By KAY MATTHEWS
I’ve published La Jicarita, a journal of environmental and social justice, for 26 years. Along the way I’ve met, interviewed, and befriended an incredible number of Nuevo Mexicanos who have honed their activism in this kind of work, from acequias to land grants to hydraulic fracking to policing to nuclear weapons to forest restoration to Hispano and Native American culture and everything in between.
On Thursday, May 17 at the Convento in Española it was powerful to witness how these folks from across this wide spectrum are bringing their knowledge and energy to a festering issue that has been building to a head over the course of the past few years: the Española Fiestas with the symbol of conquistador Juan de Oñate and the “Entrada,” or annual reenactment of Don Diego de Vargas’s “peaceful” retaking of Santa Fe from the Pueblos that opens up the Fiestas de Santa Fe.
As the “Hispano/Mestizo/Genízaro/Chicano” community members who spoke to the gathering explained, this myth of a Spanish/Native binary has divided, not united northern New Mexico as a community, and the Fiestas exacerbate that divide by commemorating Spanish colonialism.
A series of concepts were interwoven throughout the discussion: the Tewa World; American settler colonialism: whiteness; fascism; tourism; economic exploitation; military occupation; colonial violence; environment racism. Marian Narajo, the founder of Honor Our Pueblo Existence at Santa Clara Pueblo, reminded us all that we live in the Tewa World as perpetrators and victims, but ultimately as caretakers as well. Porter Swentzell, also of Santa Clara Pueblo, and Professor of Liberal Indigenous Studies at IAIA, built upon that theme with his story of how the Puebloans and Anglos in territorial New Mexico came together to fight against the Mexican colonial rules issued by the elite Spaniard Santa Anna.
Hilario Romero, who was a Professor of History, Spanish, and Education at Northern New Mexico College, spoke of the long history of Spanish elitism and cruelty, from the days of the Isabella monarchy of 1492 to the rise of fascism under Francisco Franco in the 1930s. Juan de Oñate, whom the Fiestas celebrates, was responsible for the massacre at Acoma Pueblo in 1599 where the survivors’ feet were cut off and women and children were sold into slavery. In 1614 he was tried and convicted by the Spanish colonial government for numerous crimes of excessive cruelty.
After the American conquest in 1848 these facts became subsumed in a narrative that sought to glorify a Spanish heritage while denying its Indigenous roots. Both Romero and Michael Trujillo, a Professor of American Studies at UNM, reminded the gathering that it was Americans of European descent who first came up with the idea of the Fiestas. Trujillo had a friend look up the word “Mexicano/a” in Rubén Cobos’s book A Dictionary Of New Mexico And Southern Colorado Spanish that said, “A New Mexican of Mexican descent.” Then he had him look up “Spanish,” which isn’t in the dictionary. As Trujillo pointed out, “The Americans had to teach us what we were. Mexicanos were not part of the fiestas.”
I knew Moises Gonzales as a land grant activist (Genízaro heir of the Carnue Land Grant) and planner for Rio Arriba County back in the late 1990-2000s). He’s now a Professor in the Planning Department at UNM. He expanded upon the genesis of the fiestas as an “economic ploy.” The School of American Research, as a white, anthropological research center presented the myth of Santa Fe as tri-cultural to sell tourism, which promoted the gentrification of the city we know today. After the railroad arrived in Española, city fathers wanted a “carbon copy” of the Santa Fe fiestas as a boon for development. The photo below (courtesy of the Abiquiu Library) is a picture of the float of Genízaros from Abiquiu who participated in the Fiestas of 1957 and won best float. (Gonzales explained that Genizaros are descendants of captured Ute and Comanche slaves who were given a land grant by Governor Tomás Véles Cachupén in Abiquiu.)
Ana Malinalli X Gutiérrez Sisneros, community activist and Professor of Nursing at the Northern New Mexico College, added a little levity to the proceedings (but with a feminist punch). She’s engaged in battle with the Española Fiesta Council four times and lost each time but she’s back again with a new tactic. This time, instead of demanding that Oñate be dumped, she’s going to read a proclamation to the city council that they declare a Isabel de Tolosa Cortés de Moctezuma Day, who was the wife of Juan de Oñate and the granddaughter of Hernán Cortés, the conqueror of the Triple Alliance, and the great-granddaughter of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin.
Two women who have brought the fight to the attention of the public by direct action are Elena Ortiz and Jennifer Marley. Elena, from Ohkay Owingeh, and Jennifer, from San Ildefonso, are members of Red Nation and demonstrated at last year’s Santa Fe Entrada. Jennifer, along with 11 others, was arrested but later acquitted of charges. Both women stressed that they, along with others, have been fighting this battle for many years. In 1980, Pueblo activists Joe Sando and Herman Agoyo, who I worked with on many issues, filed one of the first protests against the Entrada. In response, the Fiesta Council retaliated against the Native artists selling on the Plaza. In 2015, two actors in the Entrada went off script, citing their desire to make the enactment more inclusive, and were fired. Jennifer also referenced the violence and hatred directed at her from white men when she was first involved in the KIVA Club and Red Nation’s movement to remove the racist UNM campus seal: “We are in this together against colonialist violence.”
Another shape of violence sits on the Tewa plateau called Pajarito. Beata Tsosie-Peña of Santa Clara Pueblo and Tewa Women United credited her fellow activists Marian Naranjo and Kathy Sanchez who have dedicated their lives to resisting nuclear weapons work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which she calls a third wave of occupation. Here the occupiers are largely white men who provide dangerous jobs to people of color in exchange for their health and cultural values. Beata also stressed that it is often women of color who pay the highest price because of their work on the land.
For those of you who want to learn more about what is obviously a complex norteño genealogy you can contact Miguel Tórrez, who gave a presentation at the gathering. He’s the administrator of the New Mexico Genealogical Society’s DNA Project.
Roger Montoya, who serves on the Community Relations Council, which replaces the old Fiesta Council, announced that two city councilors have suggested making the Fiestas a non-profit rather than a city project, which will come up for a vote before the next city council meeting on May 29. The new mayor, Javier Sanchez, attended the Reconciliation meeting, and will oversee the process as the Community Relations Council continues to meet with the community about changes to the Fiestas.
Finally, a big shout out to Luis Peña who made this all possible: Acequia parciante, organizer, husband, father, amigo, and buen vecino.
And one more thing: Great poems, Adan Baca!