Simon Romero is a national correspondent for The New York Times, covering immigration and other issues. He was Brazil bureau chief from 2011-2017, reporting on Brazil and other parts of South America, including Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and Andean bureau chief from 2006-2011, where he covered issues including President Hugo Chávez’s political movement, Colombia’s long internal war, and indigenous politics in Bolivia. Prior to moderating a Smithsonian/ASU “What It Means to Be American” panel discussion, titled “How Did the American Conquest of the Southwest Shape New Mexico’s Future?” he spoke in the green room about Duran’s Central Pharmacy in Albuquerque, what he loves about Brazil, and the similarities between New Mexico and Hawai‘i.
What is the biggest misconception Americans have about New Mexico?
Oh, that it’s an easy place to understand. I think that because we’re so open to tourism, and it’s such a large part of our economy, that often people think that they can have access to some kind of exotic vision of New Mexico which doesn’t necessarily correspond to reality. Actually it reminds me a lot of Hawai‘i in that sense. It’s a place that people visit that they think they understand, they think they grasp, but when you scratch beneath the surface you see that it’s so much more complex than it might appear. And I think that that’s similar here. We have so many people in the state whose ancestry goes back centuries, and centuries, and centuries, and I don’t think that that’s necessarily appreciated or understood in other parts of the country.
What year, past or future, would you time travel to if you could?
I think 1680 would be a good year, just given the subject matter, what we’re talking about today. That was the year that we had the Great Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico, [when] the various native peoples went up in revolt and expelled the Spanish for more than a decade. I think it was such an incredible time and still barely understood, how it was accomplished, then what happened afterward—the aftermath, and then the reconquest after that. I think it just would have been fascinating to have been alive at that time.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Albuquerque?
Oh, Duran’s Central Pharmacy. By far, that’s my number one favorite. I have several other standbys but Duran’s never disappoints. They have the best red and green chile available, and amazing tortillas, made fresh—flour tortillas, nice and thick. There’s really no place like it.
Where would we find you at 10 a.m. on a typical Saturday?
Recently, at one of my son’s track meets, because he’s been running track, and so every Saturday morning I would take him to compete. That was until recently. If not, we take road trips, largely in New Mexico these days, and visit family up in northern New Mexico, where I grew up. Or we hang around Albuquerque.
What do you miss about Brazil?
Oh, the people. I just spent so much time there and my wife is Brazilian, so I have family, and so many dear friends. I don’t miss the politics right now. But of course just the people—and the weather during winter here, when it’s summer there, and I see that temperatures in Rio are approaching 100 degrees, and everyone’s at the beach and it’s beautiful. And the Amazon. I miss the Amazon. I miss traveling there and being on assignment there. I spent a lot of time there.
What’s your favorite place to go to in New Mexico?
My favorite place to go in New Mexico are the Salinas ruins, at the Salinas Monument. They’re a network of missions that were established by the Spanish. One is Quarai, and the other is Gran Quivera, and the other is Abó. And they’re in central New Mexico, and they were all built of stone, so they have this enduring quality to them that is really captivating, I find. They’ve been abandoned for some time, but they still somehow persist. My family lived in that area for generations and generations, so it’s a special place for me.
What recent story are you most proud to have reported?
I think the story I did about lynchings of people of Hispanic descent, Mexican descent, in the American West was something that I was really happy to write and publish. It’s kind of this example of hidden history. These atrocities took place across the West—here in New Mexico, but especially in Texas and in California—and were just on a scale that was really astounding to me when I started researching the story. It was one of those stories where people now living in the places where these lynchings took place were often unaware of what had happened. You know, people were lynched on the plaza right in Albuquerque, or in downtown Las Vegas, New Mexico, you know, where I grew up. I think it’s a shame that we don’t study those episodes as closely as we should, and so it was an important story to get out there.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
My favorite read in the past year was The Shining Path, a narrative history of the Maoist insurgency in Peru. It's a collaboration between Orin Starn, an anthropologist at Duke University, and Miguel La Serna, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The book explores the origins of the Shining Path and how three people—Abimael Guzmán, Augusta La Torre, and Elena Iparraguirre—engineered the rebellion that continues to haunt Peru. It reminded me of the time I spent in Peru, tracking down remnants of the Shining Path that persist in parts of the country.
If you didn’t live in New Mexico, where would you want to be?
Some place in Latin America. I mean, I love Brazil. It’s kind of like a second home for me, so it would be the easiest to go to. I would happily live in Brazil.