Santa Fe is our common ground. Respectful of every citizen’s journey, background, religion and ethnicity, we choose to live here on our sacred common ground. We have a historical, prosperous and, yes, dysfunctional past. As esteemed historian Thomas E. Chávez stated in his forward to John Sherman’s Santa Fe, A Pictorial History, “Santa Fe’s history has been as varied as its brilliant sunsets.”
Among the multitude of fortunate and unfortunate situations 2020 offered us was witnessing the disappointing community cultural estrangement of Mayor Alan Webber and the City Council’s inability to lead its citizenry through respectful civic dialogue and consensus.
Webber failed to listen to more of the Santa Fe community regarding the Plaza obelisk and statues. In the dark of night, he deceitfully sent out minions on a failed attempt to industrially remove the Plaza obelisk and insensitively impounded the Don Diego de Vargas statue from Cathedral Park. Then, he promised to form a commission to address related cultural concerns and we waited. And waited some more. Until last week, finally, with a council vote to establish a cultural commission to consider how Santa Fe should tell its story.
Webber’s inaction to form a group helped lead to the destruction of the besieged Plaza obelisk by an emotionally pent-up reactionary mob. Our collective true voices, concerns and perspectives continue to be absent regarding these community matters. We, as a vibrant community that shares common ground and given the opportunity, can creatively develop considerate and respectful solutions. We have been here before and know we can deliver.
On July 3, 1993, a mentally ill Francisco “Pancho” Ortega, wielding a knife, was killed by Santa Fe police officers on Hickox Street. The community reacted vehemently against the tragic situation. The City Council took immediate action to listen to the community, led by Debbie Jaramillo — who became mayor in 1994. Citizen roundtables were created, and one of the solutions advanced from the dialogue and consensus was establishing the Office of Intercultural Affairs. During its first couple of years, the office focused primarily on local Hispanic issues.
During the onset of Mayor Larry Delgado’s administration, City Manager Mike Mier hired me to lead the Office of Intercultural Affairs. We effectively utilized the existing Citizens Advisory Board, led by Abraham Kurien. Within the first few weeks, Mier needed us to work with businesses along Alameda complaining about noise from local cruisers impacting their customers. The situation was quickly becoming a high-profile issue pitting community cruisers, supporters and downtown businesses against one another. We immediately established a process that employed Santa Fe Community College’s Intercultural Community Leadership program to assist with roundtable discussions among the businesses, cruisers, police and community members. By the end of the month, we came to consensus, developed solutions and mitigated a potentially divisive issue.
The Office of Intercultural Affairs also initiated inclusive committees to address issues around immigration, the LBGTQ community, veterans and expanded the celebration of commUNITY Days (which influenced the development of the Plaza Bandstand program). Important and empowering resolutions were drafted and supported by the governing body. We also dealt with other potentially divisive issues regarding the Japanese Internment Camp historical marker and the Museum of International Folk Art’s contemporary depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to name a few. We embraced community dialogue opportunities that reached solution-based consensus. The Delgado administration and council did not vacillate, hesitate or procrastinate on the issues — we took immediate and thoughtful action.
Yes, at one time, Kurien asked me to look into the panels of the obelisk to see if the insensitive language of the texts could be changed. That inquiry was shut down by the Historic Preservation Division, indicating it would take a literal act of Congress to modify anything on the Plaza given its federal historic designation.
After the city’s purchase of Cathedral Park, the Office of Intercultural Affairs led the process with a local historic committee to design and install the centerpiece bronze monument recognizing the families and contributions of Spanish settlers. We felt, given the preservation effects of the park, there could be something worked out with the obelisk. A new mayoral administration soon came in and was not too interested in the 20-plus projects the Office of Intercultural Affairs was working on, including the obelisk and a dedicated veterans monument.
Entering 2021, the council and mayor should seize the opportunity with its cultural commission — and don’t forget what has worked in the past, including the Office of Intercultural Affairs. Provide active leadership to sustain our inclusive culture, honor and celebrate our past, set an example for our children’s future, and purge the darkened hues of 2020. Then, together we can paint in the varied and brilliant sunset colors of our community cultural landscape.