Santa Fe has the opportunity to move forward — to healing, to building a more inclusive city and to binding wounds from 400 years of history — by establishing a cultural committee to reflect on how the city can best share its past.
Setting up a process to consider the past is long overdue, with roots in the administration of former Mayor Javier Gonzales. Under Gonzales, the city had examined where public monuments were located, who was honored and, perhaps most important, what parts of history were left unexamined.
The report was not a priority when current Mayor Alan Webber took office; it made sense that city financial practices had to be addressed.
As it turned out, the delay worked against Santa Fe, considering the growing racial tensions in the nation.
The first study Gonzales ordered emerged from fallout over the Charlottesville, Va., white supremacy march. The ugliness on display there caused people across the country to reconsider our common history. That reckoning with America’s past is long overdue.
Last year, George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minnesota, his last moments caught on video for the world to see. It sparked a summer of racial unrest with protests across the nation. The Black Lives Matter movement and its calls for accountability had an effect on New Mexico, focusing on how our state should deal with its Spanish Colonial past, American occupation and Indigenous rights. We have hundreds of years of experience in dealing across cultures, and despite the oft-repeated myth of tricultural harmony, it is clear Santa Fe and the state have more work to do.
Much of the focus in Santa Fe has been around the Plaza, the heart of the city, where a monument to soldiers had the pride of place in the center. Long controversial for a statement on one side dedicated to those who fought and died in the wars against Indians in the 19th century, the obelisk was torn down in October during Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations. For many local Native people, the monument was a daily insult. They wanted it gone.
After the Floyd protests, Webber had promised to remove the obelisk but realized he lacked authority to do so; he did make sure a statue of Don Diego de Vargas in Cathedral Park was put away for safekeeping, a decision that enraged many. Thus, we enter 2021 with hurt feelings all around. To lessen the tension, this community dialogue needs to begin — no more delays.
Decisions can’t be rushed, but we do hope suggestions — temporary ones — for dealing with the toppled obelisk would be put forward. What matters most now, though, is to begin this process. Setting up the committee became more urgent after the toppling of the obelisk. But city councilors and Webber could not agree on how to decide who should be at the table.
Finally, there appears to be a way forward. Instead of a committee appointed by elected officials, the proposal now would invite the community to participate through discussions and one-on-one interviews and questionnaires.
According to proponents, it will be a more grassroots method, one less likely to be manipulated through councilor or mayoral appointment to a predetermined conclusion.
Modeled on a process in Albuquerque, the idea is to take up the hard work of confronting the pain of the past with a broad, community-based discussion. At least in concept, this should not be about the loudest voices in the room, but about including many people, their experiences and their wishes for going forward.
To councilors who have done the hard work — Chris Rivera, Roman Abeyta and Carol Romero-Wirth are three — good for them. Councilor Signe Lindell also is a co-sponsor of the ordinance establishing the cultural committee. To others who have objected over the months of discussion, those debates have improved the final outcome.
Going forward with care and thoughtful deliberation, it is time time to start moving toward an end game. Done right, we will end up with a Santa Fe that shares a more complete and honest representation of our collective history, one designed to address past wounds and build a more honest future.
This story has been amended to reflect the following correction: Councilor Chris Rivera's name has been corrected from a previous version, which was published as Chris Garcia.