Photos and text by Adam Ferguson
Gallup hospitals are almost full. Most stores are empty. The unemployment rate in the province where the city is located is one and a half times higher than the national average. Earlier this month, the New York Times database showed the highest number of cases per capita of any metropolitan area in the United States.
As the pandemic has gradually spread across the country in recent months, places like Gallup are among those most affected.
The Lions Club Rodeo is held annually in June in Red Rock Park. It was cancelled this year.
According to census data, almost half of the inhabitants of Gallup are Indians, living between the Navajo Nation in the north and the Zuni Nation in the south.
Amerindian communities are particularly vulnerable to the virus, which once accounted for almost 40 percent of all cases in New Mexico, although these communities represent less than one-tenth of the state’s population. And those spared so far by the virus are still recovering from the consequences of the economic downturn.
Eric-Paul Riege, a 26-year-old artist, is the son of a veteran innkeeper and innkeeper and a Navajo mother who taught him the art of weaving. His work can be seen in galleries and collections throughout the country. But the paid projects have almost dried up this year.
The art of Eric-Paul Riege can be seen in galleries and collections throughout the country. But the paying projects dried up, so he worked in shifts in a local restaurant.
When I met Mr. Riege, he was working shifts at a restaurant called Grandpa’s Grill, taking pickup orders.
Route 66 runs through Gallup. The town relies on tourism to stimulate its economy and relies on visitors to local galleries and trading posts selling Indian arts and crafts. But the limitations of activities in the region have made this difficult.
In May, when an extreme wave of viral diseases swept through the region, the city was quarantined. State police and National Guard troops barricaded the road exits to prevent non-Gallu people from entering the city, except in emergencies.
A residential street in Gallup.
Last month, long after the barricades collapsed, the trading posts were open but closed for indoor shopping, limiting the chances of a passer-by stopping and sniffing around.
Perry Null, in his business, Perry Null Trading. She estimates that her activity has decreased by 40% this year.
The famous El Rancho Hotel, where John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn and other Hollywood stars stayed, was packed.
In accordance with the restrictions of New Mexico, Hotel El Rancho does not allow eating indoors.
Gallup is in many ways a remnant of the land conquered by the Indians and of American expansion. For example, many trading posts are owned and operated by whites. These small shops are shaded by McDonald’s, Walmart and other large American franchises, where cars and people now often leave the parking lots.
The customers are waiting to walk into the Walmart just before Thanksgiving. According to local authorities, small businesses often have to work with stricter virus rules than large stores.
Bill Lee, head of the Gallup Chamber of Commerce, said the economic gap is widening due to restrictions imposed by local and state officials. Smaller shops often have to work with stricter rules, including those that prevent purchases in the shop, while large shops, especially those considered necessary, can work with fewer restrictions. The governor chose winners and losers, Mr. Lee told me.
26. December 2020, 18:29 ET
When the barricades were erected early in the year, Walmart was inundated with customers holding stocks for a week, largely because grocery stores in Native American territory are scarce. But the barricades also prevented members of Indian groups from coming to town to shop.
Aboriginal groups in the region have long suffered from a lack of information and resources.
Even before the pandemic, India’s health service, a government programme providing health care to the country’s 2.2 million indigenous people, was facing serious financing and delivery problems, as well as a shortage of doctors and aging services.
The virus has made those weaknesses much clearer.
In the midst of the devastation of the pandemic, some people were lucky. Dan Bonaguidi, the mayor’s son, who owns the Rock and Recycling Loan Mix with his wife Michele, is one of them. His business is booming because government subsidies in response to the pandemic have led to an increased demand for building materials for home repairs and projects such as the construction of new medical facilities or the expansion of existing ones.
But even with the points of light, there are still many stories of empty or closed businesses – big and small.
Following the oil and gas boom in New Mexico and Texas in recent years, the pandemic has reduced demand and oil prices. In August, Marathon Petroleum announced its intention to cease activities in the region and lay off more than 200 workers, or about 1% of the city’s population.
The Marathon Petroleum Corporation refinery in Jamestown, near Gallup. When the demand for fuel decreased during the pandemic, Marathon stopped and more than 200 workers were laid off.
Companies such as Marathon are vital to Gallup’s economy and job losses have increased the unemployment rate in the region to 10.6% in October. Raul Sanchez is one of the workers who lost his job.
Raul Sanchez lost his job at the Marathon refinery. No other job in this town pays that well, he says.
Two days before Thanksgiving, when I drove past his house on the hill overlooking the west side of town, Mr. Sanchez drove his red van. He’s been at Marathon for 10 years. No other job in this town pays that well, says Sanchez, 39.
This is going to affect us, Mayor Louis Bonagidi said earlier this year about the closure of the Marathon factory. This will certainly have consequences for the housing market. But it will also have an impact on the whole company.
When I crossed Gallup on Thanksgiving Eve, the last few minutes of sunshine lit up the Atlantic and Pacific railways. Despite the hardships of the city, I felt proud of the community as I walked through the city.
Rail lines to Gallup.
But the feeling of vulnerability was just as obvious. Even before the start of the pandemic, more than a quarter of the city’s inhabitants were living in poverty, a number that has risen sharply this year.
Gallup PD checked the homeless.
Shortly after a visit to the Rehoboth Medical Center I saw a group of Navajo lower a bronze coffin into a grave at a cemetery 50 miles north of Gallup. It wasn’t the only virus-related funeral scheduled this week.
Produced by Rene Melides