Fiesta changes need to start now

April 14, 2018 GMT

In just a few weeks, the men and women who want to be key players in the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe will participate in contests to choose the 2018 Don Diego de Vargas and La Reina.

This kicks off what always is a busy Fiesta season, with much of the work away from crowds — the key commemorations in Fiesta, after all, take place during the summer in processions and Masses, not before hundreds on the Santa Fe Plaza. Then there are trips to area churches, other fiestas in the region and in the fall, school visits, the burning of Zozobra and finally, Fiesta de Santa Fe proper in September.

Fiesta de Santa Fe, as all locals and many visitors know, is the remembrance of a promise made by original Spanish settlers to their patron, the Virgin Mary, in her form of the small statue brought to the frontier by settlers, rescued during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and eventually returned in triumph.

Our Lady of Peace, as she is known today, resides in comfort at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. As the story goes, the Spanish conquistador de Vargas prayed to her, asking for her intercession to help the settlers return after the Pueblo Indians kicked them out. In return, the settlers promised to remember her each year — as they have, in some form or another, since the original Fiesta proclamation was issued in 1712.

Today, that commemoration is growing ever more controversial. The return of the Spanish, after all, was a loss for the original inhabitants of the area. The Natives, then, do not celebrate Fiesta — and why should they? Today, as people grow more aware of the inequities of the past, our community has struggled with how to balance the pride of one people for their survival with the understandable grief of another. As My View author and Ohkay Owingeh tribal member Elena Ortiz pointed out last week (“Another year, another Entrada? April 8) time is running out to resolve the issue.

Exacerbating the conflict is the story that accompanies this Fiesta every year, the solemn declaration that participants are celebrating a “peaceful” reconquest, a tale told during the annual re-enactment of Don Diego’s return, or the Entrada. It occurs on the Friday of Fiesta (the opening ceremony is the celebration of a solemn Mass at Rosario Chapel) and has been the scene of increasingly loud protests for the past few years. In 2017, eight people were arrested (all charges were dropped) and tension — not the frivolity of a fiesta — ruled the afternoon. This must not be allowed to happen again.

The Native protesters have been joined in their concerns by area Pueblos, the archbishop of Santa Fe and other community leaders, with discussions taking place to discuss a different Fiesta. Too many of those talks, however, have excluded the Caballeros de Vargas, the group that puts on the Entrada pageant, as well as the Fiesta Council members themselves. To find a solution needs all parties involved, and time is running out.

We agree with protesters that a false historical narrative (yes, there was a moment of peace and shared chocolate, but it was brief) serves no one. The return of the Spanish, as is true in any conquest, brought bloodshed and loss to the people here. Those feelings of displacement exist today and cannot be brushed aside. Yet, out of that conflict, a unique New Mexico was born — and today, and for more than 300 years, this region has shown the world how different groups can learn to live and let live.

Now, before the next Fiesta opens on the Plaza in September of 2018, before more protesters take to the streets, before anyone is injured, the City of Santa Fe — which leases the Plaza to the Fiesta Council — needs to step up discussions and solve this problem.

The Entrada, as currently presented, does not belong in our shared public space. If Fiesta organizers are so enraptured with the historical pageant (created by Anglo boosters decades ago to add life to the religious aspect of Fiesta) then hold it in a theater or on other private grounds. The city does not have to issue a permit for the performance, after all. Organizers could create a more accurate pageant or drop it entirely, replacing it with historical pageants or discussions. What needs to change, however, is the status quo — a year without protests at Fiesta could be the goal, as well as a more inclusive event.

Keep the Plaza during Fiesta for those celebrations that include the entire community. The Fiesta has the potential to showcase what unites us — let’s make that everyone’s goal going forward.