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SAT: New display of Mexican art appears on new set of US postal stamps, Republican led counties seek changes in electoral procedure, + More

This image provided by the U.S. Postal Service shows a special series of mariachi stamps designed by artist Rafael Lopez. A first-day-of-issue ceremony was being held Friday, July 15, 2022, during the 30th annual Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque in Albuquerque, N.M. (U.S. Postal Service via AP)
U.S. Postal Service/AP
U.S. Postal Service
This image provided by the U.S. Postal Service shows a special series of mariachi stamps designed by artist Rafael Lopez. A first-day-of-issue ceremony was being held Friday, July 15, 2022, during the 30th annual Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque in Albuquerque, N.M. (U.S. Postal Service via AP)

Mexican art of mariachi takes center stage on US stampsBy Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

There are few corners of the globe where the echoes of mariachi music have yet to reach, filling street corners with the sounds of the blasting trumpets and strumming guitars that form the backbone of Mexico's traditional genre.

Now, all that festive fever is being packed into a tiny U.S. postage stamp.

The U.S. Postal Service on Friday celebrated the release of a new series of stamps honoring mariachi. The first-day-of-issue ceremony was held in New Mexico's largest city as musicians and fans from around the world convened for a weekend of concerts hosted by the 30th annual Mariachi Spectacular de Albuquerque.

The five graphic stamps were the creation of artist Rafael López, who lives and works in both Mexico and San Diego. Each features an individual performer dressed in traditional clothing with their instrument. While the outfits are ornate, the backgrounds are simple and bright, inspired by the palette of another Mexican craft — papel picado, the banners of elaborate paper cutouts that are often put up for parties and other events.

While mystery surrounds the origins of mariachi, López said there's no doubt the beats and rhythms that evolved over centuries in tiny Mexican villages are now known around the globe. There's something special about mariachi's celebratory nature and Latinos are proud to be able to share that with other cultures, López said.

And having it recognized now on the stamps is a bonus, said Robert Palacios, executive director of the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference, which is held every November in the border city.

Palacios, 32, plays the guitarrón and credits the music for keeping him out of trouble when he was in middle school.

"It just turned things around for me," he said. "That's what I wanted to do and now 20 years later I'm the director of the mariachi conference and just working to keep it alive. So it's full circle for me, being a student and now being able to share that passion."

The effect of mariachi can be like magic, Lopez said, leaving people in a festive mood and turning strangers into quick friends. But he can't explain whether it's the beat, the outfits, the singing or everything combined.

"It's a universal thing that mariachi has and it's hard to explain," he said, during an interview from his studio in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

"We all need a little bit of a moment to relax and feel happy once in a while and this music does it," he added. "So I think that's something that makes us Latinos very proud to see something that started in this region of Mexico and all of a sudden it becomes part of the Southwest culture, it becomes part of the United States as well. Before you know it, it's universal, it's international."

López grew up in Mexico City surrounded by mariachi music. He plays the guitar, the violin and the six-string guitarrón that provides the bass line for a mariachi ensemble.

He knows where each band member needs to place their hands to create that special tone. And that's reflected in the images on the postage stamps.

The images also were inspired by movie posters from Mexico's golden era of cinema during the 1940s and '50s and by travel posters put out by the U.S. government in the late 1930s and early '40s.

"I wanted to have that quality of nostalgia," said López, who also created the Latin Music Legend Series Merengue stamp and illustrated a children's book by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "I didn't want it to look modern but rather like something we would remember from when we were kids."

For the next generation, Palacios said he's hopeful this new wave of attention will spur more inspiration.

"This is a big step for our culture, a beautiful step," he said.

Republican-led counties urge election reform in New MexicoAssociated Press

County boards led by Republicans are urging New Mexico legislators to require photo identification at polling locations, approve new procedures for purging voter registration rolls and prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes that aren't supervised directly by people.

The Otero County commission in southern New Mexico on Thursday endorsed a resolution on a 3-0 vote that advocates for changes to the state election code.

Sandoval County commissioners approved a nearly identical resolution in June after an outpouring of public anger over election procedures in the state's June 7 primary.

Residents of both counties have questioned the accuracy of election results and given voice to unfounded conspiracy theories about voting systems that have rippled across the country since former President Donald Trump lost re-election in 2020.

Otero County's three county commissioners initially refused to certify the results of the June 7 primary election while expressing general concerns about vote-counting machines. The board relented on a 2-1 vote under pressure from the state Supreme Court and the attorney general.

Cowboys for Trump cofounder Couy Griffin on Thursday unsuccessfully sought approval of a more aggressive resolution that threatened to refuse certification in the November general election if state lawmakers didn't allow ballots to be counted by hand. Commissioners Gerald Matherly and Vickie Marquardt voted against that approach.

Otero County commission meetings have become a frequent forum for a local review of the 2020 election by David Clements, a lawyer who has gained prominence in conservative circles, as he raises conspiracy theories and false claims about the last presidential election.

The Legislature's next regularly scheduled session starts in January 2023. A variety of election reforms stalled in the Democratic-led legislature earlier this year.

International District organizers say SWAT raids have deep historical rootsBy Austin Fisher, Source NM

For the people of the International District, raids by heavily armed and armored police are nothing new. And abolitionist organizers see today’s police and prisons as an extension of the systems of slavery and colonialism that helped establish the United States.

Every week, federal police roll out of their armory to do “warrant sweeps,” said Selinda Guerrero, an organizer with Millions for Prisoners New Mexico. They “attack people, stalk people in our community, and they follow them around in undercover cars that they stole from our community members, and they target them,” she said.

One such raid on Wednesday July 7 led to a home destroyed in a fire; inside the house was 15-year-old Brett Rosenau. Preliminary reports show Rosenau died from smoke inhalation and Albuquerque police acknowledged the SWAT team may have caused the fire by firing munitions into the home.

Police were going after a Black man Qiaunt Kelley, who allegedly violated his parole in March. On Thursday night, about an hour after the protest ended, police charged Kelley with murder and armed robbery of photographer Leonard Fresquez.

What happened at the house — “the murder of that African boy, the destruction of that African family’s home” — happens all the time in the International District, said Onyesonwu Chatoyer, an organizer with the All African People’s Revolutionary Party.

“APD carries on like they’re in a Bad Boys movie,” Chatoyer said. “They revel in causing destruction and terror in that neighborhood, and most of the time, no one knows. It’s not even on the news.”

There are so many of these raids that since early 2020, hundreds of cases where the Albuquerque Police Department rolled out SWAT or used physical force haven’t yet been reviewed, according to a May report by the court monitor assigned to oversee the department as part of a federal consent decree.

The killing of Rosenau has sparked widespread outrage and national media attention, which Chatoyer said only happened because of organizing on the ground.

“The only reason why Brett’s name is known around the nation is because the people here — the cop watchers, the folks that do mutual aid, the folks that mobilized — made sure that it couldn’t just disappear,” she said.

They were speaking at a rally at the corner of Central and Wyoming in Albuquerque’s International District to grieve for Rosenau and to call for defunding the Albuquerque Police Department.

“We’re taking the street tonight because we’re taking back this neighborhood for the community,” Guerrero said. She said they will keep showing up, copwatching, organizing, doing mutual aid and building solidarity with unsheltered people.

As some organizers gave speeches, others handed out abolitionist political education zines produced by the fronteristxs collective. Groups also represented at the rally included The Red Nation, the Burque Autonomous Brown Berets, and the SouthWest Solidarity Network.

Guerrero said the whole reason the SWAT callout happened “is because Qiaunt was called state property.”

“A warrant was issued by the courts so that cops could blow up a house to collect their property,” Guerrero said.

Indeed, the search warrant for the house states: “In the state of New Mexico, county of Bernalillo there is now being concealed certain property, namely: Qiaunt Kelley …”

Police obtained the search warrant primarily in order to serve the parole warrant for Kelley, which could explain why Kelley is listed as the “property” to be seized.

“They came to collect their property,” Guerrero said. “Slavery still exists. These practices have not ended; they have only evolved, and that’s what this is about.”

After speeches, protesters started marching on Central. Almost immediately, Albuquerque Police Department vehicles got in front of and behind the march.

Organizers handed out food and water, and spoke with a couple of people who disagreed with the march.

Throughout the march, police sat in their vehicles blocking traffic on side streets off Central, and were called fascist pigs by marchers. The march turned around at the intersection of Central and Pennsylvania, and returned to the corner of Central and Wyoming before everyone went home.

Cesar Gonzales, with the Bernalillo County La Raza Unida, said what happened to Rosenau represents a lot of the struggles of many people of color who grew up in similar neighborhoods and “who become ignored, and don’t get listened to.”

“That really hits you hard in your heart, to know that a mother ain’t gonna be able to see her son no more,” Gonzales said. “And he should be here with us. He should be in the streets playing safe. That’s the world that we want to hopefully build for each other.”

Gonzales encouraged attendees to either join an organization or somehow get involved because police and everyone in power expect the community to drop the issue.

Courtney Montoya, with the New Mexico chapter of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, said the only thing she has been able to think about since the SWAT raid and “the burning of a Black child by the police” is the Ku Klux Klan.

“How they burn homes, and they burn churches, and they burn crosses in front of families’ homes, and the structure of racism in our prisons, and in our police forces, is something that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world,” Montoya said.

Once people are captured by police and put in prison, Montoya said, they are subjected to abhorrent labor conditions and paid pennies on the dollar, lack of air conditioning, bad food, and punishment for organizing on the inside.

“It really goes back to the exception clause of the 13th amendment,” Montoya said. “It never got rid of slavery, per se, it excepts slavery for punishment for a crime. So in this moment, folks are being used as a source of labor. So this has to do with deep-rooted racism, colonialism, you can’t escape it, it’s still entrenched.”

It’s so entrenched, she said, that children like Rosenau cannot grow up safely.

“We’re gonna continue our work, because we are a mighty force to be reckoned with,” Guerrero said. “Feds out of our neighborhood. We want them out.”

NM suffers service industry worker shortage, but positions lack pay, protection and benefitsBy Megan Gleason, Source NM

New Mexico is in dire need of more service workers, but the state hasn’t changed the industry’s low pay or minimal benefits that makes the job unsustainable for many. Instead, the Department of Workforce Solutions is focused on finding young adults to fill the roles that are being abandoned in favor of better paying positions.

Only a little more than half of New Mexico’s workforce is active, making its labor force participation rate just 56.9% in May, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is lower than almost all of the other states in the country. New Mexico has been on a gradual decline for the past few decades and is still recovering from the severe drop caused by the pandemic in 2020.

Ricky Serna is acting secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions until Monday, when he becomes the N.M. Transportation Department leader. He said there are a number of reasons for New Mexico’s low labor force percentage rate, including competitive wages elsewhere, ongoing COVID concerns, the ability and preference to work remotely, and limited child care access.

Vince Alvarado, president of New Mexico Federation of Labor, said the labor shortage not just in New Mexico but nationally and stems from states not paying workers enough.

Four key industries — service, teaching, nursing and social work — are facing worker shortages, according to the Legislative Finance Committee’s third quarter performance report card for the state. And though in 2021 the Legislature allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to draw people to the latter three professions, little has been done to boost low service industry wages.

A concentration of accommodation and food service jobs can be both good and bad for labor force rate, according to April’s Labor Market Review from DWS. Jobs in service industries can deter applicants because they offer lower pay and can require less skill and education, according to the review’s author, Rachel Moskowitz, the Economic Research and Analysis bureau chief.

But, she continues, some researchers argue low wages can actually boost the labor force participation rate because “more people in the household are now required to work in order to meet household needs.”

Daryl Wagmen has been working as a server and bartender at Outback Steakhouse on and off since 1999, a supplemental income to his salary as an international English teacher. With this line of thinking, Wagmen said people are forced to work 60-hour work weeks just to survive.

“I don’t think it’s a very strong argument to say, ‘Well, let’s keep their wages low, that way more people are working,’” Wagmen said.

To help with the labor shortage caused by competitive pay offered by other jobs, especially entry-level jobs like those in the service industry, Serna said his department is working on pilot programs to train youth workers “to come into entry-level jobs and essentially fill those positions as a result of that shift.” He said Carlsbad and Roswell have already held some of these programs.

And to avoid forcing people to relocate to metropolitan or central New Mexico to find work, Serna said DWS needs to work with the Economic Development Department to expand job opportunities in rural areas.

“We’re really trying to understand how rural and remote New Mexico communities can grow in their ability to offer good-paying jobs to New Mexicans,” Serna said.

Many people are leaving entry-level jobs for other workforces that are offering higher wages, Serna said.

Almost 75% of workers making minimum wage in the U.S. fell under the service industry category in 2021, most of those being food preparation or serving jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But New Mexico’s $11.50 statewide minimum wage doesn’t equate to a living wage, even for a state with a relatively low cost of living.

A living wage for a single adult with no children living in New Mexico is $16.25, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator. Even two adults without children working in the state would need at least $12.84 an hour, according to MIT.

The federal minimum wage should be at least $20 an hour to keep up with inflation and living costs, Alvarado said.

“Look at the cost of fuel right now. Look at the cost of housing for an apartment right now,” Alvarado said. “15 bucks an hour? What is it – 15 times 40? That’s 600 bucks a week. Can you live on 600 bucks a week? Then you multiply that times 52: that’s $31,000 a year.”

Wagmen said just a server salary would be very hard to depend on solely for a sustainable income, he said. A tipped employee’s minimum wage statewide is $2.80 hourly for those making more than $30 in tips.

“Wages are pretty low right now, and it's really hard to survive,” Wagmen said.

New Mexico had the 19th lowest cost of living in the U.S. in early 2022, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. But Serna said this low cost of living can actually decrease the number of people in the workforce.

“One of the double-edged swords for being an affordable state to live (in) is that it could very well result in two parent households determining that only one needs to work while the other stays home,” Serna said, “and those are real issues that will plague the participation rate.”

The U.S. Bureau of Statistics reported that men and women with children had similar labor force participation rates nationally in 2020. For parents with children under 18, the number of men and women who were employed was nearly even in March 2020. And just 10% more women than men were unemployed when it comes to parents with kids under 18.

But the pandemic heightened gender disparities in the workforce. Women’s jobs make up about 75% of positions lost in the pandemic, and women are still down nearly 400,000 jobs since the pandemic started, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Lack of child care services can prevent people from working, but the state doesn’t require employers to provide those benefits. The state encourages those services, DWS spokesperson Stacy Johnston wrote via email.

“Essentially, we’re serving as a resource for employers by promoting creative strategies that increase worker recruitment and retention,” Johnston wrote.

Other benefits like health insurance and education pay also aren’t provided to a majority of service industry workers. In 2017, less than 40% of service workers were offered any medical care benefits, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Service industry workers are usually at a higher risk for contracting COVID than many others. They’re frontline positions that often can’t be done remotely. The peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs reported that women, people of color and people with low economic status are more likely to hold these positions and “have disproportionately experienced the negative health and economic consequences of COVID-19.”

Wagmen got COVID in early 2022 and said he isn’t sure if it was connected to the outbreaks his restaurant experienced.

“Even when you as a restaurant practice every safety precaution you can, there’s still this possibility of getting sick,” Wagmen said.

Serna said the state is trying to overcome barriers that the pandemic has created in these jobs, pushing for workers to wear masks and get vaccinated. But in a follow-up email communicated via spokesperson Johnston, she said the department supports the state government’s public health actions, including those around masking, testing and getting vaccinated — nearly all of which aren't required anymore.