“Gonna get close to a hundred today in Pee-EB-low,” said the 60-something, gap-toothed Anglo beneath the grimy John Deere hat as we fueled our respective trucks at a convenience store on my first morning as a resident of Alamosa, Colorado.
“Pee-EB-low.” I hadn’t heard the word “Pueblo”―in this instance, the name of the Colorado city nearest to Alamosa, 90 miles to the northeast―pronounced that way in years, certainly not since leaving Colorado for New Mexico. I refused to believe any schoolteacher had ever instructed a pupil from Colorado, or anywhere, to pronounce “Pueblo” thusly. When I heard it uttered that way when I originally lived in Colorado, I assumed it was done so merely for humor. (Back then, Coloradans also referred to Pueblo as “Pee-YOO-town,” for the noxious odor emanating from the city’s once-dominant steel mills.) Now, however, after living in a land rich with Latino and Indigenous cultures, I wondered if such a pronunciation was deliberately disparaging, or even racist. I couldn’t imagine any established New Mexican―Latino, Native American, or even Anglo―pronouncing “Pueblo” “Pee-EB-low.” It’s a Spanish word meaning “village,” and it had been my experience that New Mexicans of any race or ethnicity, being immersed in Spanish whether they spoke it or merely heard it on a regular basis, pronounced it as close to the Spanish pronunciation―“P-WAY-blo”―as possible. If a New Mexican uttered the word “Pee-EB-low” to another New Mexican, he or she would likely be met with puzzlement―or offense. Certainly, I had never heard a member of the Pueblo nation, which comprises such New Mexico reservations as Isleta, Sandia, Zia, San Felipe, Zuni, Acoma, and Taos, refer to her- or himself as a “Pee-EB-lan.”
All of this is one way of saying that, while I certainly felt that I was still in the classic American Southwest, I was nonetheless on the northern edge of it, bumping up against the predominantly Anglo lands of the northern Rockies, the considerable Latino population of Denver notwithstanding. Thus, I wondered if I was now in a Southwest of a slightly different feeling and tone.
One thing was for sure, however: The redneck at the adjoining gas pump and I were in for a very comfortable summer day, as, again, the temperature in the San Luis Valley rarely reached 90 degrees.