them through the winter.

For dinner that night, my mom stews the chiles with soy sauce and sugar. We eat them over white rice. Perhaps this is shocking and sacrilegious to Hatch enthusiasts, but in our household, it is tradition in its own way.

My parents immigrated to New Mexico from China in the late ’90s; we have no deep roots in this place. We have no extended family, no tribal affiliation, no lineage that can be traced back generations. It’s just me, my parents, my brother, and a boatload of green chile that we never learned how to cook the right way.

I like it, though. The chiles are flavorful, spicy and a little sweet all at once. They’re tender enough to fall apart under the gentle pull of our chopsticks. My brother complains about the heat, and I make fun of him for it. These are mild, I say.

Life here, I think, is an amalgam of influence. From across the sea, we bring centuries worth of tradition of our own, and we combine them with the carefully cultivated flavors of this native soil. I was born like a cup of tea steeped twice, once in the northern homeland of my ancestors and once among the Aspen trees in the red New Mexico caldera. And like a cup of tea that becomes more concentrated as more leaves are added, this double influence is a strength, not a weakness. There is a beauty in adoption without assimilation. There is a certain love for a country felt by those who are new to it.

I have seen the scorched earth of the Cerro Grande and the busy night markets in Jilin, and I have loved both. I pay tribute to both, for they are the topographies that have shaped me. If I leave my house right now and walk a mile down Los Pueblos Street, the houses fall away and I am left with open canyon. Here, the rock is ringed with layers of ochre and burnt sienna, and the sky is as blue as designs painted on fine china. Here, if I press a hand to the ground and close my eyes, I hear the heartbeat of the land like it’s my own. It rings out like a tanggu drum.

I am always amazed at the things we share. How we see ourselves reflected back in the land around us, even if we think of ourselves as foreigners.

I am New Mexican. I’ve seen colorful hot air balloons launch into the air in Albuquerque.

I’ve watched the Rio Grande rise and shrink with snow melt. When I heard that Colorado was trying to grow green chile of its own, I laughed.

I am New Mexican, and while it is not all I am — and while it is not all you are — it is something to carry with us and to be proud of for the rest of our lives.

I sit down to my meal of chile and rice, and I am thankful to the dual heritages that allow me to do so ... Even if it’s still not the right way to eat them. ◀


Estevan Trujillo, age 15, Los Alamos

AT 12 million-plus cases, and a loss of more than 254,000 American lives over these last eight months, the CoViD-19 pandemic has changed life in every aspect. School, sports, and a new controversial topic: Should there be a national mandate on masks? The simple task has now been turned into a controversy. Saving and protecting our fellow Americans has now been politicized. What is the real answer, though? Does wearing a mask save lives, or is it unconstitutional? I will be discussing why there should be a national mask mandate.

In order to stop this pandemic, we must have a national mandate as well as an effective vaccine. Right now, masks are a sure tool to stop the spread of viruses, especially respiratory illnesses.

Masks were used before the pandemic and they have worked. Surgeons preventatively wear masks to protect patients from foreign bacteria. Medical workers also wear masks to protect fragile and immunocompromised patients from potential exposures. Masks are indeed effective and should be required nationally.

Statistics show that masks indeed help stop the spread of the virus. Now that we are in such a “dark” period, wearing a mask is one of the few ways of protection right now. The University of California, San Francisco, published an article saying, “Masks may be more effective as a ‘source control’ because they can prevent larger expelled droplets from evaporating into smaller droplets that can travel farther.” Wearing masks can stop these small droplets from passing through the mask. PNAS has found masks greatly reduced infections in two hot spots early on in the pandemic. “This protective measure alone significantly reduced the number of infections, that is, by over 75,000 in Italy from April 6 to May 9 and over 66,000 in New York City from April 17 to May 9.” These masks are designed to help stop the spread of any virus, including the coronavirus.

When the majority of the population wears a mask, the efficacy goes up, which decreases cases. Let’s say, for example, an individual has a mask on and the other does not, the chances of getting the virus may be greater. If two individuals don’t wear a mask, there is a greater chance the one who has the virus will infect the other. If both infected and healthy individuals were to wear a mask, chances are very low of contracting the virus. In 2006 and 2007, during the influenza season in New South Wales and Sydney, Australia, the CDC conducted a study showing how effective masks are indoors. During this study, the control group were people who did not wear a mask. “We recruited 290 adults from 145 families; 47 households (94 enrolled adults and 180 children) were randomized to the surgical mask group, 46 (92 enrolled adults and 172 children) to the P2 mask group, and 52 (104 enrolled adults and 192 children) to the no-mask (control) group.” During this study, however, each participant displayed a different behavior, just like right now. Many decided to wear their mask, “most or all” of the time, and many others decided to wear the masks “rarely or never.” In the control group, “38 out of 50 contracted the virus,” or 76 percent. Those who wore the medical mask had, “32 out of 47 contracting the virus,” or 68%. For the P2 masks (N-95), “33 out of 46 contracted the flu,” or close to 72 percent. Wearing a mask greatly lowers the chance of contracting any respiratory illness. If the majority of participants wore masks, the numbers would be significantly lower.

Many people across the world believe that wearing a mask interferes with breathing. It seems difficult to breathe while wearing a mask, but it doesn’t interfere with oxygen levels. No matter how long we wear the masks we are oxygenating just fine. Dr. Jonathan Parsons of Ohio State University states, “As a pulmonologist — a doctor who specializes in the respiratory system — I can assure you that behind that mask, your breathing is fine. You’re getting all the oxygen you need, and your carbon dioxide levels aren’t rising.” Slowing down our breathing is a great strategy to feel more “comfortable” and to ease a little bit of the anxiety.

Wearing masks is one of the best prophylactic protections against CoViD-19. Wearing masks correctly greatly reduces the positivity rate in the community and decreases the rate of spread nationally. If the federal government urges each state to mandate mask-wearing, many lives could be saved in the future. The more lives we are able to save, the more holidays families are able to spend together — not in hospital beds fighting to survive. I believe a national mask mandate would shorten this pandemic. Thank you, and stay safe. ◀


Janey Michel, age 16, Los Alamos

Let me tell you about my best friend. My best friend was not the average best friend. Jack was a 4-legged, big-hearted, adventurous horse. Jack had the most caring eyes, they were so captivating, he could speak to your soul with sweetness glimmering in his eyes. Jack was given to me as a little girl but there was no amount of money in the world that could touch what he was worth to me.

As with most new relationships, we did not have an instant friendship. It took time to build our unbreakable bond. Once we bonded, there was no separating us from each other. Jack knew I would be there to feed, water, and brush him daily; but it takes so much more than this to have the friendship we had. Jack and I traveled thousands of miles together; in return, he won me some very wonderful titles. We won the Los Alamos County Rodeo Queens contest as the Sweetheart and later on we went on to win Princess. We won belt buckles, ribbons, checks, and even a saddle.

Most people will never understand how much time went into this relationship, which ended up being the best friendship. While all of our wins were wonderful, it is the trust that made it the best. When I saddled up, I had to trust Jack and know he would do his best to take care of me on his back. He also had to trust my riding skills and believe I would do the best for him. When we were together, we became one.

Jack and I were a team for 10 years, which is more than half of my life. I was a young girl when we picked Jack up, and I am now a young lady. When I look back on our time together, it seems like so long ago and like it was not long enough all at the same time. While my parents have invested their time, love, and money in me and have done their very best to raise me into a successful woman, I know Jack helped form me into the individual I am today.

As a child, every girl has a best friend that they call to coordinate an outfit with. Well, Jack and I were no exception to this. Every piece of tack I bought, every parade and rodeo outfit I had, were coordinated. Every spectator knew Jack and I were there together. Jack and I even have a matching belt and halter set together. It feels like the equivalent of the best friend necklaces because he was my best friend. Unfortunately, necklaces aren’t that big.

Last month, Jack suddenly became ill. We spent three long days with him, night and day. It was time to turn my horse loose in the open pastures of heaven. While I do not physically get to see him anymore, I know he is with me in my spirit every day. I know I am a better person for having had Jack in my life. Jack taught me so much about patience, trust, and care. When I had to say my final goodbye, I did not cry. While it hurt to my very core, he knew he had my love — a love only he and I could share with each other. He would be so disappointed to see me cry. It is not what he would want.

Time will go by and the hurt will become less. He will always have a hoofprint in my heart, though. I will never ride another horse and not be reminded of the horsemanship and patience he has taught me. How Jack spoke to my soul. Not every ride was beautiful, but it was always humbling. Every parade, every arena, and every barrel will be a constant reminder of how far we came together and how special it made me feel.

When you attend a parade, rodeo, or any other equestrian event and you see a child on their horse, please know it is so much more than this. What you are witnessing is a lifelong friendship and love. It is a bond that I wish every human could have. It is a learning and loving experience. Your animal best friend will be there through all of the storms and, in the end, they leave the prettiest rainbow for your heart to chase. As I grow into a young adult, I will reflect on my childhood and adolescence years, I will smile knowing my best friend shared these important years with me. Someday, when I have a family of my own, I can only hope my children will have as special of a best friend as I have had. ◀

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