While riding my bike in my neighborhood, I stopped at the Buddhist Temple of NM, on the corner of a busy intersection in what was called The War Zone, now renamed The International District. I felt the pull of this little oasis of beauty and calm in the heart of an American poor inner city neighborhood. Sunlight glistened gold on the ornate facade of the temple.
Just in front of the Buddhist Temple is a patch of golden sunflowers that match the color on the walls of the tire shop across the street. That burst of yellow beckons and I take off down the side street. Here I discover an assortment of trailer homes, little unknown churches, and truckyards.
Beyond the truckyard is an odd fixture of the Albuquerque International District, the huge statue of a lumber jack. A front view of this big guy, reveals that he sits atop one of ABQ’s favorite Vietnamese restaurants, May Cafe. He’s been here since long before this area was named “The International District”.
Though we have residents from many countries, the main flavor of the International District is Southeast Asian and Latin/Hispanic. This main demographic mixes up with Anglos, Africans, African-Americans, New Mexican Hispanics and probably others I’m not even aware of.
Riding down this street a few blocks to the next busy street, I leave behind the flavor of Southeast Asia, to arrive at the Mexican market, El Mesquite. Walking through the doors of this store you’ll find yourself transported to Mexico as you come upon hanging piñatas, aisles of chilis, rows of Mexican canned good favorites and a staff who speak mainly Spanish.
Doubling back, heading south and moving past the more suburban neighborhood feel of the streets close to my house, I cross Louisiana and head into the heart of the International District.
It’s a crisp, clear fall day and even the abandoned shopping cart surrounded by weeds looks good in the sun. People are out walking, a homeless man is pushing his shopping cart, kids play in a trash littered park, and weeds grow up around trees in another park.
But the spirit and desire for beauty and meaning are evident here. One home sports a mural of the Virgin de Guadalupe, reigning Goddess in New Mexico. Another home displays their spirituality with a Christian altar in their garden.
A few streets over there’s another Buddhist temple tucked quietly into the neighborhood. These testaments to the beauty of the human spirit and the cross-cultural need for the sacred stand out like bright jewels of the neighborhood.
I love the irony of this scene – the rundown apartment buildings with the city sign in front, calling for a restoration of beauty. And right next door I’m tested to find the beauty in garbage.
Riding on through the neighborhood I encounter a jumble of sights, both beautiful and ugly.
Let’s not forget the significance of the traffic circle. Differing from traffic circles found at busy intersections to help with the flow of traffic, the International District has numerous traffic circles at the intersection of quiet neighborhood streets. Unlike a simple stop sign, the traffic circle slows down anyone trying to run away from the police. The police do have a very strong presence in this neighborhood.
I ride full circle, ending up at the Buddhist Temple of NM again. Now the monks are out working on the roof so I stop in to say “Hi”. One monk comes over to talk, with a big smile on his face. We chat a bit; I discover they are from Thailand. Then he invited me to go inside and see their altar. The sights and sounds of the neighborhood slip away as I step through the door to see more sacred beauty created on this little corner of a decaying inner city neighborhood.