In 1692, Don Diego de Vargas led some 60 Spanish soldiers and more than 100 Indian allies into Santa Fe during what is heralded as a bloodless reconquest of New Mexico territory, 12 years after the Spanish were driven from the area during the Pueblo Revolt.
Along with an arsenal of seven cannons, he brought a wooden Marian figure rescued from a burning church before the Spanish fled. De Vargas prayed to her for a peaceful resettlement of the territory, yet she was called “La Conquistadora.”
And while de Vargas’ prayers were answered and the Spanish successfully reoccupied the territory without bloodshed, the peace didn’t last. In the years that followed, plenty of blood was spilled, often that of the pueblo people.
Each year during Fiesta, the Caballeros de Vargas, a nonprofit Catholic ministry dedicated to preserving Spanish history and culture, re-enacts de Vargas’ arrival in the city with the Entrada pageant on Santa Fe’s Plaza. The man portraying de Vargas lays down his armor and sheds his sword, and meets with the Indian cacique, who welcomes him.
It is meant to represent the coming together of two cultures that make up so much of what New Mexico is today and the promise de Vargas made to the Virgin Mary to honor her each year for granting his prayer. “What we celebrate is that one moment of peace we had with our native brothers and sisters,” said City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, who played the role of de Vargas in 2000.
He noted that the Fiesta Council tries to be inclusive by reaching out to pueblo people each year. And he says Fiesta isn’t a celebration of Spanish ethnicity; it’s really about the Catholic faith. “(Only if) you’ve been intimately involved in the festivities do you really understand the connection Fiesta has with Our Lady,” he says.
“Our Lady of Peace” is the name given to La Conquistadora by Archbishop Robert Sanchez in 1992, the first archbishop to offer an apology to local Native American people for the transgressions inflicted upon them after Europeans arrived in America.
Pope Francis has also issued an apology for the wrongs the church committed against indigenous people and quotes from that speech were included as part of this year’s Fiesta, as well as a poem acknowledging misdeeds that were done.
Still, this year’s Entrada drew a passive protest from about two dozen people objecting that the event fails to tell the native side of the story. “We didn’t want to disrupt anything, we just wanted to provide an alternative voice,” said Jessica Montoya, one of the demonstration organizers.
The demonstrators wore black T-shirts bearing the date “1680,” the year of the Pueblo Revolt, and held signs carrying such messages as “Don Diego came in the dark of night” and “In 1693, Don Diego executed 70 warriors and enslaved hundreds of women and children.” Some demonstrators wore tape over their mouths.
“For many years, we have been silent,” said Montoya, who added that the re-conquest was about “the silencing of one culture.”
Montoya, who is of mixed ethnicity, works for Tewa Women United, an intertribal support group for women. She ran for La Reina, the Fiesta queen, in 2008, an experience she said brought her closer to her faith and helped her to better understand the Native perspective.
“If we’re truly humble, why aren’t we asking for forgiveness?” she asked. “We have to move forward with truth at the front. I think that’s the only way we can clean out the wound.”
In his book “The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Transition,” author Chris Wilson writes about the Fiesta, often referred to as the country’s oldest continuous community celebration.
That in itself is a myth, he said, the evidence suggesting a lapse of more than a century. He knows of no record chronicling the event after the mid-1700s to near the beginning of the 20th century.
The modern Fiesta grew out of a marketing effort by the Museum of New Mexico shortly after Santa Fe became the capital of a new state in 1912.
In an effort to attract tourism, the museum brought back the Fiesta as a three-day event. The first day was a celebration of the pueblo culture and included traditional dances.
The second day was dedicated to the Spanish and included a re-enactment of Entrada, much as is done today. The blend of the three cultures was completed by honoring Anglos, represented by the arrival of U.S. Gen. Stephen Kearney who established the territorial government in Santa Fe in 1846.
That format didn’t last long. The Indian day became a separate event, and the Anglo day was dropped.
“By 1925, the Fiesta went from being three days to just focusing on the Spanish Conquest,” he said.
The portrayal of the Entrada didn’t tell the whole story, he said. “The Fiesta has always been cast as a peaceful re-conquest of New Mexico and Santa Fe but, by the second year, it was not,” Wilson said.
Efforts to reach Fiesta Council President David Ortiz this week were unsuccessful. But in a recent op-ed piece for the Santa Fe New Mexican, Ortiz wrote that it’s the Fiesta Council’s ambition to be inclusive to all people. He noted that, during his installation dinner, the national anthem was sung in the native language for the first time.
Ortiz expressed a willingness to make the Fiesta more inclusive and sensitive to the pueblo people. “The nourishment our Fiesta needs today is a frank, open and honest discussion about our past and a more inclusive Fiesta for our future,” he said.
The Journal did talk to three men who played the part of de Vargas during Fiesta who also happen to be city leaders: city councilors Dominguez and Ron Trujillo, and Mayor Javier Gonzales.
All of them acknowledge the re-conquest wasn’t as peaceful as it’s sometimes made out to be. “Everybody knows bad things happened,” said Trujillo, who portrayed de Vargas in 1994. “Over the years, we’ve been able to get past those things because we’ve had our native people involved. It’s been a collaboration between both cultures that makes Fiestas a success.”
Dominguez said “there’s always been an effort to reach out to our native brothers and sisters.”
Gonzales’ family has been heavily involved in Fiesta for generations. His father and two uncles also played the role of de Vargas, and a few cousins were La Reinas, Fiesta queens.
The mayor, who portrayed de Vargas in 1989, reacted to this year’s Entrada demonstration by calling for a more “truthful” telling of the story during the Entrada. “As proud as I am to participate in this important community tradition, I do believe it’s time that we be truthful about the actual events that occurred during the resettlement,” he posted on social media.
In an interview this week, Gonzales said it’s his hope that Fiesta Council and Calleberos de Vargas view the demonstration as an opportunity to look for times during the year for the indigenous side of the story can be told. That, too, is a big part of the city’s identity, he said.
“I spend a lot of time saying what’s beautiful about Santa Fe is this blend of cultures that has developed over the course of 400 years,” he said. “And what we need to do is broaden that narrative to say ‘for longer than 400 years,’ which started with the indigenous cultures that occupied this territory, raised families, became the first farmers, and through time and through the presence of new cultures, that identity changed.”
Speaking from the heart
Though this year’s demonstration didn’t interrupt the program, it was the second time in three years native people used the Entrada to make a point. During the 2013 Entrada, the man playing the part of pueblo Cacique Domingo went off script, much to the delight of the Native Americans on hand.
That man, James Naranjo, of Santa Clara Pueblo, says he doesn’t remember exactly what he said to the de Vargas character. Those who witnessed the re-enactment said Naranjo chewed out de Vargas for the Spaniards’ indiscretions. “A lot of what I did was from my heart,” he said. “I said what I thought was right.”
Naranjo, now a lieutenant governor at Santa Clara Pueblo, said that, after reading the script he was handed at rehearsal, he threw it away. He remembers one part in which he was supposed to say, “Your religion is our religion.”
“I said, ‘I’m not going to read that,’ ” he said.
Naranjo, who is married to a woman of Spanish descent, said he participated in the re-enactment because he was asked to by friends involved in Fiesta. He didn’t really know what he was getting into, he said, but thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it and taking part in the activities surrounding the event.
His ad lib may not have been appreciated by all, but seemed to be accepted and had no ill effect on the friendships he has with Hispanics.
Naranjo says he is neither for nor against the Fiesta or telling the story of the Entrada. But if they are going to do it, they should tell the whole story, he said. “How do you portray the Entrada when you don’t lay out the truth to begin with?” he asked.
The first American Revolution
The Santa Fe Fiesta ends with a direct reminder of the Pueblo Revolt, and that it wasn’t bloodless, either – a candlelight procession to the Cross of the Martyrs overlooking downtown Santa Fe, which honors 21 Franciscan friars slain during the uprising. (In another possible sign of old wounds, the cross has mysteriously been painted red a few times in recent years, around the time of the Santa Fe Indian Market in August).
For the past 12 years, Jemez Pueblo has held what is billed as “Pueblo Independence Day Celebration” commemorating the Pueblo Revolt.
“It pays tribute to our ancestors for the sacrifices they made to preserve our culture, our language and our way of life,” said Marlon Magdalena, the ranger at Jemez State Monument. “It’s meant to educate people who are unaware of what took place in the past before and after the Pueblo Revolt, and how we can work together today to make a better future by showing respect to cultures and religion.”
David Roberts’ book “The Pueblo Revolt” says no pueblo suffered more from the Spanish conquest than Jemez. The book details executions and mass hangings that took place due to the resistance.
It also covers the attack on Pueblo on the Peñol, on the current Jemez Pueblo reservation, that took place two years after de Vargas’ arrival. “Eighty-one people were killed – eight of them burned alive in their houses – and 360 women and children were taken hostage,” Magdalena said.
The story is told that some Jemez men jumped off a cliff to commit suicide, rather than die at the hands of the Spanish. The image of San Diego appeared to them as they leapt, and the men survived the jump and landed on their feet. It’s not lost on Magdalena that it was a Catholic saint said to have saved the men. Two missions were built at Jemez long before the revolt.
Magdalena said the Pueblo Independence Day Celebration includes a 13-mile run from Walatowa, where most people live today, to the state monument, described as a physical and spiritual re-enactment of the run by two Tesuque boys, Pedro Omtua and Nicholas Catua, made in August 1680 to spread the word among pueblo people that the revolt, orchestrated by Popé, a member of Ohkay Owingeh, was to begin.
Where do we go from here?
While Europeans and, later, the U.S. government pushed most Indian tribes off their traditional lands, in New Mexico, the pueblo people still reside on lands they occupied before the Spanish arrived, and their cultures and religion have survived. The Fiestas and the Entrada shouldn’t be a divisive force, said Mayor Gonzales.
“I’m hoping that the Fiesta Council will reach out to the tribal communities and invite their consultation,” Gonzales said. “I think the tribal communities will respond, and I think they’ll do so in a way that’s constructive and allows for the religious celebration to continue to happen, but looks for unique opportunities along the way to highlight and create more of the narrative of what led to the Pueblo Revolt and why the resettlement happened.”
Naranjo, the Santa Claran who portrayed the Indian leader in the Entrada two years ago, was asked how northern New Mexicans can live as a united community, given the bad blood that has been spilled in past centuries. He responded with some words in his native Tewa language. Asked to translate, he said, “To love and respect one another.”