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Caballeros explain decision to end Entrada re-enactment

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Caballeros de Vargas, the organization that has staged Santa Fe’s annual Entrada pageant, has finally spoken out on the decision to end the controversial re-enactment and is promising a new event with a focus on a locally revered image of the Virgin Mary.

“We hope that the retirement of the Entrada will allow for the healing of our brothers and sisters and lead to further unification of all cultures,” the Caballeros said in a statement.

“We’ve always wanted to focus on the true meaning of Fiesta, which is Our Lady,” said Caballeros President Thomas Baca-Gutierrez. “(We’re) trying to continue to do that and keep it more focused on her.”

“I think it’s going to be a very beautiful thing,” he said.

A nearly yearlong negotiation over the Entrada – a re-enactment of the Spanish reoccupation of Santa Fe, led by Don Diego de Vargas 12 years after the 1680 Pueblo revolt – resulted in an announcement last week that the pageant would not take place again.

Native American protests of the Entrada as a whitewashed celebration of violent conquest had grown in size and force over the past three years. Eight protesters were arrested at last September’s event amid a heavy police presence.

City officials, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and local pueblo leaders were part of the private negotiations about the event’s future.

Leaders of the Caballeros and the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe, which the Entrada has been part of for more than a century, hadn’t commented on the demise of the re-enactment until Tuesday. They previously defended the Entrada as the commemoration of a moment of peace between the Spanish and the pueblo people and of the roots of northern New Mexico’s diverse cultures.

The Caballeros statement Tuesday said: “The decision to retire the Entrada celebration came with a lot of friendly and continual dialogue, but ultimately it was determined to retire it for the sake that all cultures be united, in honor of the peace that was achieved through Our Lady of Peace, La Conquistadora, the conqueror of hearts on that September day in 1692.”

De Vargas credited La Conquistadora with his success after his soldiers re-occupied Santa Fe and returned the 29-inch carved wooden statue to Santa Fe.

The statue was first brought to New Mexico in 1625 and is considered the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the United States. It is installed in a side chapel at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis a block off Santa Fe Plaza and has always played a key role in the Entrada pageant.

Conquistadora, in Spanish, is the feminine version of conquistador, or conqueror. In 1992, then-Archbishop Robert Sanchez gave the statue the new name, Our Lady of Peace. Both names have been used since then.

Elena Ortiz, a prominent Entrada protest leader and a member of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, said a celebration of a Catholic icon like the Virgin Mary would not be an issue as long as it’s not associated with the glorification of colonization or reconquest. She said the statue should no longer be called La Conquistadora.

“Anyone with first-year Spanish knows that doesn’t translate to Our Lady of Peace,” she said

She added that if any new event holds de Vargas in high esteem, it would not be accepted by those who’ve protested the Entrada.

The Caballeros acknowledged in Tuesday’s statement that “in 1693 and for some years after, hostility and resentment between the Native and Spanish cultures” followed the Spanish re-occupation.

“However, since the late 1690s there has been reconciliation with our Native brothers and sisters,” the news release goes on to say. “We commemorate the distinct day where peace began and what the Fiesta has evolved into today.”

Fiesta Council President Melissa Mascarenas said she would sign a resolution that makes the Entrada a thing of the past.

“We have deviated from the original intent of honoring Nuestra Senora de la Paz,” she said. “We regret the suffering, trauma and pain the Pueblo people endured.”

Baca-Gutierrez said he expects both positive and negative reaction to ending the Entrada. He said one of the main concerns was community safety.

“It was never intended to be offensive to anybody,” he said. “But since it’s coming to this point, misunderstanding by others have gotten us to this point, we have to make a change.”

Specifics of the replacement event haven’t been worked out and it’s unknown if it will feature actors playing de Vargas or others or include the Fiesta Court, which is led by a man playing de Vargas and a woman as Fiesta reina, or queen.

Baca-Gutierrez said Fiesta is not dropping the court or the de Vargas character.

Support for change

There was an outpouring of support from church and city leaders Tuesday for the Caballeros’ agreement to leave the Entrada behind.

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber called the Caballeros’ decision “courageous and historic.”

“Here in Santa Fe we are choosing peace, reconciliation, respect, and unity,” he said. “To make that choice takes vision, leadership, and courage – and for that I salute the Caballeros and the others who have come together to make today’s announcement possible.”

Archbishop John Wester said, “We pray this historic step will allow for healing, and lead to further solidarity with our brothers and sisters of all cultures.”

Six Santa Fe city councilors also issued supportive statements.

Councilor Mike Harris said, “Ours is a city of contradictions, and conflicting perspectives often sow divisions that can result in friction. We have seen that during the annual Entrada, and anything we can do to acknowledge and deal with these contradictions openly and respectfully will accrue to the city’s benefit.”

Former mayors Javier Gonzales and David Coss said in a joint statement, “We hope all residents will recognize this courageous act and support the Caballeros in their mission of peace and reconciliation.”

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