By Jennie Lusk
Robert Blanquera Nelson (he/him) had a good deal to say about politics the day after Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., otherwise known as “Bong Bong,” was elected the Philippines’ president. Unhappy about the results of that election in the land of his birth, Nelson’s thoughts were also focused on local community in New Mexico and its current challenges.
Nelson was born in Manila, where his mother was an activist in the 1970s during martial law, before emigrating to the States in 1983, only a few years before Marcos was unseated by the People Power Revolution. The family settled in Carlsbad, NM after some stops along the way. Nelson grew up in an atmosphere of racism, bullying, and exclusion in Carlsbad, all while trying to live a “normal” American life. His mom pushed him into sports and activities, from golf and tennis to swim team and baseball, to learning how to play the piano and guitar.
When Nelson moved to Albuquerque in 2000 to attend the University of New Mexico, he was ‘adopted’ by notable Pilipina matriarch, the late Dely Alcantara, founder of the New Mexico Asian Family Center, and was introduced to a larger Pilipino community for the first time. Now a board member of the Filipino American Foundation of New Mexico and Co-Chair of the Asian-American Association of New Mexico (AAANM), Nelson addresses the Tri-cultural myth whenever he can, while focusing on the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community in Albuquerque, whose needs for access to housing, health care and other services often differ from other communities in NM. AAANM created the New Mexico Asian Pacific Supplemental Aid Project (NM-ASAP) to distribute funds for buying groceries for families in New Mexico. AAANM continues to work against racial and ethnic hatred throughout New Mexico and build solidarity with community groups.
Nelson often centers his work on racial justice and equity. As chair of Ward 11C, he pushes for more diverse representation within the Democratic Party and for activating voters of color to engage in local politics. He is convinced that moving more people of color and young people into positions of power is key for the transformational change our communities need. He is also convinced that the Democratic Party must do everything within its power to combat racism and dismantle white supremacy at all levels of society.
“White supremacy is at the center of a lot of problems in our country,” Nelson says. “It is more than just what we saw last year at the Capitol on January 6. It is so deeply embedded in our public policy—lack of access to healthcare and housing, economic inequality, zoning codes, policing, community safety, education, even physical infrastructure—that we must move beyond our individual perceptions of racism and toward dismantling systems of oppression.”
One way to address racism is to look how we budget our tax dollars. Nelson wants to see our municipal and state budgets reflect the priorities, not just of the Democratic Party, but the entire community and those most deeply affected by oppression. As a former candidate for Albuquerque City Council and a current philanthropic professional who specializes in bringing investments to New Mexico, Nelson is acutely aware of budgets as moral statements.
“Albuquerque’s City Council just approved a $1.4 billion budget for the upcoming year. Within this new budget is $255 million for the police department, which makes up 31% of the entire budget. Meanwhile, the Department of Family and Community Services, which contracts many nonprofits to deploy critical services for affordable housing, mental health, and substance use prevention, only sees $72 million. And if we dig just a little deeper into the budget, we’ll find that the budgets for the above services total $13.5 million. It doesn’t take a math wizard to see where our city’s priorities really are.”
Nelson’s study of Albuquerque’s budget indicates to him that we’re not moving quickly enough. “Democrats need to be better,” he said. “We talk about our progressive agenda, but we don’t spend money on it.”
With Democratic leaders in so many offices, Nelson is confident we could do more to serve communities of color and engage them more in the decision-making process of our city’s budget development. This could generously fund projects to counteract racism, especially in law enforcement, and alleviate poverty.
“Personally, I think we need to defund and abolish the police completely and reinvest our tax dollars into life-affirming and transformational services and programs, like bolstering our public health infrastructure, increasing affordable housing, developing guaranteed income, increasing social services, and implementing restorative and transformational justice programs. That is one step towards racial justice in our community.”
Nelson’s charge comes from years of working in homeless services and community organizing. He believes that it is a critical issue that Democrats need to push.
“As a Pilipino immigrant, I am acutely aware of how police violence has affected my own community and others. And after having survived the last 2 years of the pandemic, it’s time for a new normal. We cannot go back to the way things were before.”