Las Cruces, my friends, from the bottom of my heart, mil gracias y adiós a todos!

Three years of working at New Mexico State University seemed too short and felt too fast when every day is adorned with beautiful people, enchanted places, memorable events, and blessed with almost always sun-shiny days. Few weeks from now, I will say my goodbyes to this enchanting city of Las Cruces that I have called home for the past years.  Just as I left Brookings, South Dakota few years ago, I will leave Las Cruces, New Mexico with zillions of little bits and pieces of memories that will be kept alive as I venture forward.

In my first couple of months in Las Cruces, I was immediately drawn to the number of Hispanics in the city.  With the State of New Mexico sharing a border with Mexico, I was told that nearly two thirds of the population in the city has Hispanic ties. There were few instances that I was mistaken as Hispanic myself by people I’ve met in the bars, restaurants, coffee shops, shopping centers, and open market venues.  Coming from the Philippines with a family name that sounds Hispanic, I didn’t mind being greeted and spoken to in Spanish — a language that older generation of Filipinos was accustomed to speaking as their lingua franca. These encounters I have had with Hispanics (and now with many of my Hispanic friends) has encouraged me to learn the Spanish language. The fact that the Filipino language already contains many Spanish words, learning Spanish has been plain sailing. Although my conversational skills still remain a challenge up to now, I can say that my Spanish vocabulary has greatly improved since day one.

Much of the appeal of Las Cruces is in its people. I noticed immediately upon arrival that when a friend meets a friend, whether in public or not, they put one arm around each other’s shoulders rather than giving each other a full hug. As I am someone who gives full hugs to friends, I found the ‘half-hugging’ something new. My social greeting of full hugging is a gesture that I’ve been used to doing, not only in South Dakota but also in the Philippines. In fact, in my country, 99% of the time we do more than just the common hug. When I meet a lady friend, for instance, we do this cheek-to-cheek (not lip to cheek) kiss (locally we call it beso-beso) that goes with the hugging. In the Netherlands where I lived for a few years, friends have a common practice of hugging and also doing a right-cheek–left-cheek–right-cheek kisses (yes, three times). So there, getting introduced to ‘half-hugging’ in Las Cruces was a dawn of a new day for me.  Picture this: giving a big hug to a friend I met in Starbucks would have turned perfect were it not for her opting to give me a half-hug instead!  I would remember that awkward experience for a long time.

Las Cruces is a small city that in only less than a year of wandering around as a neophyte, I was able to see everything.

I had visited the Organ Mountains National Monument five times, either to jog or just to enjoy the sunset and the dripping waters at the mountain top.

I even visited the small yet very interesting space museum along Hwy 70. It is called Space Murals Museum.

In terms of science museums, Las Cruces has four Smithsonian-Affiliated museums: the Branigan Cultural Center, the Museum of Art, the Museum of Nature and Science and the Railroad Museum.

At the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, I found gallery exhibits and hundreds of ancient artifacts.

There is a one-of-a-kind museum inside New Mexico State University. The Zuhl Museum contains over 1,800 beautiful specimens of petrified wood, fossils and minerals.

In Las Cruces, the Roadrunner is a popular bird since it is New Mexico’s State Bird. So the city has installed a giant roadrunner monument made from recycled materials that stand along I-10.

Wednesdays and Saturdays were all about the Las Cruces Farmers Market and Crafts. This is a gathering of local farmers selling their produce and artists selling their fine arts.

One of the biggest Arts Faire in New Mexico is the Renaissance Arts Faire. This is usually held in November in Las Cruces.

My love for drinking coffee has brought me to a number of local coffee shops in and around Las Cruces.

The Landscape Gardens may be small. But if you take delights in seeing various plant species, it is a place for you.

Do you wanna see a helicopter hovering above the Vietnam Memorial? Visit the Las Cruces Veterans Memorial Park.

New Mexico State University, in itself, is a place that could pique someone’s curiosity. It is the oldest public institution of higher education in New Mexico.

Outside of Las Cruces, less than an hour drive going east, is the White Sands National Monument. It is a vast glistening white sands in all its natural wonders. Even much closer is the White Sands Missile Range Museum And Park, where you’d see a wide range of missile and rocket displays. Just 1.5 hours of driving going west is the City of Rocks State Park. There you’d see a city of volcanic rock formations that date back to 35 million years ago.

The hardest part in leaving Las Cruces is saying goodbye to meaningful friendships that I made at my workplace, especially those that I have developed within my Filipino community. There are no words to describe the feeling of being home even with the fact that I am away from my real home and family. The Filipino-American community in Las Cruces made me realize that there is room for my talents, which I normally don’t show to the public. They made me sing during small and big events, even made me dance. With them, it was all about having fun. With them, pouring out laughter was part and parcel of every event. With them, there was never a dull moment.

I could not thank my Filipino community enough. But THANK YOU. I could only wish that in the future, I would get the chance to see you all again. Rest assured, I would not change myself. I would still be your Eric — your bunso who never miss to balot a 1-week supply of food every time we have salo-salo (LOL).

I am sad that I have that I have to leave good friends behind. But I am happy that I could bring with me all the sweet memories I have spent with all of you.

Las Cruces, my friends, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!