With a new year about to turn, the new president of Caballeros de Vargas, Thomas Baca, is hoping and praying for the same thing his organization’s namesake did more than 300 years ago – peaceful reconciliation.
“I would like to heal all of this,” he said, referring to community divisions resulting from the annual performance of the Entrada – an annual re-enactment of the Spanish resettlement of Santa Fe led by General Don Diego de Vargas in 1692 held each September during the annual Santa Fe Fiesta.
“I want everybody to be on the same page so we’re not offending anybody and nobody is offending us. It’s not about offending anybody, it’s about peace. That’s what this is about, and that’s what we’re celebrating.”
Baca says the celebration is about that day in 1692 when de Vargas and Native American people agreed to live in peace.
“That day is so important because that’s when the peace began,” he said. Baca acknowledged there was plenty of bloodshed before and after the day commemorated in the Entrada, but, he said, “That’s where it (peace) started, and it has evolved into what it is today.”
But not everyone is on that page. The Entrada performance has been marked by protests each of the past three years. Demonstrators have called for the abolishment of the Entrada, calling it revisionist history and a celebration of the Spanish dominance over indigenous people. Event organizers and the everyday people who play roles in the performance have been called names, including “racists.”
“We have been painted a picture that is inaccurate, and that’s very hurtful and it’s very sad,” Baca said. “I respect the protesters and I respect their point of view, and I wish they would respect us, as well. We are all human beings, and we are all here to live together in peace and harmony.”
Baca personifies that. He recently had his DNA tested and was found to be 46 percent of European descent and 30 percent Native American, and he suspects many people whose families have lived in the area for generations and identify as Hispanic would see similar results.
In addition, his fiancee of 19 years is a registered member of Pojoaque Pueblo, as are their three children.
“I never tell them one (culture or race) is better than the other, because they are not,” he said of his children, ages 17, 15 and 8. “They are blended and they are one, they become one.”
His children participate in both the Fiesta and the Entrada each year. Three years ago, when he portrayed de Vargas in the pageant, his daughter served as cape bearer for La Reina, the Fiesta queen, and also performed with a Native American dance group during the Fiesta, which he said was “such a beautiful thing.”
“So when the protests start coming up, it’s hurtful because my kids, they don’t understand it. They get scared, and it’s really sad and hurtful,” he said.
That’s one reason why Baca wants healing to take place. To that end, he sent letters of the governors of all 19 New Mexico pueblos and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe requesting meetings so that everyone is on the same page about what he says is the true meaning of the Entrada.
“The last thing that us as an organization, the Caballeros, would ever want to do is to be to be hurtful to anybody. We don’t want to offend anybody; that’s not what we’re here for,” he said.
In addition to staging the Entrada each year, Baca says the Caballeros de Vargas provides scholarships to students at St. Michael’s High School and Santo Niño Regional Catholic School, and offers an endowment at Santa Fe Community College. They also prepare gift baskets for needy families during the holidays and participate in rosaries for people who have passed on.
But he says the performance of the Entrada commemorates an important date that shaped the future, and he’s proud to be a part of it.
“Without that day, I don’t think we would have the New Mexico we have today,” he said.