SANTA FE, N.M. — The Santa Fe school board on Tuesday voted 4-1 to accept the recommendation of the Superintendents’ Equity and Diversity Council, revising the school district’s policy regarding members of the Santa Fe Fiesta Court visiting public schools in advance of the annual community celebration, which this year will be held from Sept. 1-7.
The action comes a week after it was announced the performance of the Entrada — a reenactment of the resettlement of Santa Fe by the Spanish under Don Diego de Vargas 12 years after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 — would be discontinued this year amid protests that the pageant whitewashed history and is a celebration of the Spanish culture at the expense of Native Americans.
The decision came after more than two hours of public comment. The vast majority of speakers were opposed to the proposal, which Superintendent Veronica Garcia described as a “compromise.”
The only board member voting against the proposal was Rudy Garcia, who once served on the Fiesta Court.
The recommendations by the council, and supported by the superintendent, limits the court’s visits to the fourth, seventh and ninth grades, when students are taught New Mexico history. In past years, the visit by the court included all grades.
Parents may still choose to have the children opt-out of the Fiesta Court’s visit, an opportunity that was first provided to parents last year. Another change is to eliminate allowing members of the Fiesta Court to select students for the roles of little La Reina and Little Don Diego de Vargas, which the superintendent said some principals felt singled out certain students who were friends or relatives of those involved in the Fiesta.
Many of those opposed to the proposal said the school board was breaking a long-standing tradition that has become a part of the Fiesta, which was first celebrated 306 years ago. Some blamed people who were not native to Santa Fe for changing Santa Fe’s traditions.
“This change will change our history, our tradition,” said Jason Lucero, who portrayed de Vargas during the Entrada at the 2013 Fiesta. Before leaving the podium, he pulled out his cellphone and played a recording of the Fiesta song, prompting members of the audience to sign and clap along with the tune.
On the other side of the argument was Elena Ortiz, who helped organize Entrada protests in recent years. While she said she didn’t object to the Fiesta, she said allowing the Fiesta Court in schools normalized de Vargas as a symbol of conquest. She called the Spanish’s return to Santa Fe in 1692 an effort at genocide, which offended many in the audience.
Board members struggled with the decision, two of them citing concerns that Fiesta at its root was a religious event that shouldn’t have a presence in the public schools.