Fiesta de Santa Fe: A more inclusive event

February 12, 2019

The notion that the Fiesta de Santa Fe’s La Reina no longer has to be a young, unmarried woman appears a departure from tradition at first glace.

Actually, the change in rules about who might be eligible to act as La Reina is a return to the role’s origins — the first La Reina was Amelia Sena Sanchez, a well-respected, married woman of Santa Fe. According to news reports, her crowning in 1927 took place on the roof of the Santa Fe Railway office across from La Fonda — by the governor, no less.

After Gov. Richard Dillon finished placing the crown on her head, Queen Amelia — wearing her mother’s wedding dress — led the grand march around the Plaza, governor in tow.

Evidently, selecting a La Reina to rule over festivities alongside the star of the show, Don Diego de Vargas, did not catch on immediately. The second queen did not come along until 1933, news reports state. That’s when the role of La Reina de Fiesta de Santa Fe became as much a part of the traditional activities as the selection of Don Diego.

For decades, the queen was required to be unmarried — and never married — with no children.

No more. The Santa Fe Fiesta Council announced last week that it has decided to expand opportunities for young women who might want to wear the crown. In the future, women vying for the role of La Reina can be single, married or divorced. They still will be fairly young, with the maximum age for La Reina set at 35.

Men who hope to be Don Diego, though, can be as old as 50.

We think the Fiesta Council’s decision to change the rules opens up possibilities both for the Fiesta and for women who might enjoy continuing this tradition.

Adapting to changing times is one way to keep the tradition alive. After all, much of what many modern santafesinos hold dear about the activities around Fiesta — including the parades, the burning of Zozobra, Don Diego de Vargas or La Reina and the now-discarded Entrada history pageant — are relatively new additions. They did not come along until the last 100 years or so.

This September, Fiesta de Santa Fe will be marking its 307th incarnation.

Wearing the crown of La Reina is a big responsibility, with the competitors required to speak Spanish and English and have a thorough understanding of Fiesta and the history of the Spanish settlement of New Mexico. There’s much more to the role than simply smiling and waving.

In early summer, participants in both Don Diego’s cuadrilla of men and La Reina’s court take part in a series of processions and Masses over nine days. They visit area churches and the fiestas of other towns in Northern New Mexico throughout the summer months.

Then there are visits to local schools, businesses and senior centers, bringing the joy of Fiesta along with them. The Fiesta, a commemoration of the return of colonial settlers to New Mexico after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, began as a tribute to the Virgin Mary — it was through her intercession that settlers believed they were able to return.

Over the years, the number of people willing to compete for the roles of Don Diego or La Reina has declined. Modern life is busy, and not all workplaces will let people take time off their jobs to participate. Making it possible for more people to be able to take part expands the pool of potential candidates. That’s a smart move. Good for the Fiesta Council for continuing to make this longstanding tradition more welcoming.

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