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Fiesta changes leave some locals feeling cast aside

August 26, 2018

In a city rooted in traditions, change doesn’t always come easily.

Santa Feans in recent weeks witnessed the end of the Entrada, a dramatization commemorating what had been called the “peaceful reoccupation” of the city by Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

Beloved by many local Hispanics who regarded the century-old event as a celebration of their Catholic faith, the Entrada — a widely attended event held on the first day of the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe — had grown increasingly controversial, sparking protests by American Indian activists and others who considered it revisionist history and racist.

Not long after the Entrada was laid to rest, the Santa Fe school board voted 4-1 to limit the Fiesta Court’s annual visits to public schools, a long-standing custom leading up to the annual community celebration.

In the middle of it all, the director of the New Mexico History Museum wanted to end the years-old practice of hanging the Spanish coats of arms of local families’ ancestors from the wooden beams on the front of the Palace of the Governors during Fiesta. After the Santa Fe Fiesta Council promised a fight, the state Department of Cultural Affairs quashed the idea.

While the council scored a win in the dispute over the display of Spanish family crests, the decisions to end the Entrada and curb the Fiesta Court’s visits to public schools have left some local Hispanics feeling like their traditions and customs are under assault in a town their ancestors settled hundreds of years ago.

As the city prepares for the start of another Fiesta de Santa Fe, the sense of loss for some has intensified.

“Over the past months, our membership has been saddened over the events that have transpired over our own Santa Fe Fiesta and feels that our own culture has been maliciously attacked and is being eroded away,” Richard Barela, president of the Union Protectiva de Santa Fe, a fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation of Santa Fe’s Hispanic culture and traditions, said in a statement to The New Mexican.

“Now, that erosion is being introduced into our own public schools by board members that are not even from here and know little about our culture,” Barela added.

In an interview, Barela said the recent changes to Santa Fe’s long-running traditions threaten what make the city unique.

“You start doing away with those and we just become like Phoenix, Arizona, or Williams, Arizona,” he said. “No hay nada. No espíritu. No spirit.”

The pain of change

Former Mayor Larry Delgado said “a lot of people” are disappointed with the recent changes to the Entrada and school visits.

“I’m sad to see all those things go,” said Delgado, a former Santa Fe Fiesta Council president. “Everybody always says, ‘Well, change is inevitable.’ I don’t know. Maybe it is. But I thought [the Entrada] was important to a lot of us who were born and raised in Santa Fe and have been living in Santa Fe for generations.”

Delgado said he worries what Santa Fe traditions might be next on the chopping block.

“It’s happening at the city level. It’s happening on the school board. I just worry,” Delgado said. “I don’t know what’s next. I keep thinking, ‘What’s next?’ ”

It’s a concern shared by another native Santa Fean, Eli Bransford, who started a petition online to reinstate the Entrada. More than 1,300 people have signed the petition on change.org.

“I think that there are some groups of people that see things differently than I think a lot of the native Santa Feans, who identify more with their Spanish heritage,” Bransford said. “And I think that there’s been a lot of noise and a lot of talk that’s gotten some of our attention about what could go next and what they don’t like next. So, the Entrada today. What tomorrow?”

Bransford, who traces his heritage to Hispanic, Native and European lineage, doesn’t necessarily believe his petition will bring the Entrada back. But he said he felt the need to take action.

“I was online on social media, and I was seeing how many people felt like I did,” he said. “Feeling that some of our longtime traditions and a lot of what we latch on our heritage to starting to be radically changed without our input.”

It was a criticism launched against Santa Fe Public Schools and Superintendent Veronica García, who developed proposals for the Fiesta Court visits for the school board to consider with the help of a diversity task force.

The morning after the school board’s 4-1 vote, former City Councilor Ron Trujillo took to Facebook to voice his concerns.

“What happened to our city?” wrote Trujillo, whose losing mayoral campaign this year included a pledge to be a better advocate for “the locals.”

“Nothing wrong with change but when you eliminate Traditions all together without proper dialogue with all stakeholders … its just not right thus long standing Santa Fe Traditions are in jeopardy of being eliminated and becoming History,” Trujillo wrote in the post, which as of Saturday afternoon had been shared 44 times and generated 188 comments overwhelmingly in support.

“The fact of the matter is that Santa Fe no longer belongs to the locals!” Rosalyn Salazar wrote in the thread. “All the outsiders have come in and taken our city away from us! And we let them!”

A complex mix

Michael Trujillo, an associate professor of American Studies and Chicana/o Studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, said Hispanics in Santa Fe have become more invested in celebrations like the Entrada as they have lost political power amid the city’s changing demographics.

“As the center of Santa Fe, the Plaza ceased to be a place where the local community and the local Nuevo Mexicanos spent time,” he said. “As the downtown ceased to be a place for Nuevo Mexicanos, the fiestas themselves became a day when Nuevo Mexicanos could assert their continuity and importance in the community. I think as Nuevo Mexicanos were marginalized in Santa Fe overall, that this particular celebration became a way of reclaiming the center of Santa Fe.”

The problem, Trujillo said, is a ceremony or event that “only honors part of ourselves.”

“I think that Nuevo Mexicanos are descendants of Spanish and Native people, and we need ceremonies and commemorations that acknowledge the complexity of our history as both colonized and colonizers, as both being of Native and European descent,” he said.

Dominic Gonzales, who portrayed de Vargas during the 2015 Fiesta, said he wishes the Entrada had not been eliminated but that it “told the story from one side only.”

“I came to the conclusion that it’s hard for two sides to be united if only one gets to speak,” he said. “I just wished that both the Hispanic and Native communities would have had the opportunity and the time to work towards providing a joint pageant. I believe the result would’ve been amazing.”

Gonzales said he also was “disappointed” with the school board’s decision to limit the Fiesta Court’s appearances. Although the school board held a public hearing, Gonzales said many parents felt left out of the decision-making process.

“My disappointment [in the school board] is not they wanted to make changes, but rather that they acted so quickly on the limitations with no parental input,” he said.

Community activist Gloria Mendoza said she has heard from a lot of people who are “very upset” with the school board.

“I can’t go to the grocery store and just buy groceries,” she said. “I have to stop almost every other aisle because somebody stops me and wants to talk about this. They’re telling me they’re really upset.”

‘¡Que viva!’

Unlike Santa Fe, the school board in Pojoaque decided last week to give the Santa Fe Fiesta Court largely unfettered access to the district’s students. The Pojoaque district will maintain an opt-out option for students who do not wish to attend Fiesta-related events in school, which is the policy Santa Fe had before its school board enacted further restrictions. Santa Fe students in the New Mexico history classes the Fiesta Court is still allowed to visit may still opt out.

“If parents or students do not want to participate, they’re not made to participate, and I think that keeps the inclusiveness and the community together,” said Jeffrey Atencio, the Pojoaque board’s vice president. “I think we’re doing fine with that option.”

While the Pojoaque school board took no formal action, it opened the matter up for public discussion. The only three people who spoke, including Melissa Mascareñas, the Santa Fe Fiesta Council president, encouraged the board to allow the visitations.

“We all had an opportunity to voice our opinions,” school board President Jon Paul Romero said at the end of the public hearing. “So, we’ll close with that — and que viva las fiestas!”

“¡Que viva!” members of the audience shouted back.

After the discussion, Mascareñas, who is from Pojoaque, said the Pojoaque school board “ultimately decided that culture is very, very, very important.”

Mascareñas said the decision in Santa Fe reflects “the progressive people that are moving into” the city.

“They moved to this ‘City Different’ because it is different,” she said, “and then when they get here, they want to change it.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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