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Changes in store for Española Fiesta, Oñate commemoration?

SANTA FE – Some Española city councilors are worried action taken by the mayor and City Council this week could be the beginning of the end for the Española Fiesta as it has been known for decades, while others say that’s an overreaction to an effort to make the annual celebration more inclusive.

The debate has brought up issues similar to those that have arisen in Santa Fe over its Fiesta and the Entrada, a reenactment of the Spanish resettlement of northern New Mexico led by Don Diego de Vargas in 1692 that has been met with protests by Native American activists the past few years.

On Tuesday, newly elected Española Mayor Javier Sanchez nominated five people to serve on the 2018 Fiesta del Valle Española executive council. The City Council approved the list on a 5-3 vote.

None of the people the mayor nominated had served on the Fiesta executive council before. Also, two city councilors who have been involved with Fiesta in the past were not chosen by the mayor to be city liaisons to the Fiesta Council.

One of them, Councilor John Ramon Vigil, reacted the next day on Facebook. “History & culture can’t be compromised to please everyone’s 21st century feelings,” he wrote in a message posted on his Facebook page. “The Fiesta Council, as we know it, was dismantled. Next they will take away our faith because it’s offensive.”

In an interview Friday, Vigil said he sees the reorganization as an effort to drastically change the celebration that has been held since 1933 and make it more “politically correct.” Española’s Fiesta includes its own version of the Entrada, commemorating the arrival in 1589 of Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate.

“They want to make it an event that does away with the traditions of the past, removing a lot of the Fiesta pageantry,” he said. “It seems that five city councilors and the mayor have taken issue with it and want to redact that history and tradition.”

That’s not the case at all, said Councilor Dennis Tim Salazar, who voted with majority. “It’s just a brand new executive committee,” he said, adding that one of the committee members portrayed Oñate at last year’s event. “I think the current governing body wants to make this more of an event for the broader community — one big celebration of all of us.”

Protesters who’ve showed up at the Santa Fe Entrada past few years say the reenactment is revisionist history a celebration of one culture’s dominance over another, and something that shouldn’t be held on public property. Organizers say the event is meant to celebrate the blending of the Native American and Spanish cultures.

Española Mayor Sanchez was out of town Friday but he provided a statement. “This is about creation not dismantling — we plan to focus on celebrations that place faith, food & family before a story of dominance,” he said. “Our council will establish and cultivate ongoing public forums and convening that will foster understanding and those dialogues will be regionalized at the very spaces and places where historic trauma has left its residue”

Oñate is a controversial figure in part because in 1598, he ordered the right feet of Acoma Pueblo men cut off following a clash with Spanish soldiers.

The Española Fiesta is held each year on the second weekend of July.

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