New Mexico

If you are reading this post, congratulations! You are witnessing a historic event: my first blog post of The Flag Fanatic. If you don’t already know, my goal for this blog is to write about flags. Pretty self-explanatory, I guess. Every other week (give or take a few days), I will post about a flag I find interesting. This includes the design of the flag, its history and my own personal thoughts on its design. If that interests you, please enjoy the site and take a look around! If it doesn’t interest you, I forgive you.

With that out of the way, let us begin with the first flag of my newly-created blog: New Mexico.

Admitted into the Union in 1912 as the nation’s 47th state, New Mexico was originally a territory of Mexico; before that, a part of the Spanish colonies. The area was inhabited by many Puebloan tribes, including the Zia, whom we will get back to in a moment. Shortly after the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, New Mexico became a territory under the control of the United States. It would be officially recognized as a state almost 62 years later.

The Flag of New Mexico

In 1923, the Daughters of the American Revolution held a flag design contest for the young New Mexico. At the time, New Mexico was represented by a different flag. The contest would be won by Dr. Harry Mera, an archeologist (he was actually a local doctor and practiced archeology as a hobby), for his design of the now flag of New Mexico. His inspiration for the design? A pattern he saw on an ancient pot, the ancient sun symbol of the Zia people. 

Onto the flag’s design; the ancient Zia sun symbol, colored red, is centered on a yellow field. The colors of the flag represent the colors of New Spain, paying homage to New Mexico’s history as a Spanish colony. The use of the ancient Zia sun symbol represents New Mexico’s Native American heritage. The design is not complex, containing only straight lines and a single circle. Additionally, only two colors are utilized on the entire flag.

The use of the Zia sun symbol by Dr. Mera would start a dispute that still exists today. Since the flag was adopted by the New Mexico government as the official flag of the state in 1925, the Zia tribe have seen the governmental and private use of the sun symbol, with strong religious meaning to the tribe, as illegal. They claim that historically, the symbol was restricted for use on items that almost never left the tribe; the only way Dr. Mera could have ever obtained such pottery was either it was permitted at one point by the leaders of the tribe to give to someone outside the tribe or if the pottery was stolen, either by Dr. Mera or someone else. Additionally, the Zia people argue that the symbol is being used without permission and its continued use by the New Mexico government and private businesses degrades its sacred meaning. And they do have a point; the symbol is used everywhere. Beyond the flag, you can find the sun on New Mexico license plates, many of its state departments and even on its tourism website.

Putting aside the dispute of the symbol, I feel New Mexico’s flag to be one of the best U.S. state flags. Of course, the competition is pretty weak (literally any state that doesn’t have their seal pasted on a solid-colored field is infinitely better than 80 percent of its peers). The beauty of its design lies in its simplicity. When it comes to flags, or any symbol/seal, my motto is always, “if I can’t sketch it, then its too complicated.” You want a flag that takes 5 seconds or less from seeing it to determine what it represents. And I believe that New Mexico’s flag meets this criteria. Its use of symbolism, while controversial, does well to represent New Mexico’s long history, from the tribes of the Indigenous peoples that have called the land home for hundreds of years, to its time as a U.S. state. Its design and the fascinating history behind it are why I chose the flag of New Mexico as the topic of my first post on this site.

Thanks for reading!


Sources

Nathanson, R. (2005, June 14). New Mexico Flag Hasn’t Always Had a Zia Symbol; Earliest Version Boasted Quartz Crystals. Albuquerque Journal. https://www.abqjournal.com/news/state/361879nm06-14-05.htm

New Mexico Museum of Art. (n.d.). History: People, Places, and Politics: A Multicultural Society. New Mexico Museum of Art. Retrieved January, 2021, from http://online.nmartmuseum.org/nmhistory/people-places-and-politics/history-people-places-and-politics.html

New Mexico Office of the State Historian. (n.d.). Timelines. New Mexico History. Retrieved January, 2021, from https://newmexicohistory.org/timelines/

Turner, S. B. (2012). The Case of the Zia: Looking Beyond Trademark Law to Protect Sacred Symbols. Chi.-Kent J. Intell. Prop, 11(2), 116-121.

NM Stat § 12-3-2 (2013). https://law.justia.com/codes/new-mexico/2013/chapter-12/article-3/section-12-3-2