May 2014

Healthy Children Make Happy, Healthy Communities


Anna Marie García


At the moment the bow of the large Spanish vessel touched the distant shores of the New World, the passengers were ignorant of the impact their immigration would have on the generations to come. Those passengers included my ancestors, hailing from the shores of Seville. Among their many impacts is my own steadfast dream to travel, to experience living with other cultures and to continue to learn every day.”

Noah García, my son, expressing the three key things at the heart of our family’s passion for living


Growing up in a small farming community along the Río Grande under the sacred Black Mesa, I learned from an early age how to love life. We shared in tending an ample vegetable garden and fruit orchard and raised our own meat. My childhood was rich: we ate healthy, good food and played outdoors. My parents shared stories from their childhood, and we were all encouraged to be lifelong learners. It was an idyllic childhood, not unlike those of my neighbors and friends.


I feel fortunate that I was raised in the Española Valley. It is a place with much strength. It is diverse in geography, language, culture and race. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges along the beautiful Río Grande, the Valley contains Indian pueblos, a Sikh community, business entrepreneurs who moved here from other parts of the country, Mexican immigrants, and the Spanish, whose families, like mine, have been here for over 400 years. The Valley is filled with skilled artists, storytellers, writers, poets, vaqueros, musicians, cooks, ranchers and, of course, farmers. The farmers of the Española Valley are well known throughout the state and even the nation. Who hasn’t heard of Chimayó chile? Springtime in the Valley is when the people gather and talk about cleaning the acequias, and preparing the soil to plant our gardens. Ours is a culture rich in spirit, generosity and passion, with deep-rooted family traditions and values.


Challenges come with this rich diversity. Poverty, achievement gaps, negative politics and bad publicity have all made living in the Valley difficult at times. With high heroin use in the area, the Valley has the notoriety of having the highest per-capita rate of drug fatalities in the country.


I chose to work here as an early-childhood specialist. I have seen the changes that have swept across the landscape of the early-childhood-development field over the past 10 to 15 years. Educational accountability and quality, the increasing complexity of families, a quick-moving technology field, and the most recent brain research on achievement gaps motivate me to work in my community. I educate families with children from the most vulnerable age group: birth to age three.


Most of the latest research has focused on the first three years of life, starting in utero. We know that babies are born to learn. We also know that what happens to children early in life has long-lasting influence on how they develop and learn. Many studies have confirmed the fact that nurturing, talking to and playing with your baby are the best ways to help her learn and develop. By enriching our children’s environment with positive interactions, which help build positive relationships with loving people, not electronic screens, we are investing in our children. This is an investment with solid returns.


Brain research confirms the negative impact of “toxic stress” on young children. This type of frequent or continual stress on little ones, who lack adequate protection and support from adults, is strongly associated with increased risk of lifelong health and social problems. By working with families and teaching them the importance of supportive primary caregiving relationships, and by sharing information about growth and development, we help families enjoy their children, thus keeping children healthy and safe. Talking to and reading with your children will help instill a love of lifelong learning. Through education, we can start making a difference in our Valley.

By building on the assets of the people in the Española Valley; by teaching our children to farm; by talking and singing to our kids in English, Spanish or Tewa; by teaching our children the arts and crafts of the Valley; by cooking and baking with our children; by laughing and sharing dichos with them; by dancing together and having fun; and by learning about positive discipline and guidance, we can be successful in raising happy, healthy children who are proud and can do anything they choose to do with their lives.



Anna Marie García lives in La Mesilla, New Mexico, on ancestral land. Her three sons are all in college. García has a B.A. in elementary education/special education and an M.A. in early-childhood special education. She is currently working on her doctorate in early-childhood education. She works for the LANL Foundation, supporting the First Born Home Visiting program throughout the state.





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