Editor’s note: Rep. Joseph Sanchez (D-Alcalde) spoke at Northern New Mexico College’s graduation ceremony on May 13. His speech is below.
Hello class of 2023, it is an honor to be here with you today, and congratulations to each and every one of you, on your huge accomplishment.
I was a student here at northern over 25 years ago. I even played basketball in this gym; and not on the basketball team. A few friends and I would get together to play when there weren’t classes going on.
I remember taking music appreciation at the auditorium with Cipriano Vigil. I also remember taking chemistry at the lab building located just outside of here, as well as spending countless hours in the Library.
Growing up, my father and mother worked many different jobs to raise eight children. My father was in construction and laid block.
He raised cattle and harvested hay to sell. He sold apples on the side of the road on weekends. Him and my mom bartended at night, and he also performed music to make extra money.
My mother worked cleaning the bar during the day while watching the kids. They always had us helping with these things, whether it was screening sand for concrete, loading the trailer full of hay, picking apples, or branding calves.
I would even help my mom stock the refrigerator with beer when I was a kid.
Eventually my father started the Blue Ventures band, and his kids were the band members. For those of you who haven’t heard of the Blue Ventures, it’s a local band that plays rancheras and New Mexico music. They’ve been around for a while. It was kind of like the movie Selina growing up, we were all drafted into the band.
I graduated from Espanola Valley High School, and upon graduating, I immediately started taking classes here at Northern. At that time, it was a community college, and I eventually had to transfer to the University of New Mexico, where I obtained my bachelors and masters degrees in electrical engineering. Northern gave me the foundation I needed to successfully complete my education.
Growing up I didn’t get out of the Espanola Valley much, but when I moved to Albuquerque to attend UNM, I began to hear the jokes about where I grew up, the Espanola Valley. There used to be a comedy club called Laffs where I’d go to once in a while, and they’d always start off the show with an Espanola joke.
I assume a majority of you here are from this valley or from northern NM, and for those that are not from this area, you’ve probably heard the ridicule the Espanola Valley gets. Like many communities, the drug epidemic and addiction has plagued our families and our communities.
Unfortunately, other towns and the media in our state have defined us because of this.
My entire life, I have been extremely proud to be from the Espanola Valley. I’ve always taken pride in the fact that we’ve had some of the best Spanish music coming out of this valley, the brightest people, as well as artists. You know hands down we have the nicest oldie and low riders. We also have people with the biggest hearts.
At UNM, and from friends that attended New Mexico State, I learned the valley had a reputation for producing a lot of engineers, educators and nurses. At UNM, I was proud to be from Espanola, and proud to be a Norteno.
When I was 28 years old, I became an Engineering Manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory. I had about 15 engineers that worked for me from all over the county. Some of them had their degrees from schools in Boston, some in Texas, and others in California.
The thing I remember looking back to that time, is how much I could hear my own accent when I held team meetings with all these engineers that were originally from other states. To me they didn’t have accents, but I had my very strong norteno accent.
I remember thinking at the time, man this is cool, a moche kid from Alcalde is managing these guys that are from all over the country.
I spent much of my college career, and my entire professional career working to show people that aren’t from here that the gente from our Valley are as just as smart as anyone, and work just as hard as anyone.
I have spent my political career advocating for this valley and northern New Mexico, and making it a point to show that no one is better than, or above us.
My closing message to you is this: Whether you were born in this valley or not, or if you came here to attend school, you are now bonded to this place.
Take the opportunities you are given, to show everyone that this valley can hang with anyone, that graduates from Northern College can hang with anyone. Continue to make us proud and show that the people from northern New Mexico belong.
God bless you all, you have worked hard to get here. Continue to make all of us proud. Thank you.
Joseph Sanchez is an investor of El Rito Media LLC.
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