“Viva la Fiesta!”
Yes, it’s that time of year. Shouts celebrating Santa Fe Fiesta will be heard amid cries to “Burn him!” during tonight’s Burning of Zozobra, which marks the start of the 10-day Fiesta authorized by proclamation of the villa’s first City Council more than 300 years ago.
But it’s also the time of year when shouts of “Abolish the Entrada” will be heard on the city’s downtown Plaza.
The Entrada, which, according to the Fiesta’s website, is “an accurate account” of Spanish Gen. Don Diego de Vargas’ “peaceful resettlement” of the city in 1692, is performed each year as part of the festivities on the Plaza in front of the Palace of the Governors. The re-enactment this year will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 8.
First incorporated as part of the Fiesta tradition a century ago, the Entrada has periodically been interrupted by Native American protesters, more frequently since the Civil Rights and American Indian movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Protesters plan to return to demonstrate for the third straight year.
“And we’ll keep on coming back until this is changed,” said Elena Ortiz, who represents Spirit of Po’Pay, one of the groups organizing the demonstration. “They need to take it out of a public space, and it should be called what it is, which is theater. It’s not appropriate for public consumption.”
Albuquerque-based Red Nation is also organizing Entrada protests again this year. Utility poles around downtown Santa Fe were plastered with the group’s “Call to Action” posters during Indian Market two weeks ago, calling for protesters to gather in Cathedral Park before the Entrada.
Ortiz is an enrolled member of Ohkay Owingeh, the same tribe that produced Po’Pay, who organized and led the Pueblo Revolt. She is also the daughter of Alfonso Ortiz, who, prior to his death in 1997, taught anthropology at the University of New Mexico and was a Native American activist.
“So it’s in my blood,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz says Entrada is historically inaccurate and a celebration of Spain’s subjugation of indigenous people, and she objects to taxpayer money being spent supporting the Fiesta.
The Entrada is staged by Los Caballeros de Vargas, a nonprofit Catholic ministry that, according to its website, is “dedicated to preserving the rich Spanish History, Culture and Faith” of Santa Fe. The city provides $50,000 in funding for the Fiesta, and absorbs additional costs for police and emergency personnel.
‘History is history’
Fiesta Council President Dean Milligan says Entrada protesters are still missing the point.
It’s not about one race of people conquering another, he said, it’s a celebration of two cultures agreeing to peacefully live together.
“It’s about the time in history when de Vargas came in and peacefully settled the city of Santa Fe,” he said. “It’s a part of the history because of the promise made, and promise kept, to Our Lady, and the proclamation of 1712. That’s the purpose and that’s what Santa Fe Fiesta does.”
De Vargas promised the Virgin Mary, represented by a statue known now as La Conquistadora or Nuestra Senora de la Paz (Our Lady of Peace), that if she would assist him in resettling the city, an annual celebration of thanksgiving would be held in appreciation.
The same Marian figure de Vargas prayed to, first brought to Santa Fe in 1625 and permanently enshrined at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, is used today during the Entrada.
While no blood was shed when Vargas led a troupe of mostly soldiers and Indian allies into the city in 1692, the general employed intimidation tactics and threats to retake the city, at one point cutting off the water supply. And when he returned a year later with scores of families intending to resettle in and around the city, plenty of blood was spilled as the Pueblo people resisted.
Vargas’ promise to La Conquistadora wasn’t fulfilled until 20 years later, when the city’s leaders formalized a proclamation calling for a celebration with “Vespers, Mass, sermon, and procession through the Main Plaza.” That ancient proclamation does state that the Fiesta is meant to recall “how this Villa had been conquered” and “in honor of the Salutary rood (crucifix) of Our Redemption.”
Milligan defends the inclusion of the Entrada as part of the Fiesta by saying that indigenous people are included in the planning and performance. Native people have served on the Fiesta Council, he notes, and, during the Entrada performance, a native person plays the role of the cacique who “welcomes” Vargas back into the city. The script is modified from year to year, with the actor playing the cacique having a say, in an effort to balance the presentation.
“I personally, as president of the Fiesta Council, just wish they would listen to the script and try to understand what it’s all about,” Milligan said of the protesters. “Yes, horrible things went on with the Indian revolt, we all know that,” he said. “And there were horrible things that happened after that, when de Vargas returned 12 years later. But history is history, and we can’t change that.”
‘Reminders of past pain’
It’s not just the Entrada that protesters want abolished. Spirit of Po’Pay and Red Nation are calling for the removal of statues honoring Spanish territorial governors, and for the long-standing practice of allowing the Santa Fe Fiesta Court to visit public schools – the visits are mostly music and dancing – to be stopped.
Having experienced it herself growing up in Santa Fe, and as a mother whose children attended the city’s public schools, Ortiz says she knows first-hand the “trauma” Native American students are subjected to when they are forced to attend a school event that she says honors those who attempted to erase the religion of the Native people, forced their culture upon them and slaughtered their ancestors.
On Tuesday, Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia sent a memo to staff announcing the Fiesta Court’s visitation schedule at the schools again this year. But she also said students can opt out.
“While it is important to recognize the contributions of all people in the shaping of New Mexico’s history and culture, we must also be sensitive to the impact of historical events in our State,” she wrote. “Therefore, I am asking educators to take a balanced approach when addressing this subject in an unbiased manner. “Schools must provide alternative activities for students who have opted out at the time of the Fiesta Court visits,” Garcia wrote. She provided a list of suggested resources to help balance the instruction.
Ortiz said the superintendent’s directive doesn’t go far enough.
“We’re not going to settle for inclusiveness,” she said. “Having the Native American narrative included is fine, but when there’s still a dominant narrative that’s allowed, that needs to be removed.”
This year’s Entrada also takes place amid a national debate over removal of monuments for political reasons, with Confederate statuary having been taken down in many cities.
In Santa Fe, Mayor Javier Gonzales has called for a review of Santa Fe’s monuments (none are Confederate) “to address Santa Fe’s own complicated history with race and memory head on.”
The city has a statue of de Vargas in Cathedral Park, where the Red Nation protesters will gather next week. An equestrian statue of city founder Pedro de Peralta stands next to the federal courthouse, an obelisk of Indian fighter Kit Carson nearby. The Plaza’s centerpiece obelisk honors “heroes” of the Indian Wars, although the adjective “savage” before Indians was chiseled out by a vandal artisan in 1973 and never repaired.
Ortiz says the monument and statues serve to solidify the dominant culture.
“These statues are reminders of the past pain and genocide of indigenous people,” Ortiz says.
Gonzales also wants to review city financial and logistical support for “all events and organizations recognizing historic events,” which would include any Fiesta/Entrada related costs.
‘We’re there to speak the truth’
It’s unclear if the Entrada script is being changed at all this year amid the renewed focus on the issues it raises. Joe Mier, president of Los Caballeros de Vargas, did not return phone messages from the Journal this week.
In an interview last year, Mier insisted the event wasn’t to be interpreted as a celebration of the reconquest. “It’s a religious celebration. That should be the main focus,” he said.
If that’s so, Ortiz says, it shouldn’t be celebrated in a public space and with the support of city funds. She says the Anti-Establishment clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another, and the city is in violation.
And for a city that embraces its culture and diversity, “it’s not something that should be celebrated in Santa Fe,” she said.
At an anti-racism rally on the Plaza in mid-August – after the death of a counterprotester at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. – Gonzales “talked about Santa Fe being accepting of diversity, yet we have this one pageant every year that celebrates the reconquest,” Ortiz said.
“It just illustrates that Native people are accepted as long as we’re in our place, selling jewelry outside the Palace of the Governors. But our narratives are not OK.”
Ortiz says the Entrada protests are intended to be peaceful. “We’re not there to incite violence. We’re there to speak the truth,” she said.
Just as the Fiesta Council says the celebration is held to fulfill a promise and through a proclamation of the first City Council, Ortiz feels protesters have their own mandate to follow.
“We all collectively, particularly the Tewa-speaking people in the northern pueblos, feel we were given a mandate in 1680,” she said. “This is our land, and we have to take care of it and do everything we can to pass it down to our children. It’s a legacy and a mandate, and we have to honor both.”