Instead of a pageant that divides people, Los Caballeros de Vargas did something special last week on the first day of Fiesta de Santa Fe.

Rather than clinging to La Entrada — a not-quite historical retelling of Don Diego de Vargas’ return to Santa Fe in 1692 — the group gave awards to two individuals who have promoted unity among cultures. While the transition has been difficult, members of the group — dedicated to guarding the statue of Mary, Our Lady of Peace, which rests in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi — deserve credit for navigating difficult waters. This award emphasizing unity is important to our shared futures.

Beloved Monsignor Jerome Martinez y Alire, now retired, and Tesuque Pueblo member Marissa Suazo-Hinds were the first two recipients of the honor. Their words were enough to make people in the crowd shed a tear or two, as they reminded people what unites the Native and Hispanic cultures of Northern New Mexico.

Fiesta de Santa Fe, they pointed out, should focus on what brings us together. Their example is one to follow.

Martinez y Alire is well-known in Santa Fe. He was the founding pastor of Santa María de la Paz Catholic Community and later served as rector at the Basilica Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. He is an expert, too, in Catholic history in New Mexico, and while proud of his deep roots here, he has never been one to glorify a sometimes brutal history. He retired early this year and, with his usual grace, is dealing with Parkinson’s disease. He reminded people that, “We are not celebrating the defeat of one people or the victory of another. We see celebrating a painful birth of a New Mexico people.”

For Suazo-Hinds, being honored for promoting unity among cultures offered the opportunity to discuss her Native traditions as well as her deep Catholic faith.

To her, “This is our history. We should not diminish one another’s traditions.”

As a Pueblo woman, she participates in Native traditions. She also enjoys sewing clothing for Our Lady of Peace, the Marian statue that is at the center of the Fiesta tradition. “She appreciates her new outfits,” Suazo-Hinds said.

It is this statue of Mary that was rescued from a burning church in 1680 and taken with the settlers into exile after the Indians rose up to eject their oppressors from New Mexico. Twelve years later, Don Diego de Vargas was sent to New Mexico to negotiate a return, a meeting that was uneventful. For success, de Vargas prayed to the Virgin Mary, in the form of that statue — variously called Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of the Assumption and for centuries, La Conquistadora. Suazo-Hinds shares a similar devotion to Our Lady and said her time spent as an Indian princesa on the Royal Fiesta Court deepened her faith.

“We share a lot of the same beliefs,” she said of Hispanics and Natives. “I was always taught [tradition and religion] run parallel to each other. Never was one made higher than the other.”

While activists have protested Fiesta events — they were instrumental in persuading Los Caballeros de Vargas to substitute a ceremony promoting unity for the historical pageant focusing on De Vargas’ return — people like Suazo-Hinds focus on shared values.

“It’s a balance,” she said. “It’s a double blessing. The reconciliation [started] last year. We can get along and respect each other.”

And by getting along, Martinez y Alire and Suazo-Hinds show participants in Fiesta, casual Fiesta-goers and even the protesters who still wish it would go away, that there is a common path forward.

Respect for differences. Understanding of shared experiences and history. And most of all, a love of this place and this land, our home. By all of us.