As community leaders debate the decline in tourism, its causes, its remedies, and its politics, the big picture remains fuzzy. Taos, like so many other communities, is trying to reconcile the Old Ways and the New Ways. The Taos Way, with its major subcultural variations (Hispanic, Pueblo, Arts, Old Hippie, Retiree) bumps head on into the forces of the New: globalization (the Walmart World of competitive global markets), shifting demographics (smaller Hispanic families, growing number of retired and semi-retired from outside New Mexico), and the accompanying pressures for accelerated development..
I believe that the underlying question of the tourism debate is how this community deals with the Old Ways and the New Ways. Solutions need not be seen as either/or.
Before I moved to Taos, I was fortunate enough to live in Tokyo for a year. There, I was struck by the extraordinary way in which Old and New are not viewed as mutually exclusive but instead are continuously transformed into a Japanese way. At the most ordinary level, for instance, Japanese distillers market a whiskey named OldNew. More profoundly, there was the question posed by one of my Japanese undergraduate students: “Do you have seasons in America?” Flabbergasted at first, I realized that it wasn’t student ignorance or naivete –-of course there are changes of season outside of Japan. The real question was: “Do you observe/celebrate seasons as an integral part of your life as we do in Japan?”
In Japan, the changing of seasons and the mini-seasons within each season form part and parcel of everyone’s daily life: seasonal changes marked by street and temple festivals, traditional foods and beverages appear, clothing changes, specific colors are featured, sounds of the city change, and particular individual, family, and communal activities change. The all-encompassing changes echo the Old in the context of the New and create a “Japanese season.”
Perhaps there is a unique Taos Way. Although there is no single formulation of the Taos Way, most of us claim to know it when we see it. “That is so Taos.” And I would go a step further: the Taos Way is a unique amalgam of OldNew, often unplanned, serendipitous.
The Taos Landscape. Much of our valued open space and vistas, a concern of modern town planning practices, are sovereign lands of the Taos Pueblo. Consequently, the modern practice of open space designation is embedded in the traditional cultural nexus of the Taos Pueblo. Perhaps this arrangement could be formalized with additional benefits to both Pueblo and Town.
Taos and the Arts. The Taos Art Colony as it has evolved over the past 100 years has acted as bridge between the outsider world and insider world of old Hispanic families and native Americans. The embedding of a world of outsider artists has become part of what makes Taos a unique place as both artist destination and art market.
St. Francis de Assisi Church- Ranchos de Taos. The traditional parish church has also become a tourist and artist destination. Modern tourism has become part of traditional parish life. The Church is one of the distinctive places that tourists and Taosenos identify with Taos.
If there is a Taos Way, can our community find other ways of embedding the New in the Old so as to cherish and preserve the Taos Way? Can we find ways to make development, small and large, more Taos-like? Can we find ways of making our communal landscape more Taos-like? Will we be able to find ways of embedding modern systems of health care, education, and justice into the Taos Way? I believe tourists and residents, long-time and recent Taosenos, would embrace the Taos Way.