I moved back to my home state of New Mexico in 1999 after attending college, establishing a career and marriage. My husband and I chose a location close to downtown because it was diverse in all ways—culturally, economically, historically, and, don’t forget, food-wise.
My personal involvement began at a 2002 town hall meeting led by (then) Mayor Martin Chávez. I was active in my neighborhood association. I listened to small business owners complain that it was hard to get customers to come to the area that was maligned by the media and realtors and marginalized by the city. The Albuquerque Police Department found it difficult to meet the challenges of covering its largest command area, which included the largest city athletics venues—for Isotopes baseball, UNM athletics and the BMX track.
I asked the neighborhood association why we allowed and accepted others labeling us and suggested we come up with our own name that reflected our values and beliefs. I was asked, “Like what?” I reminded them of the positive ideas many of them had expressed about our community—cultural diversity, acceptance of differences, and the feeling that we are more alike than different—and pitched the phrase “International Neighborhood.”
That simple notion planted the seed for me, and over the next six years I promoted the idea at every public meeting I attended—neighborhood associations and coalitions—and to elected officials in the city, county and state Legislature. The first traction came from County Commissioner Deana Archuleta, who grabbed the idea and began an annual event at Hyder Park called “International Day,” filled with international music, dancing, food and civic information booths. Commissioner Hart Stebbins continues that event today.
More attention came when the Talin Market World Food Fare at Louisiana and Central was completed and opened in fulfillment of our 2000 sector plan goals. With Talin’s great success in attracting customers from all over New Mexico, the communities in the area, with leadership from neighborhood associations, like-minded coalitions and nonprofits, began to join together to give a single voice to other important community efforts, such as the closing of Lovelace’s Gibson Hospital, decreasing the crime rate, eliminating gang activity, opposing a proposed new casino at the State Fairgrounds, responding to the governor’s request for ideas on the redevelopment of the fairgrounds/Expo NM, and the winning of a two-and-a-half-year-long zoning case to not grant an exception to a CVS store in the area to sell retail liquor.
As we continued our redevelopment efforts, we gained credibility and partnerships with several key elected officials. Spearheaded by (then) Sen.-elect Tim Keller, the International Neighborhood concept went through a succession of town hall meetings with area residents, business owners and government representatives. The proposed new name was discussed and voted on to be the “International District.” Even logos were presented and voted on for area signage. Lastly, Sen. Keller proposed a memorial for the rebranding. Commissioner Archuleta was first to get the memorial passed by the Bernalillo County Commission. Sen. Keller then got it passed in the New Mexico Legislature, and, finally, Councilor Rey Garduño was able to get it passed within Albuquerque’s City Council. All of the governing bodies passed it unanimously within a total of six months, from late 2008 to 2009.
Since then, the International District continues new redevelopment, housing, community gardens and much more, as we move into the future. We welcome all to New Mexico’s International District of Albuquerque.
Nancy Bearce, La Mesa Community Improvement Association Board member, is past president of the City Council District 6 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations. She also founded and was president of La Mesa Community Land Trust, Inc.