The Santa Fe New Mexican ran this piece by Daniel Chacon. The headline is bullshit, because this has nothing to do with “taking offence” and everything to do with standing up against a racist, historically inaccurate narrative.
“As anticipation builds for the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe, a time-honored tradition that has become one of the city’s biggest celebrations, a cloud of controversy is once again hanging over the festivities.
A protest last year that rocked the Fiesta, exposing the city’s complicated and sometimes bloody history, could resurface as Native American activists work to stage another demonstration next month.
“Join The Red Nation to demand an end to the celebration of the continued Genocide of Pueblo people and all Native people of New Mexico,” a coalition of American Indian activists and their allies posted on the group’s Facebook page. “The Reconquista of Santa Fe was not ‘bloodless’ and this misconception further erases Native people and Native resistance efforts. Tell Mayor [Javier] Gonzales to abolish the fiestas.”
Last year’s demonstration did not go unnoticed. Mayor Javier Gonzales called for a “more truthful” narrative of the city’s history, and two city councilors introduced a resolution calling for a symposium. But the measures drew little support, and the event was never organized.
At the heart of the debate is Don Diego de Vargas, the conquistador who reclaimed the city for the Spanish crown after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and how the Santa Fe Fiesta Council and the nonprofit Caballeros De Vargas portray de Vargas’ September 1692 reoccupation of the city during a re-enactment on the Plaza.
During the dramatization, a man portraying de Vargas rides onto the Plaza on horseback accompanied by his cuadrilla, some carrying the Marian statue La Conquistadora, which survived the revolt and returned to the city with de Vargas. De Vargas is greeted and welcomed by a man dressed in Native attire who plays the part of Cacique Domingo, the Tesuque Pueblo governor who negotiated for the resettlement of Santa Fe.
Debate over the accuracy of the dramatization — which depicts a peaceful event — is not new.
But during last year’s Fiesta re-enactment, called the Entrada de Don Diego de Vargas, a small group of demonstrators amplified the conversation when they stood in peaceful protest and stole the show.
Many of the demonstrators wore black tape over their mouths and black T-shirts with “1680” emblazoned on the front, the year of the Pueblo Revolt. They also held homemade signs with messages that included “In 1693, Don Diego executed 70 warriors and enslaved hundreds of women and children” and “Don Diego came in the dark of night.”
They were referring to de Vargas’ return to Santa Fe in December 1693, with a group of soldiers and settlers planning to occupy the city. This time, the Spanish had to fight to gain control of the city, and after the battle, they punished the Pueblo people.
The council resolution to hold a symposium between Indian Market and the Fiesta de Santa Fe to offer a broader narrative of the city’s founding faded away after the City Council’s Finance Committee postponed it Nov. 30. The committee voted to take the matter up again in January, but that never happened.
“I do not know why it did not come back,” said Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, who chairs the Finance Committee. He said he guessed it was the responsibility of the resolution’s sponsors to make sure the committee reconsidered it.
At the time, councilors on the committee were not enthusiastic about the proposal.
“I think this is an overreaction, and I think we’re unnecessarily infringing on the Santa Fe Fiesta Council,” City Councilor Joseph Maestas said back then, according to minutes of the meeting. “They have been doing this a long time, and most of the Fiestas have been incident-free. … I don’t know what a symposium would do and what would be the benefit.”
Councilor Peter Ives, one of the sponsors, said last week that his measure “basically didn’t find much purchase at that moment,” but that he’s asked the city’s legislative liaison to “dust off the measure,” which he said is more timely to reconsider now with the Fiesta approaching. He also said it may be modified following a luncheon between the mayor and tribal leaders last week.
Gonzales announced Tuesday after the closed-door and invitation-only meeting that he had brokered face-to-face talks between members of Tesuque Pueblo, the Fiesta Council and Caballeros De Vargas “to begin a long overdue conversation about the Santa Fe Fiestas and the challenges we are facing going forward.”
Tesuque Pueblo Gov. Fredrick Vigil did not return a message seeking comment.
Jessica Eva Montoya, one of the organizers of last year’s protest, said the community needs to be involved in the conversation. “We’re having these meetings behind closed doors, when that’s exactly how these treaties were signed. That’s exactly how Native American people were taken advantage of, behind closed doors,” she said.
“If we had this public conversation with the entire community present, maybe people wouldn’t feel so angry anymore,” added Montoya, who competed for the role of Fiesta queen in 2008 but served as a princessa.
Her intention in orchestrating last year’s protest was to peacefully draw attention to the injustices in the Fiesta celebration, she said: “I wanted it to become more inclusive. I wanted to enhance it.”
But now the opposition is out of her hands, Montoya said. “I don’t have any more control over it. There’s people who are way more enraged than I am. … I fueled the fire that, unfortunately, probably will not be able to be put out this year or next year or even the year after that. This is going to be a continuous conversation for generations to come.”
In a telephone interview with The New Mexican, Gonzales said he didn’t push for a meeting between Fiesta organizers and tribal leaders sooner because he didn’t want to impose an invitation “that would be viewed as something that neither side was ready for in terms of the dialogue.”
Gonzales said Tesuque tribal members only recently expressed a desire to meet with the Fiesta Council and Caballeros De Vargas. The tribe’s issues with the Fiesta are “driven by many years of feeling that the whole story hasn’t necessarily been told,” he said.
“I have every expectation that there will be a very open and willing effort on both sides to listen to one another and to explore where we can find resolution,” added Gonzales, who at the age of 21 portrayed de Vargas.
Dr. Matthew Martinez, associate professor of Pueblo Indian Studies at Northern New Mexico College in Española, said honesty will be key to a Fiesta celebration in Santa Fe that doesn’t offend American Indians.
“The way the current Entrada is conducted is offensive, not only to American Indians, but a blatant lie to all people and cultures involved,” said Martinez, who was born and raised in Ohkay Owingeh, a pueblo north of Española. “The predominant narrative of a bloodless reconquest erases our ancestors — Hispano and Pueblo — who fought to protect the integrity and their way of life.”
New Mexico has a violent past that includes religious persecutions and an extensive slave trade, he said. “It is possible to conduct a Fiesta celebration that is truthful to all sides that does not buy into a false romantic past that never existed.”
Dean Milligan, president of the Fiesta Council, said the group “has nothing to do with the Entrada.”
“It’s all up to the Caballeros,” he said. “We just give them an hour of time to put it on at the stage, and that’s the only thing that we have to do with that.”
But Milligan defended the accuracy of the Entrada, saying it reflects a moment of peace between the Spaniards and Native people. “We are not celebrating 400 years,” he said. “We are celebrating that one day in 1692.”
Joe Mier, president of the Caballeros De Vargas, did not return messages seeking comment.
Manuel Garcia, chairman of the Caballeros’ Entrada committee, said in an email Saturday, “Mayor Javier Gonzales has invited the Caballeros De Vargas to meet with the Pueblo Leaders. The Caballeros De Vargas graciously accepted this invitation as we look forward to the discussions and working with the Pueblo Leaders. To the best of our knowledge the time and place for the meeting has yet to be set.”
While historians agree that de Vargas reclaimed the city in 1692 without any bloodshed, he did so, as former state historian Robert J. Torrez wrote, “utilizing a masterful mix of diplomacy and a not so subtle threat of a siege.”
When de Vargas returned a year later, the encounter with the Indians was anything but peaceful. On Dec. 29, 1693, a battle for the city began. The next morning, de Vargas and his Indian allies emerged triumphant. In reprisal, de Vargas ordered every warrior who had fought against the Spaniards — 70 in all — executed by firing squad. The 400 who had surrendered voluntarily, including women and children, were divided up among the colonists and sentenced to 10 years of servitude.
Milligan said “there’s no doubt” there was violence and bloodshed.
“But when de Vargas came in and made his promise, it was peaceful that day,” he said. “What happened before and what happened after was horrible, as far as history has it. I mean, it’s horrible what’s happening in our country today, but history is history, and the Entrada is that one point, that one time period, and the promise de Vargas made to Our Lady [La Conquistadora].”
La Conquistadora — the early 1600s wooden Spanish Madonna that de Vargas vowed to return to the city — is central to the Fiesta celebration. De Vargas had prayed the novena to the Marian statue, often deemed the oldest in the nation, asking for a peaceful resettlement. He promised an annual celebration in her honor. This is why the early morning and early evening novenas are still prayed today during the Fiesta.
Alexis Brown, who participated in last year’s protest, said the group wanted to “respectfully raise awareness around the false narrative” repeated at the Entrada every year.
“They believe including a few Native peoples [in the Fiesta court] is adequate, but we believe the entire story needs to be adjusted to reflect more of what truly happened and the long-standing impact the conquest has had on the people in this state,” she wrote in a statement.
Brown, a Santa Fe native who is Scottish and Choctaw, said the narrative “needs to be historically accurate.”
“Unless the Fiesta Council and Caballeros do something, they can expect that actions will happen again, and they will become more overt and in their face,” she said.