I’ve known Roque Garcia since several years before he started cooking his carnitas on the Plaza in the mid-1980s. He’s a good-hearted, good-natured Santa Fe guy — and I’d say that even if the food he sells wasn’t as delicious as it is.
I actually covered the story, for another newspaper, when Roque became one of the first vendors City Hall selected for a license to sell food on the Plaza. At the time I didn’t even know what a carnita was, but I soon found out.
So it saddened me to see the article in the Santa Fe Reporter last week in which Roque was decrying the fact that a lot of Plaza visitors have been treating him differently recently in the current wretched political climate.
“People been changing in the last year and a half, now people are asking where I’m from,” Roque, whose family has been in Santa Fe for generations, told the Reporter. “… Used to be no one would ask you something like that. Everything has changed here in Santa Fe.”
Lordy, I’d like to think he’s wrong.
Garcia in the story told about one funky dude who’s been spotted on the Plaza several times recently who stands out from the usual wackos, winos and local characters we all love. No, this guy is known for his MAGA cult attire and for openly carrying a gun.
A co-worker recently posted a photo of this guy on social media. Some reacted as if the man’s very presence was an assault on humanity. At the time I just assumed he was some jerk trying to “own the libs” — there are some factions of this cult who seem to have a fascination about “owning” other people — and probably wasn’t a threat to anyone.
It kind of reminded me of those tough-guy gun fetishists who showed up to the Roundhouse toting firearms a few years ago when the Legislature was considering gun control legislation. They were jerks and they scared some people, which surely delighted these “patriots.” But nobody got hurt.
But that was my opinion before the El Paso Walmart shooting. And that was before I read Roque’s comments about this new, middle-aged Plaza rat.
“Mess with me and I’ll shoot you,” Roque said the guy told him.
Another Plaza vendor told the weekly paper that he has refused to serve the man after he asked how it felt to be neighbors with “illegal aliens,” and started scaring away his customers with his racist talk.
A guy with a gun who is sounding off about illegal immigrants?
What could possibly go wrong?
I’m not saying that MAGA caps should be banned from the Plaza — though 30 some years ago I did write a satirical column suggesting the city’s Historic Design Review Board impose a dress code for historical zones just to ensure quaintness.
The Plaza is a public square that traditionally is a place for political activities. I’ve covered speeches by the likes of Howard Dean and Jesse Jackson there. I’ve covered tea party rallies there. So long as it doesn’t interfere with a good Plaza bandstand show, I’ve got no problems with any of it.
So it’s not the cap or the T-shirt or the political leanings that bother me.
It’s the apparent threats. That’s escalation.
Chances are the man is just blowing off steam — in a despicable, bigoted way — and is not out to shoot anyone. Even someone who “messes” with him.
But threats have to be taken seriously, especially in today’s poisoned climate of racism and mass shootings.
I advise ignoring this fool when he’s doing one of his troll strolls.
I also advise reporting him to police if he threatens anyone. Mayor Alan Webber has said the city is “investigating allegations regarding an individual allegedly confronting or harassing vendors or people he believes to be minorities who are on the Plaza.” If you witness any threats or harassment, help this investigation by reporting them to police.
As for my old friend at the food booth, there is nothing “illegal” or “alien” about Roque Garcia — though his carnitas are out of this world.