Political Descent

Proposed changes to Española Valley Fiesta could serve as a model for Santa Fe

A road map from a respected local historian could provide a path to a more culturally sensitive alternative to Santa Fe's Entrada, a depiction of one moment in 1692 during Spanish colonists' bloody reconquest of Northern New Mexico.

Former State Historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez, who grew up north of Taos and produced a report on Santa Fe's cultural character in 2016, says he has spent the last year researching historical tensions surrounding the larger Fiesta weekend celebration scheduled this year from Sept. 1 through Sept. 9.

Rael-Gálvez completed a similar report for Española shortly after its mayor, Javier Sánchez, appointed a new Community Relations Commission tasked with altering the town's July Fiesta celebration. The change was inspired by critics who say the old version glorified conquest and domination of Pueblo peoples.

Last year's Santa Fe Entrada, which traditionally kicks off Fiesta weekend, was marred by raucous protests, climaxing in several arrests. Rael-Gálvez thinks the transformation of Española's Fiesta event could serve as a model for its counterpart in Santa Fe.

According to a report in the Rio Grande Sun, in April, Española's new Fiesta commission successfully recommended the city government remove all depictions of Juan de Oñate, the conquistador tried and convicted by a Spanish colonial court in 1614 for brutal acts against Pueblo people in New Mexico.

There is not yet any indication whether Santa Fe will take action to change fundamental aspects of the city's Fiesta, and specifically the Entrada, whose modern incarnation debuted in 1911—nearly 20 years before Española's—as a means of boosting tourism.

One key difference is the event here is organized by the Fiesta Council, a nonprofit organization, though the city has typically reimbursed the council up to $50,000 through a lodger's tax for certain costs.

Mayor Alan Webber tells SFR that the Fiesta Council has again applied for a permit to have the event in a public setting, but the city hasn't granted permission for use of the Plaza.

"I don't want to speculate on things that are still subject to conversation," Webber tells SFR by telephone.

The Fiesta Council, which organizes the majority of the weekend's events and chooses actors for the cuadrilla, the procession that depicts the Entrada, did not respond to several messages from SFR seeking comment.

In an interview with SFR, Rael-Gálvez notes that both Santa Fe's and Española's Fiestas differ from other Fiesta and Feast Day celebrations in the state by emphasizing conquistadors and acts of conquest instead of patron saints.

"It's not just the vocabulary that is employed around these Fiestas, but it's the symbols and the narrative structure," Rael-Gálvez says, noting that both possess royal courts (cuadrillas) and celebrate the idea of "first families"—settlers imagined to be of pure Spanish blood who arrived to the region with Oñate and, about a century later, de Vargas—rather than the actual changing and mixing of people that has occurred in the region over the last 300 to 400 years.

In his report on Española's Fiesta, Rael-Gálvez writes that a 15th-generation Hispanic person in Northern New Mexico descends from 16,384 individuals, including Indigenous people. By the mid-1700's, a significant majority of the population had at least one Indigenous parent or grandparent.

Yet pride in Spanish-colonial legacy continues to be a salient aspect of Fiesta celebrations. Rael-Gálvez believes this says more about the time period in which Anglo-American colonialism crystallized in Santa Fe's cultural character.

"[Hispanic people] experienced a loss of language, of land," he says. "Gravitating toward this narrative [of Spanish ancestry] is done to have a sense of belonging in this place."

Robert Martinez lives in Albuquerque now, but his Santa Fe-based family traces its roots back to a Spanish settler in the 1590s. Martinez, the deputy state historian, says much of the mythology surrounding claims to pure Spanish blood has to do with a self-conscious push by Hispanic New Mexicans to assimilate into the US.

Certain symbols like first family coats of arms, which are hung up on the Palace of the Governors during Fiesta, are recent inventions to justify the myth, he says.

"One thing we have to come to grips with as Hispanic New Mexicans is we descend from Spanish colonizers, but we also come from conquered Indians," Martinez says. "We have both of that in us, both are our history, both are our tradition."

Rael-Gálvez says in addition to altering the Entrada, larger efforts at restorative justice here could borrow ideas from other initiatives such as New Orleans' Racial Reconciliation Commission and a similar effort between the state government of Maine and Wabanaki Tribal Governments.

The report is nearing completion, and Rael-Gálvez says his goal is to have it released and accessible long before Santa Fe Fiesta happens. The work is being funded by the McCune Charitable Foundation.

In Española, community members met last week at the Misión Museum y Convento to hold a resolana, or a space to have a healing dialogue about the Fiesta event there. Present was Jennifer Marley, a leading organizer whose felony arrest at last year's Entrada made headlines. Her charges, and those for all protesters arrested that day, were dismissed.

She felt the discussion placed too much emphasis on identity, and not enough on building a broad movement for justice in the present. "I feel like the focus on identity is an indication that discomfort is driving the conversation, rather than people's motivations to challenge colonialism," she says.

At the same time, Marley adds she is "super happy" there appears to be momentum to change the Entrada after last year.

"In a state like this that overwhelmingly consists of marginalized people … I just don't think that popular support is going to be gained by those fighting to keep celebrations of colonialism," she tells SFR.

Martinez, the state historian, offers a vision for a post-Entrada Fiesta.

"Can you imagine reconfiguring Santa Fe Fiesta to celebrate Pueblo music and dance, genízaro music and dance, Spanish music, Mexican with mariachis, New Mexican with violin and guitar?" he says. "And how about bluegrass and rock and roll? Because this is the US, too."

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