Warning to Don Diego de Vargas: Native American activists want you on the chopping block next.
After a yearslong movement culminated last year with the end of the Entrada, a long-running but controversial dramatization during the Fiesta de Santa Fe that some viewed as revisionist history and a celebration of genocide, activists are now working on a plan to completely expel Fiesta royalty from Santa Fe Public Schools.
“Is our activism in Santa Fe done? No, it’s not,” said Elena Ortiz, a lead organizer in the push to end the Entrada, which was part of the annual commemoration of the Spanish reentry into Santa Fe after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.
The idea of prohibiting school visits by members of the Fiesta Court is likely to hit a raw nerve in a community still divided over the school board’s decision last summer to limit their presence, not to mention the fate of the Entrada, which also remains a sore subject among many long-time Hispanics and others who saw the decision to stop the event as an assault on their culture and traditions.
“Political correctness is out of control, especially in Santa Fe,” Joseph Salazar wrote on Facebook in response to a question about the effort to end all Fiesta Court visits to local public schools.
“The liberal politicians want to rewrite history. They even took away the name of my junior high,” he said, referring to De Vargas Middle School, now called Milagro Middle School. “Long live de Vargas. Viva la Fiesta.”
For years, members of the Fiesta Court — including a man who portrays Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas and a woman who is crowned La Reina de Santa Fe, plus their entourages, who are dressed in period clothing — visit various sites around town, including public schools where they encourage children to join the annual community celebration.
“We play a few mariachi songs, do the chicken dance, invite them to Fiesta, and then we leave and move onto the next school,” Fiesta Council President Melissa Mascareñas told The New Mexican earlier this week. “It’s over pretty fast.”
But their presence, even in its limited form, is offensive to people like Ortiz, whose father is from Ohkay Owingeh pueblo, north of Española.
“It’s not about Hispanic and Native American. It’s not about the Catholics and the pueblos. It’s not about any of that,” said Ortiz, who grew up in Santa Fe. “What it is about is a symbol of genocide, which is being brought into the schools and celebrated.”
A similar argument was made about the Entrada, which last year was replaced with a celebration of peace and reconciliation. In recent years, the Entrada had drawn raucous protests downtown, including a rowdy demonstration two years ago that led to the arrest of eight protesters and increased calls to end the event before a tragedy occurred.
The Caballeros de Vargas, a fraternal organization that put on the Entrada, plans a new event Friday in the time slot that had been reserved for the dramatization. The group intends to recognize individuals who have “brought together peoples of all cultures and backgrounds, especially our indigenous and Hispanic populations,” a news release states.
Ortiz said no protests are planned this year, though she’s interested to see how Friday’s event unfolds.
“I think if we’re going to do anything in the future, it’s probably going to center around Pueblo Revolt Day, although we are definitely going to work on [removing] de Vargas and the court” from the schools, she said.
Ortiz said activists will have to take their fight back to the school board.
“There was a lot of hostility the last time we were there,” she said. “It was very, very scary because literally 90 percent of the room was made up of people who were screaming at us that we were trying to destroy cultural patrimony. All I said was, ‘We don’t believe that our children need to be exposed to a figure that represents genocide.’ ”
Mascareñas did not return a message seeking comment Thursday. Efforts to reach Thomas Baca-Gutierrez, president of the Caballeros de Vargas, were unsuccessful.
Ortiz, now president of a recently formed Santa Fe chapter of Red Nation, a coalition of Native American activists and their allies, said the group has other goals, too. They include removing monuments and other historic markers in Santa Fe “as necessary,” she said.
At former Mayor Javier Gonzales’ direction after a deadly white supremacist rally in Virginia and a large local gathering to denounce racism, the city compiled a list of 61 murals, plaques, sculptures, monuments, structures and displays that celebrated or recognized historic occasions or people.
The city delved into politically thorny territory by compiling the list. The list, for example, includes the Soldiers Monument in the center of the Santa Fe Plaza, erected in the late 19th century with an inscription dedicating it “to the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with the savage Indians in the territory of New Mexico.” The word “savage” was chiseled off by an unidentified man in 1974. An explanatory plaque was left standing that said the “monument texts reflect the character of the times in which they are written and the temper of those who wrote them.”
But nothing ever came of the city’s list.
Last last year, a city spokesman said Mayor Alan Webber had other priorities, which Ortiz said is unacceptable.
“I understand priorities, but cities all over the country are removing offensive statutes and memorials, so clearly some places find that that is a priority,” she said.
Ortiz noted that one of the top five reasons tourists cite for coming to New Mexico is the state’s vibrant Native American arts and culture.
“You can’t have it both ways, Santa Fe,” she said. “You either respect the culture and remove the monuments or you will find that there will be protests.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.