Fiesta Court visits in schools will remain unchanged after a vote late Monday night by the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education.
Members voted 3-2 to reject a recommendation from the superintendent to limit the visits to after-school programming—delighting those who showed up to protest a now-dropped resolution that would bar Fiesta visits altogether.
Tempers boiled over as the board wrestled with the latest chapter in the city’s conflict over historical narratives, the religious affiliation of Fiestas and present-day racial tensions, and the meeting devolved into shouts repeatedly. More than 60 people showed up to speak at the meeting, most objecting to the proposed policy change.
Over the past weekend, as directed by the school board, Santa Fe Public Schools’ Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez met with members of the Santa Fe Fiesta Council and Indigenous representatives to discuss a compromise on the issue after a contentious hearing last week. He told the board he recommended a plan to make the Fiesta Court visits “truly opt-in rather than opt-out” by holding them in after school hours.
“Our recommendation could potentially attract a larger audience and create more vibrant celebrations in Santa Fe Public Schools, as we talk about larger, more inclusive celebrations that would bring many more cultures to our district,” Chavez told the board.
Although board member Sarah Boses reassured the audience that the board would not discuss or vote on the recommendation until the public forum concluded, attendees did not receive the message quietly.
“Recommendations, votes, that’s the same goddamn thing,” one audience member shouted.
“Vote these communists out!” yelled another man later.
“Jesus!” another blurted as the person at the podium talked about Santa Fe being “God’s land.”
Public celebrations of Fiestas changed drastically in 2018 when the Fiesta Council, the city government and a number of tribal officials agreed to abolish a pageant called the Entrada after protests dominated the gathering for years earlier over its depiction of “peaceful reconquest” in 1692. Around the same time, the school district adopted a policy limiting what had been widespread Fiesta Court visits to only three grades that study New Mexico history.
Then, in 2020, protesters destroyed a monument on the Plaza that contained a racist inscription about Natives, provoking the ire of some locals who also held it dear because it honored historic contributions to the Civil War and had been on the city square for more than 100 years, among other reasons.
Just a week before the Sept. 1 kickoff of Fiestas this year, the board considered the complete prohibition of Fiesta Court events on school grounds.
“Having grown up here and having been a part of the Santa Fe school system and having all my children be a part of Santa Fe, it saddens me that we are even having this conversation,” said Sam Valencia, who said he also attended last week’s meeting to advocate for Fiesta Court visits to continue.
“This is meaningful to us. This is a part of our history, and this is a part of our culture,” he said, noting he believed the district’s Hispanic students were “not getting the voice they deserve.”
Christina Montoya told the board the process had been hurtful.
“We’re not, and you are not, voting today on which part of our culture and heritage we are allowed to be proud of and which part of our culture and heritage we are supposed to be ashamed of,” she said. “The Fiestas, as I understand and I was brought up to believe, is to celebrate a moment in time where we came together and we said ‘we all have our past…but all what we have is from this moment on.’ I am an educator and a social worker, and telling kids…that they only get to be proud of one part of themselves and not another part of themselves is ripping this community apart from person to person and you can feel it.”
Christina Castro, co-founder of 3 Sisters Collective, shared her perspective of the Fiestas as an Indigenous parent, firmly remaining on the side of keeping the Fiesta Court events out of public schools.
“I get it, you feel you’re losing your culture,” she told Fiesta backers. “That’s how Indigenous people have been feeling since 1492. The glorification of colonialism—you talk about it being in the past, but if you’re still coming in this colonial garb, then where are we stepping into the present?”
Sierra Cruz also favored blocking the court from schools during the learning day. She said she was “really hurt by all of my fellow Hispanos here, because if any of you did a blood test, so much of you would be Indigenous. We can celebrate cultures, respectfully, but this is just a continuation of celebrating violence and racism and colonization. The anti-Indigeneity I have seen here today is really disheartening and it really hurts.”
Teacher Stacy Roylance Burkman noted the task the board was faced with seemed impossible and acknowledged its complexity.
“I have had students in my classroom who are very excited to tell me that their auntie or uncle was on the Fiesta Council that year,” she said. “I have also had a lot of students in my class, a lot of students, who enjoy the mariachis and the costumes but who did not really understand why they were here and why Fiestas was significant. I also have had students who have stayed home from school on the day of Fiesta Court rather than be hurt by a celebration of the historical events and historical figures that the court represents.”
The district can find ways, however, she said, to make visits align with education goals or seek other ways to teach Spanish Colonial history in a “welcoming space for all of our students and families.”
Board Members Roman Abeyta, Sarah Boses and Carmen Gonzales voted against changing the policy.
“I think what happened in 2018 was a big step forward,” said Abeyta, who was absent from last week’s meeting. “I think change is hard—maybe there needs to be more change—but I don’t think the burden needs to be on us. I think we’ve done enough, I think we should honor the work done in 2018 and continue to give that a try.”
Boses noted she voted against the recommendation because “it feels unnecessarily harmful to bring forward a proposed change to programming which is less than two weeks away. It is clear how much fear and pain and stress this has brought into our community because of the way it was brought up, and for that I am sincerely sorry.”
Gonzales said, “I don’t think we need to change something this important to so many people so quickly. I think we do need to continue the conversation.”
To that end, Chavez plans to continue to meet monthly with the Santa Fe Fiesta Council and Indigenous representatives to discuss not only the future of Fiesta visits, but also future celebrations to include other cultures.