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To paraphrase Walt Whitman, the controversial Soldiers’ Monument obelisk that stood in the center of Santa Fe Plaza for 152 years loomed large and contained multitudes. A time capsule buried beneath it included local newspapers and Masonic artifacts. A plaque on its base once celebrated the heroes who had fallen in battles with “savage Indians” in the New Mexico Territory. Calls for the monument’s removal based on its offensive language and what the obelisk represented date back at least to the 1950s.
As monuments to Confederate generals, proponents of slavery and Christopher Columbus were removed around the country this summer, Santa Fe spent June to October waiting for Mayor Alan Webber to make good on his call for the removal of the Soldiers’ Monument, which he called “long overdue.”
On Oct. 12, Indigenous Peoples Day, a crowd of protesters toppled the obelisk. But the 33-foot shadow it had cast over issues of conquest and colonization in New Mexico had already inspired Alicia Inez Guzmán, and Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) Story Map Fellows Christian Gering and Diego Medina to begin working on a podcast series dedicated to the swirling narratives surrounding what they call “the elephant on the Plaza.”
The ‘Unsettled’ series is part of SFAI’s monthly podcast series, ‘Tilt.’ ‘Unsettled’ airs in nine episodes through February 2021 on SFAI’s website. Interviews in Part 1, which premiered on Dec. 7, include Alma Castro, whose parents own Café Castro on Cerrillos Road. Darryl Wellington, a Black writer and activist, describes growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, with the giant statue of slavery defender John C. Calhoun, which was removed in June. And Virgil J. Vigil, president of the Union Protectiva de Santa Fe, explains why he views the removal of the obelisk as an erasure of Hispanic culture.
Guzmán, Gering and Medina say that the podcast’s goal is to “unsettle what we think we know about Santa Fe and New Mexico’s past to help envision a more just future.” But, for each, the work is deeply personal. Guzmán weaves in stories about her family, who have lived in Truchas for generations. Gering comes to SFAI as a Native American-Salvadoran multimedia artist from San Felipe Pueblo, and Medina is an Indigenous educator-artist from Las Cruces.
Guzmán says, “In a way, we are the subjects of what we’re writing and talking about.” Medina adds that the trio are concerned with educating not only New Mexicans who were “born here all their lives,” as the local saying goes. They also hope to find listeners who have only recently moved to Santa Fe and are ignorant of its complex historical narratives.
“Aside from the schisms we’re addressing in this podcast to try and reconcile, there’s also a sense of urgency we’re all feeling in understanding New Mexico history and bringing the community together,” Medina says. “New Mexico’s gone through so many waves of settlerism and gentrification and colonization, and I think we’re on the verge of another one.”
On the second episode, a bantering conversation between Guzmán, Gering and Medina leads to the realization that the obelisk itself is not from Santa Fe. From there, the trio explore the titular idea of “You’re Not From Here” with help from Institute of American Indian Arts professor and dean Porter Swentzell, Santa Fe youth poet laureate Artemisio Romero y Carver, and 2018 Story Maps Fellow Heidi Brandow.
“There’s a media narrative that we’re all these monolithic groups and we don’t have separate categorical identities. That’s just not true. It’s far more complicated. There’s no way to tell where identities begin and end. We’re all mixed,” Guzmán says, explaining the podcast’s dive into narratives that the trio feel have been erased from New Mexico history.
Gering adds, “American society benefits from our tricultural myth of Pueblo, Spanish and Euro-American people. I don’t know when that existed. It’s always been more complex than that.”
Episode 3 is dedicated to Oga Po’geh (White Shell Water Place, the Tewa words for the original settlement in Santa Fe) and the importance of Native land acknowledgments. Gering and Medina created a coloring book devoted to Oga Po’geh last spring as part of the Culture Connects Midtown Project. The podcast producers are devoted to folding as many perspectives as possible into the ‘Unsettled’ project, though they note that Mayor Webber has not responded to an interview request.
At the heart of ‘Unsettled’ is “a deep reverence,” Medina says, for the land of New Mexico and the people who populate it. “This podcast is going to be an awakening, I think. It’s going to push people to understand their place in this landscape and how they want to move forward as the best relatives and community members they can be.”
The ‘Unsettled’ podcast airs new episodes every Monday in nine parts at: sfai.org/event/tilt-podcast-5.