The Fiestas Fallout

City councilors propose symposium, more research in wake of protest

A postcard from the 1930s shows a huge crowd at Fiestas. (Boston Public Library)

It's been only a few days since nearly two dozen people demonstrated at a historical re-enactment during Fiestas. They wanted to remind the crowd that while Native Americans were killed in the reconquest of Santa Fe, the city’s ceremony ignores that sad aspect.

Already a pair of Santa Fe city councilors are calling for solutions that would quell future drama, their ideas ranging from holding all-day symposiums, where Native people and Hispanics could discuss their differences, to setting aside a tiny sum of money for research on the ceremony's historical accuracy.

In what is being characterized as the first-ever protest in the city's history of Fiestas, some of the protesters showed up for Friday's Fiesta Entrada wearing black tape across their mouths and carrying signs that called Don Diego de Vargas, the Spanish conqueror, an executioner.

It was de Vargas who retook Santa Fe in 1692. His character is the lead player in the re-enactment of the "peaceful reconquest" and the selection of the actor is similar to beauty pageants and popularity contests at high school homecomings.

But the reconquest was anything but a welcoming celebration that was joyous in nature. The reality is the resettlement of Santa Fe came with bloodshed.

It's an argument that always plays out on the periphery, but usually it's relegated to classrooms and over dinner tables, not at the actual Fiesta event itself.

Until this year, when Jessica Montoya handed out 25 black T-shirts emblazoned with the date 1680, the year of the Pueblo Revolt against the ruling Spanish, who then turned the tables on them 12 years later.

"Native Americans were killed in the process," says Montoya, 32, who works at a nonprofit that empowers women in Española but also calls herself a social activist. "But I wouldn't call it a protest. We were just there to add on to the story: that Native Americans suffered the consequences of the reconquest."

In a debate that is really divided along racial lines, the political repercussions have already carried over into Santa Fe City Hall, where Councilor Peter Ives suggests that maybe it's time to talk it all out, suggesting that the city hold an all-day symposium once a year.

"I'm just thankful no violence broke out," Ives tells SFR, suggesting that symposium be held between the Indian Market and Fiestas.

Councilor Joseph Maestas, in the same sort of compromising vein, says another idea might be to have the city's historian, Ana Pacheco, review the history to make sure the re-enactments are "consistent" and "respectful" of history.

Meanwhile, Mayor Javier Gonzales, who actually played the controversial role of de Vargas in 1989, took to social media to state his opinion a day after the Entrada.

"I do believe it's time that we be truthful about the actual events that occurred during the resettlement," Gonzales writes on his Facebook page. "De Vargas by all accounts was a religious man of peace but force was still used to resettle Santa Fe and the indigenous people were forced to adopt Christianity as their religion."

Every year, like Columbus Day, there's this push to enlighten the masses. European settlement introduced smallpox, and it decimated the Native populations who were already here.

Conversely, in 1519, Hernán Cortéz, in his quest for gold in his colonization, wiped out an entire Aztec civilization.

And so, when de Vargas retook Santa Fe, let there be no mistake: Bad things happened.

Mary Eustace under the portal. (Thomas Ragan)

But Mary Eustace, a Native American from the Cochiti-Zuni tribes, doesn't have to travel back in time to witness discrimination due to skin color. She says she sees it every day in her job selling jewelry, and she had a front-row seat at the Palace of the Governors over the weekend.

"They come by us and they yell, 'Que Viva, Que Viva La Fiesta!'" Eustace says. "They march right by us, never really thinking how we might feel about the situation. A lot of people call us Indians but we're not Indians. We're Natives, and we're Natives of this country. And we struggled back then, and we still struggle today."

She was at the Indian Market. She saw the Fiestas. She knows the two pale in comparison in terms of crowd draws and length of time, which leads to the question of how much money the city spends for Fiestas versus the Indian Market.

The city doled out $50,000 this year to promote Fiestas, while the Indian Market only got $31,000 for its advertising—both monies came from revenues from the lodger's tax.

And neither total includes ancillary costs the city soaks in, such as police presence. For comparison, when city cops guarded the installation of the new Catholic archbishop over the summer, it was a $16,000 assignment that included overtime hours, a SWAT team and snipers on the roof of La Fonda.

The connection between Catholicism and the city of Santa Fe runs deep and can be traced to its Spanish heritage, certainly not from the history of the pueblos. Coincidentally, Gonzales and Ives are planning a trip to the White House for a "Welcoming the Pope" ceremony on Sept. 23.

Santa Fe Reporter

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.