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Expanding Santa Fe’s story

September 24, 2017 GMT

Fiesta de Santa Fe 2017 is over — the fun, the frivolity and, this year most of all, the Fiesta Friday protests on the Plaza, complete with arrests and lingering bad feeling. Still to come are the court cases against the eight protesters, including a young woman facing felony charges.

To move forward and to look forward to next year’s Fiesta, leaders from across Santa Fe have to deal with what happened. The issues raised during the protests — with activists calling out inaccurate or incomplete historical portrayals — are too significant to let fade away. Besides, if Fiesta organizers, city officials and protesters don’t settle this, next year, there will be more protests, more arrests and, eventually, injured people. We need to deal with Fiesta.

By that, of course, we specifically are discussing the future of the Entrada, the re-enactment of Don Diego de Vargas’ return to Santa Fe. The portrayal of the conquering Spaniard as a man of peace and prayer is what has critics most appalled. To Native people from area pueblos, objective onlookers and others, de Vargas was part of a colonizing force that took back New Mexico by force.

Kicked out during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the survivors of the revolt hightailed it south and lived near El Paso for 13 years. In 1692, de Vargas came to Santa Fe to negotiate a return. After a peaceful meeting with Indian leaders, de Vargas believed he had succeeded. But settlers found resistance in 1693; there was no peaceful reconquest. It took a bloody battle for Santa Fe to be won. Today, descendants of the original European settlers still remember their ancestors’ return, preferring to focus on the peaceful meeting rather than the bloodshed that followed.

Because Fiesta de Santa Fe is put on by a private group — the Santa Fe Fiesta Council — with the further layer of the Caballeros de Vargas members staging the re-enactment, this is complicated. The city has leverage, of course. The Plaza is a public space, even if rented. City money goes to the Fiesta Council to help pay for putting on what is essentially three full days of merriment on the Plaza. The cost of the overwhelming police presence, in and of itself, is a reason for city leaders to demand changes.

Options include moving the Entrada to a private location, whether an auditorium or perhaps in or near the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis de Assisi. Organizers could eliminate the re-enactment, admitting that a historical pageant first introduced to Fiesta by Anglo outsiders has become a distraction. Or, they could keep the Entrada as is, on the Plaza, but add a postscript with the Native narrative — focusing on what happened in 1693. Such an addendum could be spoken, performed in dance or even in silent protest — one local Native man has suggested having 70 people gather, each carrying a cardboard cutout of a body, a noose around the neck, to demonstrate the executions of Pueblo leaders ordered after the second return. Letter writers have suggested having Pueblo people organize a second re-enactment, perhaps presented later on Friday, to show their version of what happened. There are many options.

What is clear is that the status quo must not stand.

The time to make decisions is now, and we urge Mayor Javier Gonzales — as a legacy, perhaps — to bring people together to address this problem. As the mayor, as someone who portrayed Don Diego de Vargas but who also has close ties with pueblos, Gonzales is an obvious choice to help the community resolve this issue. Additionally, the city has clout — it can deny money or a permit if the Fiesta does not change.

As mayor, too, he can help address a broader issue — something he has started by asking City Manager Brian Snyder to review public monuments and plaques in our town. Santa Fe, despite its love of history, does not do a particularly good job of telling its story. Not in museums, but in public places.

In Boston, for example, a city not quite as old as we are (1630 versus 1609 or 1610), the town has the Freedom Trail, which allows pedestrians to walk to the famous sites of American history. Just by following the path embedded in a sidewalk and stopping along the way, it is easy to get an understanding of what momentous events took place on that site. Santa Fe needs to do more of this — our first recommendation would be for the dedication of a plaque showing where the 70 Indian leaders met their deaths and detailing the Recapture of Santa Fe.

We should add context to our history in parks and other public places. Santa Fe boasts statues of de Vargas and Don Pedro de Peralta, but the city needs tributes to Native leaders. Much Indian art graces our public spaces, but the figures often are symbolic rather than historic. Perhaps in Cathedral Park, near Don Diego, there could be a statue of Po’pay, leader of the Pueblo Revolt, as well as a telling of that story. Other notable Native people could be honored — artist Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso or Miguel Trujillo of Isleta Pueblo, who sued in 1948 for the right of American Indians to vote in New Mexico. We’re sure many other people deserve being remembered in our public spaces.

Santa Fe, after all, is a city of many cultures and peoples. There are the original inhabitants of this area, the Spanish who followed and finally, the Americans who traded and won the territory through war (we do have tributes to Kit Carson, plaques at Fort Marcy and on the Plaza to the Santa Fe Trail detailing the Anglo impact). In a city with hundreds of years of history, there always will be more to tell. Improve the presentation of historical events in Fiesta. Share more of that history in public places. Most of all, expand the story by sharing Santa Fe’s rich past — all of it.