Albuquerque’s Slavery Row

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.  Today, the names of our respective apartment complexes back then might raise red flags in a marketing department of any residential development company in New Mexico, if not all of the United States.  Back then, however, they were presumably acceptable, and, in my view at least, they interestingly mirrored one another. 

My complex was called The Plantation.  However, I failed to see the New Mexico connection in the name.  As far as I knew, the state had no history of large-scale tobacco, sugar, or 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 12-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. 

In any event, The Plantation was indeed a pleasant place.  It was quiet at night.  I thrilled to the spring winds that occasionally shook 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 adventurers.  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 periodically brought to my attention in the pages of Albuquerque’s newspapers.  In various articles, the Pueblo people reminded 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 against and among the Pueblans’ ancestors.  Thus, I was soon joking that I was living on a two-block stretch of Madiera Drive known as “Slavery Row.”[1] 

[1] 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 Pueblans, to end the event.  Today, my former apartment complex is no longer The Plantation; Linda’s former dwelling, however, has kept its name.)