Trump-inspired Hate Hits the Plaza

Longtime Plaza vendors say they're facing hostility from gun-toting man

Roque Garcia is an institution on the Santa Fe Plaza. For nearly 30 years, he has served up steaming hot carnitas. His lunchtime regulars include many of the shop owners, bank clerks and other locals who work in the establishments surrounding the public square.

"Roque is a legend. He's been on this street so long, he practically IS this street," a museum security guard calls out in passing as he leaves Roque's Carnita Stand on his way back to work.

But for Garcia, this year has been more difficult than most. Garcia says his sense of belonging on the historic square has been called into question by strangers with more regularity than in the past.

"People been changing in the last year and a half, now people are asking where I'm from," says Garcia, shaking his head in indignation. He repeats the sentiment again under his breath, almost to himself. "These people don't know me. They don't know my family. Used to be no one would ask you something like that. Everything has changed here in Santa Fe."

One man in particular seems to to be on a personal mission to make Garcia, and anyone else he suspects to be of Mexican origin, feel out of place.

Wearing a Trump shirt and cap and toting a gun prominently displayed on his hip, the man has gotten on everyone's nerves down at the Santa Fe Plaza, where he has showed up repeatedly over recent weeks to intimidate peaceful protestors, musicians and vendors.

"Mess with me and I'll shoot you," the man allegedly told Garcia when his inflammatory comments provoked a verbal confrontation that was caught on video by multiple bystanders.

Against a national backdrop of white supremacist violence including mass shootings, the situation is untenable.

Brian Freshman, owner of Freshy's juice stand, tells SFR he began refusing the man service after he asked Freshman how it felt to be neighbors with "illegal aliens," and began scaring away customers with his ranting.

"He's just trying to stir up trouble and I don't do business like that," says Freshman.

Other vendors and Plaza regulars declined to comment or give their names to SFR for fear of retaliation from the man, whose taunting has included demands to see legal documents, racial slurs and threats of violence.

City officials confirm they're aware of the problem, but note that the man does not appear to have committed a crime.

"We know who he is, he's within his rights to pack his gun and parade himself around. If his behavior crosses the line, that's another matter, but we know who he is and there isn't anything illegal about his display," city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon tells SFR in a telephone message.

Greg Gurule, spokesman for the Santa Fe Police Department, confirms that the Police Department is likewise aware of the man's behavior. "It's an ongoing issue, he's been doing it for a long time, he just goes out to try to create problems for the public in general," Gurule says.

For Garcia, the harassment is infuriating specifically because he has such deep roots in the town. He points towards the southwest end of the Plaza in the direction of a house on Guadalupe Street where his grandmother used to live before moving into the building now occupied by the Cowgirl BBQ, where two generations of Garcia's family lived until his last aunt finally died.

Garcia says that while the gun-toting Trump supporter is the most egregious example of the racist attitudes that he has encountered more frequently on the Plaza since Trump was elected, it is far from the only one.

"It's been a lot of people who look at me differently now, not just him," says Garcia.

Caprice Soto, Garcia's goddaughter, also says she has noticed a difference in how some strangers around the Plaza have reacted to her and to Garcia.

"There's a lot of assumptions around here now that we're not from here. But we were born and raised here … Our grandparents and our great grandparents are from here," says Soto. "But honestly it shouldn't matter if we are from here or not, what's sad is that you feel like you have to prove or explain yourself. Like you have to walk around with a passport in your pocket. You definitely walk around now and it's this vibe people give off, like they're sizing you up."

As Garcia calls out a warm greeting to another man in Spanish, SFR asks Soto if she has encountered more hostility when speaking the language that is a traditional part of Hispanic culture in New Mexico. Both Spanish language and Spanish speakers are specifically protected in the state's constitution, which was ratified in 1911.

"I don't think it's so much that we speak Spanish but it's the way we look, the color of our skin," says Soto with a grimace.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the quote from Chacon to a different city spokeswoman. SFR regrets the error. 

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