Santa Fe is the city where I was born and raised, and I am proud to remain a resident of the City of Holy Faith. I have lived in Pueblo, Colo., where I am assigned, for several years. Recently, I returned to my home in Santa Fe. One of the first things I do is walk the Plaza and absorb the history and spirit of my familiar. As I approached the Plaza, I was startled by the state of the obelisk, which has been a central presence of that historic space since 1868. I was shocked by the condition of the monument and saddened by the disarray of the lawns. It was heartbreaking.

As I walked on toward the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, I was dismayed to see the removal of the Don Diego de Vargas statue from Cathedral Park. In response to this experience, on Sept. 12, I prayed the rosary at Cathedral Park, asking for solidarity among the people of Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico.

Monsignor Jerome Martinez y Alire, Los Hermanos de La Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno (Hermanos Penitentes) and various other organizations also joined many from our community. We prayed for healing and the preservation of our Spanish culture and our rich traditions. One cannot erase history. The 1500s and 1600s represent a distant time in our history. Both the Native tribes and the Spaniards experienced the trauma of war and the beginnings of cultural coexistence.

For more than 300 years, Native people and Hispanics have coexisted in New Mexico. We have intermarried, built strong families and communities, honoring our individual and shared cultures and traditions. It may be difficult for some newcomers in Santa Fe to understand this long-lived relationship. This is evidenced in Mayor Alan Webber’s unilateral and immediate, thoughtless, emotional decision to remove a treasured cultural symbol.

I wonder where the truth and reconciliation was in the mayor’s actions. It would have been wise if he had educated himself in the rich history of both cultures before removing the statue of de Vargas and damaging the obelisk. These disrespectful actions caused harm to the people of Santa Fe and beyond, and exacerbated misunderstanding and conflict. During his campaign for mayor, Webber committed to “positive, inclusive, consultative conversations” to address challenging issues faced by the city. How did a more thoughtful approach to civil conversation and community engagement get lost in your governance ethics?

Santa Fe always has been a welcoming city, a city that strives to live together as brothers and sisters. The mayor cannot undo the harm caused to our city. However, he can honor his commitment to establish a balanced commission of Hispanic and Pueblo stakeholders to engage in a respectful process to heal divisions. A commission would be tasked to develop a proposal on how to move forward with honor and respect toward a common solution for all people in La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís.

The Very Rev. Joseph Vigil, V.F., is pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Pueblo, Colo., and dean of the Diocese of Pueblo Deanery.

(3) comments

Khal Spencer

Nice to hear from someone with roots in this issue rather than a bunch of outsiders who just moved in and think they know it all.

Paul Davis

It would appear that some people within the native population don't entirely share your views on the "peaceful co-existence" of native and Hispanic cultures. While I wouldn't want to generalize based on the actions of those in the Plaza today, it seems safe to say that there are differing opinions on just how the relationship between native, Hispanic and Anglo cultures has worked out, and the "that was then, this is now - can't we all just be friends" view is not universally held.

Stefanie Beninato

Thanks for your comment. The cutting off of the foot on the statute of Onate in 1998 might make this priest pause in his recollection of history.

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