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A Santa Fe Community Battles to End a Colonialist Reenactment

#AbolishTheEntrada is a demand to end the Entrada, an annual costumed reenactment of the colonial reconquest of Santa Fe by General Don Diego de Vargas in 1692.

The Santa Fe Police Department attempted to contain demonstrators in a “free speech zone” at the 2017 Entrada (photo by Jordan Naranjo, courtesy The Red Nation)

“It’s time to say ‘all the monuments must fall.’ Because it’s the form that sustains white supremacy, not just the individual objects.” — Nicholas Mirzoeff

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — #AbolishTheEntrada is a demand to end the Entrada, an annual costumed reenactment of the colonial reconquest of Santa Fe by General Don Diego de Vargas in 1692. Led by Pueblo activists and non-Native allies, the movement to abolish the event describes the Entrada — which officially opens the 300-year-old Fiesta de Santa Fe — as an expression of white supremacy. It also explicitly connects the Entrada to the battle over Confederate memorials that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia last August. In doing so, #AbolishTheEntrada deftly extends WJT Mitchell’s argument about monuments to the Entrada: these are not representations of history, but of power. Indeed, conflict between demonstrators and police at the 2017 event on September 8 made visible that which the procession and its pageantry attempt to disguise: that Santa Fe was not only founded on genocide, but also that the city continues to naturalize and profit from the dehumanization of Native people and the theft of their lands.

While Fiesta de Santa Fe dates back to 1712, the Entrada originated in the 1920s as part of an effort to attract more tourists to the area by highlighting Catholic rites and traditions, while downplaying conflict between Natives and Europeans. But, as Aimee Villarreal argues, Nuevomexicanos returning from World War II reinvented the Entrada as part of an effort to assimilate into the U.S. without giving up their traditions altogether. She writes:

Assimilation was the only option in the 1950s. Being Spanish American allowed my grandparents to be almost white — to be different but in an acceptable way. The downside is that this often required dis-identification with our Mexican origins and Native American roots.

Demonstrators march near Santa Fe Plaza with the message that the Entrada celebrates the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous people in New Mexico (screenshot from clendonpetejewelry via Instagram)

According to the Fiesta Council, the procession gives an account of General Don Diego de Vargas’s return to Santa Fe in 1692 and his promise to La Conquistadora, a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, to rebuild her throne destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The council describes the Entrada as an “accurate” reenactment of the “peaceful resettlement,” leaving out the parts about De Vargas’s threats of violence, the conflicts that ensued in the coming years, and the underlying rationality of white possession that informed De Vargas’s belief that he (and his Virgin) had a prior claim to Pueblo land because the Spanish had conquered it once before. These obfuscations and omissions come as little surprise, however, if we understand, as Mitchell does, that monuments aren’t about history; rather, monuments defeat history to justify the present. Indeed, the City of Santa Fe’s response to #AbolishTheEndrada reveals that effort.

Consider, for example, Santa Fe’s mayor, Javier Gonzalez, who served as De Vargas in the 1989 Entrada and was preceded in that role by several members of his family. In a statement, Gonzalez directs readers to the religious framework for the event, writing “The larger purpose of the Fiestas is to commemorate a religious promise made by De Vargas.” In the next breath, he stresses that the city is working hard to plan the celebrations for Indigenous Peoples’ Day to recognize “the incredible and significant contributions Native peoples have made to Santa Fe’s history.” He also tweeted enthusiastically about the city’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day festivities and released a separate statement, in the wake of Charlottesville, calling for an inventory and reevaluation of memorials and monuments, as well as city-sponsored events that recognize “historic events or people.” However, in a set of emails acquired by The Santa Fe New Mexican through a public records request, Gonzalez was actively working behind the scenes with the Fiesta Council and the chief of police to thwart #AbolishtheEntrada’s efforts at the very same time that he was speaking publicly about wanting to bring the community together. Weeks in advance of the Entrada, they colluded to move up the time of the procession by two hours and agreed to announce the change only 30 minutes before the new time, in the hope that demonstrators wouldn’t be able to reorganize. In these emails Gonzales also discussed how he — ultimately unsuccessfully — petitioned the All Indian Pueblo Council to produce a statement that is “more harmonious with the Hispanic community.”

SFPD perched atop local businesses to observe and intimidate demonstrators (photo courtesy The Red Nation)

On the one hand, the city’s support for the Entrada and its effort to divert the protests aren’t that different from the city’s support for Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Santa Fe Indian Market: Santa Fe will do anything for tourism. Still, the mayor’s call for inclusivity and conversation in the face of Native opposition reads like some of the responses to Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality: be grateful for all we have provided. More importantly, the glib response, “because tourism,” doesn’t explain the city’s aggressive response to #AbolishTheEntrada. Anti-Indianism, however, does.

According to The New Mexican, SFPD had been running surveillance on organizers leading up to the event. And, according to the Santa Fe Reporter, city officials had Charlottesville on their minds as they prepared for the Entrada. However, rather than consider the implications of a white supremacist rally that led to fights and the death of an anti-fascist protestor, the city created a separate “free speech zone” and issued a police response team that included snipers and an onsite arrestee processing unit. Eight protestors were arrested, including Jennifer Marley, who did much of the organizing for #AbolishTheEntrada. Marley was charged with a felony for allegedly assaulting officers with a protest sign after they snatched her out of the crowd, and after she was processed, police marched her through downtown while Entrada supporters jeered, an act that Diné organizer Demetrius Johnson likened to the humiliation experienced by Navajo on the Long Walk — though subsequently the charges initially levied against her have been dropped. “That’s what these police officers did to [Jennifer Marley] yesterday, the Red Nation reports, “Parading her like, ‘look, we caught her.’” Meanwhile, on Twitter, Gonzalez thanked protestors and other participants who “engaged with peace and dignity,” as well as police who “kept everyone safe.” On October 11, the All Pueblo Council wrote to Gonzales, asking for a meeting and calling the police response to the 2017 Entrada, “a full militaristic response to reopen the wounds that have taken many generations to heal.”

Jennifer Marley, from San Ildefonso Pueblo, organized #AbolishTheEntrada in 2016 and 2017. After facing felony charges for assaulting a police officer this year, she recently had all charges dropped (photo by Vanessa Bowen, courtesy The Red Nation)

In the context of these attempts to silence and criminalize the #AbolishTheEntrada demonstration, the connection to Charlottesville and Confederate monuments is palpable: an underlying ideological power structure that uses particular forms to sustain its own power. This is important, Mitchell tells us, because monuments also express the inevitable loss of power. They become a point of anxiety for those who stand to lose power, and that’s exactly what members of the #AbolishTheEntrada coalition see happening in Santa Fe. “What they didn’t know,” Johnson tells the Red Nation about the police response to the demonstrations, “is that it didn’t lower our morale, like they hoped, but instead made it stronger.”

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