A couple of major dates – separated by 108 years – are on the horizon for Albuquerque and New Mexico.
One, the founding of the Duke City on April 23, 1706, is the reason for the Fiestas de Albuquerque 2015 on Saturday in Old Town Plaza.
Starting at 11:15 a.m. with the blessing of the plaza, Old Town will be abuzz until 5 p.m. as performers celebrate five historical and cultural eras in Albuquerque history: Native American, Spanish, Mexican, Territorial and “Albuquerque Now!”
The National Institute of Flamenco kicks off activities at noon, and the fiesta ends with a concert by the local singing duo Sorela. Several acts covering the various eras are in between.
A birthday procession, featuring flags bearing the family crests of founding families, will circle the plaza at 3:30 p.m. Merchants will have booths, and there will be plenty of stuff for the kids to do.
Best of all, it’s free to attend.
You might remember that the founding of the city was a badly fumbled attempt by New Mexico Gov. Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdés to kiss up to the viceroy of New Spain, Don Francisco Fernández de la Cueva Enríquez, the 10th Duque de Alburquerque.
They sure had long names in those days.
While Cuervo named the new village after the duke, he dedicated it to San Francisco Xavier, the patron saint of the Indies.
Not only did Cuervo fail to get permission to start a new town, he also failed to follow a decree that any new settlement in New Mexico would be dedicated to San Felipe, the patron saint of Spain’s new king, Felipe V.
Can someone say, “Oops!” ?
In the end, what was done was not undone. But 70 years later, to settle the confusion over patron saints, the community selected San Felipe de Neri.
In the mid-1800s, the community dropped the first letter “r” in the name. Unless you are Bugs Bunny, that should have made it easier to pronounce.
Anyway, ¡Qué viva la fiesta!
As Rubén Sálaz Márquez, a retired teacher and author whose history books include “New Mexico: A Brief Multi-History,” says: “People should be proud of their ancestors and really know as much as they can about them. … History is always with us.”
The second date of historical note coming up is April 30.
That’s the day in 1598 when a convoy of families, priests and soldiers led by New Mexico’s first governor, Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar, paused to celebrate finding a big river – now called the Rio Grande, or, the “big river” – after barely making it through a rough stretch of desert.
These soon-to-be New Mexicans had their first Thanksgiving celebration a full 23 years before those pilgrims at Plymouth sat down for their famous meal.
The New Mexicans’ thanksgiving is believed to have been near what’s now San Elizario, Texas, a border town on the Rio Grande about 15 miles southeast of downtown El Paso. San Elizario plans a two-day celebration on April 24 and 25.
The New Mexican Hispanic Culture Preservation League used to celebrate the 1598 thanksgiving but stopped as its members aged and the group disbanded, says former President Conchita Lucero.
She says of the 1598 crowd, “After walking 1,800 miles, it was quite appropriate that they stop to give thanks. It was not a celebration of anything other than thanking the dear Lord for a safe journey and hoping for a good, positive future.”
The 1598 event featured a meal that included “a great number of fresh fish” presented to the weary travelers by some of the people who lived at the location and who had also showed them the best place to cross the river. Some in Oñate’s party gave them clothing.
Besides the feast, the travelers gave thanks with a Mass and then were treated to “a great drama the noble Captain (Marcos) Farfán had composed.”
In case you’re wondering, I’m quoting from the epic poem “Historia de la Nueva Mexico,” which was written in 1610 by Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá. He was a member of Oñate’s party and wrote a detailed eyewitness account of the group’s travels and early days after they finally settled near Española.
If you’d like to read Villagrá, a very good side-by-side Spanish/English translation by Miguel Encinias, Alfred Rodríguez and Joseph P. Sánchez was published in 1992 by University of New Mexico Press. It’s too bad, but Farfán’s play was lost.
Why does any of this matter?
Well, retired Air Force Gen. Melvyn Montano, a former adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard, says knowing their history can help young people gain a sense of self: “They need to know who they are and where they came from.”
I’ve refrained from calling the New Mexicans’ experience the first Thanksgiving because it can be safely assumed that the many tribes that inhabited this hemisphere for millenniums before the arrival of the Europeans had many celebrations giving thanks for making it through a particular difficulty.
And, besides, Florida says its first Thanksgiving was on Sept. 8, 1565, when Spaniards and Timucua Indians sat down for a feast and celebration at St. Augustine.
Napoleon Bonaparte is often quoted as saying, “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”
But if you don’t know yours, how can you present a case for it?
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor Dan Herrera at 823-3810 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.