Within several weeks of my arrival in Albuquerque I was living in an apartment a block down Madeira Drive from Linda’s, which was the way we initially wanted it. The names of our respective apartment complexes back then might raise red flags in a marketing department of any land development company in New Mexico, if not all of the United States, today. Back then, however, they were presumably acceptable, and they strangely―or, if you’re so inclined, comically―mirrored one another.
My complex was called The Plantation. For the life of me, I couldn’t see the New Mexico connection in the name. As far as I knew, the state had no history of large-scale tobacco, sugar, and rice farming. (Although I would eventually realize that cotton is farmed in southern New Mexico, though hardly on the scale of the 19th-century South.) Since my arrival in the state, I’d not seen any Georgian and French Creole architecture, any mansions encircled by twelve-foot balustrade galleries. Therefore, all I could do was assume the name was simply meant to recall the bounty, leisure, and Gable/Leigh romance of―what? The antebellum South? The postbellum South? Yet, hearing the name, I couldn’t quash images of whips, chains, manacles, welts, auction blocks, and pints of salt. And I had to wonder how Albuquerque’s Black community, which at the time comprised 3% of the city’s population, regarded the name.
Yet, The Plantation was indeed a pleasant place. It was quiet at night. I’d thrill to the spring winds shaking my apartment door. On warm spring days, I’d occasionally and discreetly watch, through my front window, the female tenants sunbathe by the empty swimming pool in the complex’s courtyard. And nearly every evening I’d relax to the moody serenade, through my living room wall, of my neighbor as she practiced her cello.
Linda’s apartment, meanwhile, was named The Conquistador. It was obviously named to acknowledge, if not honor, the first Spanish explorers, Francisco Vasquez Coronado premier among them, to arrive in today’s North America. Shortly after my arrival in New Mexico, I developed an intense interest in the state’s history, and, among many other things, I learned that many contemporary New Mexicans of Spanish and even mixed-Spanish blood revere these explorers. They were conquistadores: “conquerors.” They conquered lands―loosely speaking, that is: they “claimed lands for Spain”; they were neither pioneers nor settlers. However, they also “conquered” peoples, and not always in a gentle manner. This was brought to my attention in the pages of Albuquerque’s newspapers. In various articles, the Pueblo people were reminding New Mexicans that these 16th- and 17th-century conquistadores were responsible for forced labor, familial breakup, punitive amputations, rape, religious persecution, and the spread, unintentional yet deadly, of infectious diseases among the Pueblans’ ancestors. So I was soon joking that I was living on a two-block stretch of Madiera Drive known as “Slavery Row.” (In 2018, the Spanish and Catholic organizers of an annual Santa Fe reenactment of the 1692 “reoccupation” of the city by the Spanish, the “entrada pageant,” agreed, after increasing pressure by New Mexico’s Pueblos, to end the event. Meanwhile, my former apartment complex is no longer The Plantation; Linda’s former dwelling, however, is still named The Conquistador.)