Abe Observes

abe villarrealAbe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

By Abe Villarreal

When talkies first made it to the silver screen in 1927, they marked the beginning of a new era of communication. Al Jolson was The Jazz Singer and movie audience senses felt something they had never experienced.

There were doubters sitting in those dark movie theaters, but within a few years no one could resist the new era of entertainment. There are always doubters, no matter what the inevitable curb of progress brings our way.

By Abe Villarreal

I am anxious and excited to run my first 5K this coming Labor Day weekend. For several weeks I’ve been preparing because I’m not a runner. Never was.

The event is in Alamogordo, New Mexico, a town I’ve never visited but one that has been on my radar for several months. When I recently discovered that my great-great-grandfather lived there for the last few years of his life, I became determined to learn more about my one and only New Mexico family connection.

By Abe Villarreal

In our short and often tumultuous history, there have been dramatic highs and lows that are often bookended with words as powerful as the moments themselves.

Today, at this moment in 2017, there are dark clouds on the horizon and we are waiting to hear powerful words. The kind of words that give us reassurance when we are confused. The kind that mean something when they are spoken with authenticity and truth.

Future classroom textbooks will tell the history of our time in much of the same way they tell of the civil rights era of the 1960s. Kids will learn about marches. They will see images of passionate people, yelling at each other – I’m right and you’re wrong. Less and less can we understand each other.

At a time when we see our neighbors, our countrymen, standing and staring at each other with anger and high emotions, we are waiting for a unifier, a man in power, to let us know that there is a way forward for everyone.

There are always two sides and two points of views. But sometimes they are not equal. Not even close. When one side is wearing white hoods and holding symbols that reflect the darkest moments in our history, there is little chance of moral equivalency.

Yes, this is 2017 and there are men in white hoods trying to hold on to relevance. The final remnants of a time in history, which we had forgotten.

Unfortunately for us, the man with the bully pulpit is failing to give us clarity. He is assumed to represent the conscience of a nation, and yet his words are something we don’t understand and to which we often disagree.

We are looking for a Churchill, a Reagan, a Lincoln; with a strong and positive voice. We are looking for a Mother Theresa, a Martin Luther King Jr. A soft and tender tone.

Today we have a loud and consistent drumbeat of absoluteness. The message is not clear. There is no gray and no in-between. Words are losing their meaning.

Olive branches are nowhere in sight. People are not shaking hands or sharing hugs. We all want to stand our ground. Understanding what we don’t know is not so fashionable anymore.

It seems we are heading towards a climactic moment. The man in charge has lit a fire, and the nation as a whole is feeling the heat. Many of the cooks have left the kitchen, leaving the decider-in-chief a man often alone. He’s deciding, and saying, the things he thinks we represent as individuals and communities. But the words seem strange and distant. Washington D.C. feels like a far away place.

Most of the time we ignore the inside-the-beltway gossip. This time, it’s a drip, drip, drip, and the Potomac River is flowing in all directions, carrying the vitriol and hatred that we expect to come from the kind of places we try to avoid, not the nation’s capital.

Words are powerful tools used by powerful people. The problem today is that we do not hear the kinds of words we expect to hear in challenging times of turmoil. From top to bottom, everyone sounds the same.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

By Abe Villarreal

When Robert Frost penned the poem The Road Not Taken it struck a chord with his readers, and it still does today a century after its publishing in 1916.

The words are famous, not only because they are beautifully written, but also because they speak to us in ways that make us think about ourselves, the decisions we make, and how valuable a new beginning can be just when we need it.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both,” the poem opens. It’s an amazing statement because the writer begins with an apology. 

It seems apologies are less available these days. We are all correct always, no matter what we do and say. Your way of living is ok and so is mine. My truth is truth, and so is yours, even though it’s different. Everything is relevant. Not much is black and white anymore.

Think of the power of the apology, someone is admitting something about himself when he says it. I’m sorry. It’s a powerful statement.

The poem continues “and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth.”

Life is full of making decisions in the moment. Look around you and suddenly you realize that there is a path to choose and there is no way to take both. We fool ourselves regularly, telling others that we can do everything. We can be all things to all people. 

It’s out of fashion to be really good at just one thing. If you’re a carpenter, be the best carpenter you can ever become. It’s ok if there is not much else that makes you special. Choose one path and stick to it.

“Then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear, though as for the passing there had worn them really about the same.”

 When we finally do make a decision, we immediately question ourselves and we try to justify what we did no matter the consequences. Think of today’s popular phrase “sorry not sorry”. We want to be sorry, but being not sorry is so in. No matter what we decide, it was the right choice. At least that’s what we convince ourselves to believe.

 “And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden back. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

We waste so much energy trying to retrace our steps. Every time we look back, we’re not looking forward. It’s O.K. to walk the path that others have not. There is risk, but often great reward.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Step out of your comfort zone. Stop following others simply because it feels good and safe. The next time you are thinking of which direction to follow, take a deep breath and look forward, take the road not taken.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

By Abe Villarreal

We’re too afraid to know what we don’t know. These days, we know less and less of what we should now.

 Sounds like a riddle. With so many ways of consuming information, we are choosing less and less consumption of important things, life-changing things.

 We go where we are comfortable. We hear people that tell us what we want to hear. If we disagree, and we do so easily, we turn away.

 Gone are the times when we were challenged. We want to convince others of why we believe what we believe, but we don’t want to give others the chance to do the same to us.

 Learning and listening are passé. They are missing everywhere, not just in politics, and even in the highest office of the land, but also in our community and neighborhoods.

 What is truth? Do we all have our own truth? We act like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz who keeps telling himself that he believes in ghosts, over and over again.

 If we say it enough, we’ll believe it. It’s hard to know what to believe in this age of information. When I scroll down my Facebook feed, I catch some of my smart friends posting news articles that sound legitimate. Once I click, I’m lead to a satirical site.

 News stories about cops killing innocent people, or political figures collaborating with dictators, they lead to fake news sites.

 What is happening? Why do we have the urge to let people know things that aren’t true? Do we ourselves believe what we are reading?

 The old game of telephone has taken a new breath of life and a turn for the worse. What we share sometimes is missing that kernel of truth that used to get passed along in even the most twisted of stories.

When I turn on the cable news channels, one primetime host is telling me that our leaders are fine, its just that the system is out to get them, and we shouldn’t trust the system.

 On another channel, I’m hearing that our leaders deserve to be kicked out of office. They don’t care about you and me. Our elected officials are steering a ship that is quickly headed towards an iceberg. We’re all doomed.

 We can’t be in a good place as a society if we are a confused people. Less and less is unifying us, holding us together as a vast community that’s different but has shared values.

 We are all different, in ways that we haven’t been different before. We believe in opposite truths, and when we do that, we don’t understand each other anymore.

 When that happens, we become unrecognizable to one another, because we all believe that we are right and the other person is wrong.

 It’s hard to know what to believe anymore and who to believe. These are confusing times, and the people are worried.

 Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

By Abe Villarreal

At a funeral this week, a stranger asked me my name. She wanted to reassure herself that I was the chubby Hispanic guy she recognized in the paper each week.

It’s a strange thing for someone you don’t know to feel comfortable enough to talk to you and ask your name. It’s also personal, and something you regularly experience in a small town like ours.

At the Independence Day parade a few days ago, each float seemed to jump out like an inspirational piece for a Norman Rockwell painting. Kids were laughing, jumping up and down. Military veterans dressed in their perfectly creased outfits. Displaying their appreciation, and humility, for a service we all appreciate.

Moms were pushing babies in strollers. Dressed in red, white, and blue. The day felt unifying. For a moment we were all proud to be Americans.

There were no protests, just happy looks, and friendly faces. It felt very small town, and it was.

These days, the division we read about, and see on TV is less prevalent in rural communities where we have no choice but to collaborate in order to survive.

Churches continue to help the poor. The local mission faithfully feeds the hungry. An organized PTA is still in existence and making a difference. That means that moms still care, and kids, sometimes, still listen.

When a baby in a nearby town is found out to have a debilitating disease, people rally. All we have to know is that someone needs help. Canned goods are donated. Enchilada sales are announced in different neighborhoods. Everyone cares.

At my place of employment, employee retirements are reasons for everyone to deliver thoughtful recollections. Just last week, a lady named Vivian was honored with a cake and touching tributes by her longtime colleagues. She gave 25 years of her life to the same company. That is something to applaud.

One by one, friends shared tears and funny stories of workplace happenings. It felt like a family reunion for everyone in the crowded corridor. Our small town felt even smaller.

Driving through the maniacal rush hour of downtown El Paso, or the slow-moving crawl of a busy Phoenix highway means that you are living amongst people who are going places and in a hurry.

Time for hellos and goodbyes are hard to find. Prolonged lunch hours or afternoon get-togethers at the local coffee shop are not thought of when you are in a hurry to get going.

Moving so fast, you find yourself missing out on the things that matter. A scenic beach front image, or the architectural beauty of a major city’s skyline captured on your camera phone, will never come close to a game of cards with friends. The kind of game where no one remembers who won. You only remember who ate too much of the guacamole, and who spilled the first drink.

I wouldn’t change those kinds of moments for the convenience of having a shopping mall down the street. I like living a small town. A place where everyone knows your name.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

By Abe Villarreal

Like no other form of communication, the written word, whether it be through proclamations or a simple text message, has had the power to bring us together, and also to divide.

On this Fourth of July, red and white stripes, and the beauty of 50 stars will be seen waving all around. Families will get together. Floats will be paraded. We'll feel a sense of patriotism, knowing that we have the privilege and blessing of living in these United States.

Our country is young and continues to experience growing pains. Our leaders argue about things, mostly because they care about how America will look tomorrow, for us, and for future Americans.

We've had many ups and downs, but somehow we've come together and for the most part, have progressed towards that more perfect Union.

The road has been tougher for some than it has been for others.

It was in 1777 when she was first called The United States of America in Article 1 of the Articles of Confederation. In the State of Pennsylvania, in the city of brotherly love, the document was signed by our four fathers, many of them of strong Christian belief. Some ministers.

As a Christian, I'd like to believe that our country was founded on the spiritual beliefs that I hold deeply. Unfortunately, history would show that our most revered leaders did not always practice what they preached.

One hundred years after the passing of the Articles of Confederation, the surrender of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce took place just 40 miles South of the Canadian border. Chief Joseph had been on the run, along with 750 of the Nez Perce tribe. They were fleeing the American government, which with all its power had sent 2,000 soldiers to force the movement of the Nez Perce.

America had broken its treaty with the tribe who were residing in Wallowa Valley, Oregon, and the U.S. government demanded they relocate to a reservation in Idaho. The disagreement sparked a 1,000-mile chase where the Nez Perce became known for their acts of care towards prisoners.

Finally captured on October 5, 1877, a century after the Articles would initiate the founding of a new country - a shining city on a hill - Chief Joseph and his tribe would have to surrender. They were prisoners in the only land they ever knew.

We are a great country, even though we have not been perfect. As we remember the ideas and the values that helped form our union, it is important not to forget how many suffered during this democratic experience.

Chief Joseph's speech of surrender:

Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead. Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are - perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

I pray that one day we all reach true independence, the kind we've been trying to reach for 241 years.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

By Abe Villarreal

I remember spending those long summer days at nana and tata's house, during hot, Arizona weekends in the 1990s. They put us to work, shining the bulky wooden furniture, and meticulously cleaning the complicated crevices of their bigger than life, vintage stereo console.

The thing was huge. With two doors that opened in the middle, the solid wood design was filled with curves and backed by red velvet material. It was a sight to see.

After a day of cleaning, I sensed a headache on the horizon. After complaining to nana, she cut up a potato, stuck one-half on each side of my head and wrapped it with a wet towel.

Lying down and looking up at the ceiling, all I could think of is how strange I must have looked in what was one of nana's many methods to fix life's discomforts. While I can't remember if my headache was gone with this spud of a cure, I do remember feeling comforted by the assurance that she gave me.

Because we have the power to Google anything and solve most things with a fast-acting drug, funny sounding homemade remedies are becoming a lost art. Still, it seems that grandmas had answers for almost anything, and in many cases, they worked.

A couple of days ago, I told a friend to lay out a container with beer on his front porch. He was having an annoying cockroach problem. The next morning, a handful of the drunken insects were lying on their backsides.

The only mistake he made was using his wife's tortilla warmer, a sacred dish in a Mexican-American household.

Speaking of overdrinking, did you know that Vicks VapoRub cures hangovers? It's true. Maybe. Actually, to a Mexican, Vicks VapoRub is a magician's tool. It will eliminate dry skin, chapped lips, achy joints, coughs, sneezes, and colds.

The feeling of a mother's hand as she rubs the cooling rub on your chest is a feeling every child should experience.

I'm not sure science can prove this one, but abuelas have been known to eliminate baby hiccups with a piece of red yarn.

I read somewhere that a penny on a forehead can stop a nosebleed.

Do these funky remedies work? If they do, it's because they are combined with a warm hug, a quiet prayer, and the loving look of an abuela or mom who cares enough for you to try anything to make you feel better.

I like homemade remedies because they teach us that our ancestors were thinkers. With little resources and much more imagination, they found answers when we needed them. Forget the almost instant need to head to an emergency room for the smallest of problems. Our grandmothers showed us that when you can't afford a quick fix, you quickly fix up a solution.

They also showed us their respect to their parents and the parents who came before, who have been passing down traditions for generations.

Next time you have a little one that's feeling blue, before you head out the door to the pharmacy, lay him down and look him in his eyes. Hold him close and then whip out the old Vicks Vaporub.

That time together may be all that he needs.

Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.

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