As Santa Fe’s first official city historian, José Garcia, a genealogist and historian who can trace his northern New Mexico roots back to the early 1700s, wants to bring history to the people. His plans for the coming year: frequent history lectures in schools, libraries and civic meetings; a comprehensive index of Santa Fe’s historical monuments; and a paid laureate position for the next city historian. Garcia, for his part, is studying Santa Fe’s illustrious past pro bono. “I’m free!” he says.
SFR: Where did you grow up?
JG: I was born in Rowe. My first year of school we moved into Santa Fe, and we lived around the Plaza during my school years, so the Plaza really was my playground. I started thinking about 2010 about 10 years ago. Right away, I said, ‘Let’s talk to the city historian.’ There was no city historian! Finally, there was a city historian appointed last month, and that happened to be…me. I frankly was not looking for a job; I have plenty to do. [But] Santa Fe is 400 years old, and there has never, ever been a city historian! It was time.
What’s the main thing about Santa Fe that people don’t know?
There’s a lot of things that history reveals that is not common knowledge to the person walking the street. You ask a resident here about Santa Fe history, they mention 1598 and then 1680, you know? They can relate very little to the 1600s, and that has been my emphasis because very little is known. The reason is the events of 1680, [when] the pueblo nations revolted and destroyed all documents—civil, military and church. The ones that survived are in the archives in Mexico City or in Sevilla, Spain. You have to go there and look for them.
How important is architecture to history?
Oh, that is the most important! It’s visible; it’s touchable. If you go to Spain, you don’t have to go read about history—you can see it; you can touch it. The cathedral—it’s not that old, [but] that is the gem of our city. Compare the Palace of the Governors to the cathedral: Each one has their place in history, but the most dominant one is that baby that sits up there. The cathedral is our masterpiece.
What do you think of making bus stops look adobe-ish?
They’re perfect the way they are now. But that’s fine—after all, dirt is a common denominator.
How far back can you trace your family?
Early 1700s, still in northern New Mexico. I just have to confirm that they were living—they were born, got married and died somewhere. I’m not really interested in their civil accomplishments.
Isn’t it hard with a name like Garcia?
Garcia is the most common surname in all of the Americas. Martínez is the second. Next comes Gómez, then López. We have a saying in Spanish: El que nombre no tenía, Garcia se ponía. He who did not have a name, named himself Garcia. [My] name goes back four or five generations, and it’s a dead end—and the reason, I think, is because [my father’s side] was ancestral pueblo. We all here, in northern New Mexico, are of mixed blood.
Fiestas sort of represent that—everyone coming together.
Fiesta, to the English speaker, means, ‘Ah, let’s have another Bud, compá!’ To other cultures, it’s another thing. It’s a celebration both civic and religious, and mostly religious. It is to commemorate and recognize the sacrifice of the martyred friars of the Pueblo Revolt.
That offends some people, though.
When I was gone, I was an outsider. Everybody is a stranger unless you get to know the person,
as a person. I shy away from conversations like that. How can I be held responsible for something my eight-times-removed great-grandfather did?
Does history repeat itself?
It’ll probably repeat itself in direct proportion to the mistakes.