Although the long -day’s journey from Santa Barbara is tiring, the stop at Padilla’s near the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque for the mouthwatering enchiladas with red and green chile replenishes us for the drive up to Santa Fe. A day later on Friday, we walk in darkness to the 6AM Pregón de la Fiesta opening Mass at Rosario Chapel, where about 40 people dressed in old Spanish attire process in to commemorate Diego de Vargas’ vow, as he prayed to La Conquistadora in 1693 before re-conquering the Pueblo Indians in Santa Fe. The native people had rebelled against the Spanish conquerors in 1680 and enjoyed twelve years of self-rule before the Spaniards returned. Amazing music and vocals filled the small 19th century chapel with old and new Spanish hymns, as the “peregrina,” the duplicate of the 400-year-old statue from Spain, takes center stage behind the altar. After the priests pay homage to the Virgin with incense, they then do the same before the much smaller crucifix off to the side, this central Catholic image now displaced by the beloved image of the Virgin, La Conquistadora. The faithful have sewn over 200 dresses for the statue, and she appears with a special fiesta dress for the opening Mass. Afterwards, people gather outside for bizcochitos, hot chocolate, and coffee and watch Native dancing. We then walked up to Tîa Sophia’s, where the choir had also gathered, to enjoy delicious blueberry pancakes, followed by a long trek up Canyon Road. We had walked over three miles and it wasn’t even 9AM!
Local historian Ana Pacheco (“puro party,” as she calls herself) comes to greet us, inviting us to Mónica Sosaya’s famous Fiesta party the next night. The 86-year-old santera, painter of popular religious images of saints on wood or embroidered on colchas, is a cousin of Fray Angélico Chávez, one of New Mexico’s foremost 20th century intellectuals. She carried the beautiful white pillow on which he painted a monstrance at his ordination ceremony in 1937 in St. Francis Cathedral, when he made history as the first native New Mexican to be ordained a Franciscan priest in the four centuries since the conquest. Mario García and I had interviewed her a decade earlier about Fray Angélico in her beautiful adobe home, and she showed us the Peña Blanca church doors Fray Angélico had carved in 1939, rescued and kept safe in her back yard. It was so special to see her again and participate in this wonderful local fiesta dinner celebration. We chatted with filmmaker Scott Andrews who told us about his film about Mónica on The Wisdom Archive on YouTube, which wonderfully captures her and her treasured artistic work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBrU_PgJwt8.
The annual re-enactment of the 1692-3 Reconquest of Santa Fe in the central plaza on the Friday afternoon of Fiesta has become the site of increasing violence and protest from the Native American community. This year it was secretly rescheduled two hours earlier, but the violent protest still took place, with eight protestors arrested and one charged with a felony. Hispanos argue that they are commemorating De Vargas’ 1692 peaceful journey to Santa Fe, not the 1693 military attack he led a year later. But it was at the 1693 battle that he prayed to Our Lady of the Rosary, La Conquistadora, outside town at what is now Rosario, and vowed to build a chapel there should he be victorious. In my view, New Mexico Hispanos should be allowed to memorialize this key element of their long history in the area, and continue the long tradition of the reenactment drama with their version of events, but Native Americans should stage their own reenactment play on the same public stage in the plaza. In the Hispano version, an actor representing the lone Native American in the play jokingly says, “We wished you wouldn’t come back, but you did!”—quite a reductionist representation of the conquered Pueblo Indians. We need multiple perspectives on historical events, and the public space of the plaza should offer such opportunities for nuancing history.
Saturday after lunch we walked a mile to the Gerald Peters gallery to attend a rich presentation by Glenn Frankel on his new book High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. The former Washington Post reporter succinctly and dynamically conveyed the main arguments of his book, which, in similarly accessible style, uses Gary Cooper’s iconic film to draw readers to the history of the tragic blacklist of American screenwriters in the late 1940s and 1950s. I learned so much during these two hours and as I later read the book, and I wished I could make my academic writing as accessible and attractive as Frankel’s. While it was heartening to see this fairly large audience turn out for a Saturday afternoon book talk, I was struck nonetheless at the “two Santa Fe’s” cast into relief by this largely white crowd. Why weren’t local Hispanos also enjoying this tremendous learning experience? Economic and educational disparities persist throughout life for many people.
Walking down to the plaza afterwards, we saw many local Hispanos and Mexican immigrants who were enjoying the fiesta events. Booths of delicious food, live music performances, folkloric dancing, and a street lined with craft booths drew in crowds, some of which rarely come to the Plaza that these days is largely filled with tourists and local downtown workers. The annual Fiesta draws a heterogeneous crowd of Latinos to this central space for three days. We especially enjoy dancing Saturday night to the live band in the plaza with the diverse crowd of old and young, the warm fresh air, and the sky peeking through the light-filled plaza trees. Even Father Adam Ortega y Ortiz from the Cathedral was enjoying himself by the bandstand. The next morning the Knights of Columbus and the Caballeros de Vargas would carry La Conquistadora in a procession from the Palace of the Governors on Washington Street to the Cathedral. Retired Justice Patricio Serna invited Mario to walk in the procession with him. That evening, after the closing Mass, the congregation would process with lighted candles to the Cross of the Martyrs for a splendid ending to the three-day celebration.
Early Monday morning Mario and I continued our work with Roque García, whose life story we are writing. From his humble beginnings as an underprivileged student at St. Francis Cathedral School, through his political activities during the Chicano Movement, his work in Latino social services, and finally his three decades as a food vendor on the Plaza, Roque represents a Santa Fe everyman with an intriguing story and connection to the local community. Three years ago we began our early-morning interviews with him in his west-side home, before he drives his loaded truck to the plaza at 10:00 and begins to grill his famous carnitas to entice the lunch crowd. On this trip, we gave him 125 pages of the manuscript and began to work on corrections and additions. He was thrilled to see this concrete product of the project, and every interview this time brought out even more compelling episodes of his enticing story. On Friday, after Roque left for the plaza, we interviewed his brother Joe who drove in from the village of Pajarito to talk to us. And on our last day, we stopped at the New Mexico State Archives and discovered digital versions of dozens of articles that have appeared in The New Mexican about Roque over the years. Not only will these articles add background and details to the story, but they finesse some of Roque’s recollections about exact dates and events. We didn’t have much luck in our efforts to get photographs from the New Mexican, but we did locate one at the Photo Archives to add to the many in Roque’s own collection. We’re now contacting publishers about the book. So great to see this research coming to fruition, especially since Roque turned 80 in June.
Mario had arranged to interview Justice Patricio Serna, the first Hispano to be named a state Supreme Court Chief Justice in the U.S. After getting a J.D. at the University of Denver and then a LL.M degree at Harvard in the early 1970s, Justice Serna was named special assistant to Commissioner Raymond Telles at the EEOC in Washington. Mario is updating and revising his biography of Telles, the first Mexican-American to be elected mayor of a major U.S. city (El Paso) and later ambassador to Costa Rica, and wanted to include Justice Serna’s memories of his mentor. I brought him a copy of my book on Fray Angélico Chávez, and we began the interview with his eloquent memories of having known Chávez, especially his lunches with Fray Angélico at the Palace restaurant in Santa Fe, along with the prolific priest's beloved scotch. A gentle man, Serna let his emotions flow as he recounted his experiences with Chávez, but especially, his memorable time in Washington working with Ambassador Telles.
It was as if the Santa Fe Fiesta went on for two weeks! It had kicked off with the burning of the Zozobra on Sept. 1, and on the weekend of the 15th it was still going strong with local singer Jerry López’s Friday night concert and the celebration of Mexican Independence Day on Saturday the 16th. The Friday night crowd for Jerry López and Friends at the beautiful Lensic theatre downtown was responsive and rowdy, cheering throughout the performance of a wide variety of Latino/Hispano music. Ana Pacheco brought Mónica Sosaya to the concert, and I had a nice chat with Mónica before it started. Her favorite of Jerry’s guests, she noted, was Carlos Reyes, the Paraguayan-born San Francisco musician who played the harp and violin, and stunningly ended the evening with a moving rendition of Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango.” I remembered him from two years ago, and, although it was hard to select one, his performance became my favorite as well. What a treat to meet him at the after-party at the Skylight club. And we also reconnected there with Hazel Romero, the archivist who had helped us over so many years on our research on Fray Angélico Chávez. Such a small town, this city of Santa Fe.
Saturday afternoon we attended the entertainment for the 16 de Septiembre on the Plaza. I felt like I was back in the Mexican village I lived and worked in years ago. A local group performed ballet folklórico dances from several regions in Mexico—talented men, women, and children who danced up a storm. Then the trio Los Amigos played poignant traditional Mexican songs for an hour. One lawyer who helped sponsor the event reminded the crowd of Mexican immigrants that they have rights in this country. I noticed that this audience was unusually quiet during the performances. Hardly anyone responded when the announcer asked, “Who’s from Monterrey? Who’s from Durango? Who’s from Guadalajara?” And then I realized that these hard-working people dressed up in their nice clothes to come to the Plaza to celebrate their national holiday were also fearful because of their tenuous status in the U.S. How different from the Hispano crowd at the Jerry López concert the night before. On our daily walk down Griffin Street to town, we also saw a home-made cardboard sign "ARRIBA DACA" posted in one yard.
On one special evening, two friends from USC came over for dinner. Sociology professors Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotello and Mike Messner had so much to share with us about their Santa Fe impressions and larger issues. Pierrette is a fellow at the School of American Research in Santa Fe this year, writing a book on Mexican immigrant workers who are transitioning into south central Los Angeles neighborhoods through their participation in community gardens and their enjoyment of parks. Parks become community spaces that remind them of Mexico, as do the gardens where they grow crops that remind them of their home villages. Mike brought over an issue of a Veterans for Peace newspaper with an interesting article about the upcoming Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War. Watching the powerful documentary in the ensuing days has been sad and enlightening. There’s nothing like visual media and historical footage from the time to educate about this tragic war that affected so many of my contemporaries in the 1960s and 70s. I learned so much, and thought again and again of my elementary and high school classmates who had to go to Vietnam, some dying there, while I had the privilege to be so happy going to college.
So much left undone in this short two-week research trip. So many people we would have liked to reconnect with in Santa Fe, such as writers Pat Mora and Demetria Martínez--who had a wonderful write-up in the newspaper while we were there, and Santiago Vaquera-Vasquez and Nathalie Bleser close-by in Albuquerque. To be continued!