Guthrie talks about new book, multiculturalism in NM

Guthrie talks about new book, multiculturalism in NM

Aubrey King/Guilfordian

Empires rise and fall, but they never really vanish. The buildings, artifacts and even the societies of the past never quite disappear. In the U.S., New Mexico evidences the longevity of past societies more than any other state.

In the late 1500s, Native New Mexicans found themselves colonized by the Spanish, who were then colonized by Americans centuries later. The members of each community have reacted differently to the colonial history of New Mexico, and in 2002, Sociology and Anthropology Chair and Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Thomas Guthrie made it his mission to understand how.

On the evening of Nov. 11, Guthrie gave a short talk about his new book, “Recognizing Heritage: The Politics of Multiculturalism in New Mexico,” to an eager crowd in Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro.

Published in December 2013 after years of work, Guthrie’s book analyzes multicultural movements such as those that seek to celebrate cultural history and how they can actually hurt the cultures they seek to celebrate.

“Multiculturalism can hurt native cultures by making them so visible,” said Guthrie to the listening guests. “By holding those cultures in the light, it leaves them open to critique while Anglos stand immune to criticism.”

Guthrie went on to argue that instead of perpetuating stereotypes, multicultural communities should let the economics and politics of these cultures dominate the discussion. He continued with a more personal passage from his book before taking questions from the audience.

“The talk really made me question a lot of what you see at museums and other organizations as a tourist,” said Chemistry Department Chair and Associate Professor of Chemistry Gail Webster.

Guthrie’s points hit home with students as well. Some related to the topic in very personal ways.

“My sister and I have spent a lot of our lives in New Mexico,” said first-year Elena Sippel. “Tom’s right when he says New Mexico is like a foreign country that’s inside the U.S.”

The entire talk offered insight to light the fire of the mind, but one comment in particular stood out to many.

“I was most impressed by him saying ‘I don’t have all the answers,’” said Webster. “In science, you never think about how you as a person affect what you observe, but dealing with people is very different.”

Members of the sociology and anthropology department were aware of the promising research long before it came to a conclusion.

“I started to become familiar with Tom’s research from the time we became colleagues in the SOAN Department,” said Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Maria L. Amado.  “Knowing the merits of his work, I was not surprised when I heard it was going to be published as a book.”

Finishing the book was a momentous accomplishment, but even after years of work, Guthrie is more than ready to move into new pastures.

“Last year, I began a new research project,” said Guthrie. “I started out focusing on efforts to revitalize small scale agriculture … but my research took me in a new direction. I’m interested in (a) debate surrounding GMO’s in the northern and southern parts of New Mexico.”

As Guthrie continues with his next foray into New Mexico’s intricate and overlapping cultures, students and faculty can find his book in the Hege Library on Guilford’s campus and speak to him about his research during his office hours in King Hall.