Patagonia is an unusual place in many ways, blessed with a rich history and many resources. Our history is shaped by ranching, mining, the railroad and by our proximity to Mexico and the social and cultural values of the Mexican people. We have an abundance of natural resources including the remarkable biodiversity of plants and animals and the scenic landscapes which draw hikers, bikers, hunters, birders, photographers, and scientists, as well as an abundance of valuable minerals deep underground which draw mining companies back to our region.
We also have a quirky town with a nationally recognized library, a health center, a live theater and movie house, an opera house, many effective nonprofit organizations that support various elements of our community and the borderlands region, an underfunded but vibrant public-school system that is an important hub for kids and families. We also have 900 diverse and resourceful people who care about this place.
Patagonia is also pretty similar to other small towns in rural America. There is often a divide in the views of people who have lived in the community for a long time, often multiple generations, and those who have moved to town within the last 20 years or so. In Patagonia, the differences also have cultural, economic and political elements. A significant number of the old timers are of Mexican heritage and most of the newcomers are Anglo. Socioeconomic levels are different too, with average wealth of newcomers being greater than the old timers.
Like a lot of the west, there is a strong libertarian streak in the old timers which is balanced by progressive views common in many of the newcomers. There are a number of examples that highlight this divide. Most recently in Patagonia it is the return of mining exploration. However, that is far from the only issue.
Here are a few principles that can help us all walk the divide and start the conversation:
1. Assume good intentions by all parties. By doing so, people are better able to listen to different points of view
2. Encourage asking questions to get new information rather than to reinforce current thinking. Look for areas of agreement versus areas of difference and build on them.
3. Respect the differences among people. They are a strength in any community. Reflect if you really want to live in a place where everyone looks the same, thinks the same, has the same history and experience.
4. Require civility (aka plain good manners) in all public discussions.
Difficult conversations are not easy but in times like these they are particularly important.