If you could get high on a city, Fiestas weekend on the Plaza is where you would go to breathe in the essence of Santa Fe. This past Saturday, generations of families and others came to laze around in the late-afternoon sunlight. The smells of fry bread and meat wafted in the air as chomped corn cobs piled up in trash cans. Folklorico music and mariachi trumpets mixed with Baby Boomer-era hits like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” as small children bounded on the grass, a few shooting at each other with toy guns.
This story originally appeared at the Santa Fe Reporter and is reprinted with permission.
“I was noticing that, as I walked through the Plaza earlier, that it was just as I remembered it—it was families with blankets spread out in the Plaza grass and shade, kids running around from blanket square to blanket square, people visiting and seeing people they know,” says Jason Younis y Delgado, an artist selling Spanish colonial-style tinwork among the dozens of vendors on Lincoln Avenue. “It just heartens me to know that that part of our culture is intact.”
The day before on the same street, Santa Fe police officers had handcuffed Jennifer Marley, a Pueblo woman from San Ildefonso and an undergraduate student at the University of New Mexico, after a standoff between police and the protest group Marley had been leading. They later charged her with two misdemeanor counts of criminal trespassing and two felony counts of battery on an officer. Her arrest came shortly after a group of about 150 protesters approached a line of police intent on keeping the group away from the Plaza. Marley was a charismatic organizer of the protest, and her rough detainment had incensed the crowd.
The protest was aimed at the Entrada pageant, the event that kicks off Fiestas weekend wherein actors perform a version of the city’s 1692 reconquest by Don Diego de Vargas. Protesters argue that the pageant inaccurately represents the past and find its depiction of Pueblo subjugation to Spanish rule to be patronizing and racist. While the pageant represents a small sliver of Fiestas weekend, it is tightly wound up in the city’s power structure. The mayor and multiple city councilors have a cultural affinity with the production.
The contrast between the two afternoons was on the mind of Younis y Delgado, who questioned the response of the police the day before even while praising the traditions of the weekend. He has a cousin who played the Fiesta queen years ago, after all. But he acknowledges that a refusal by those in power to take the protesters seriously leaves them few options but direct action.
“Do I want to see the Fiestas court being heckled? No, I don’t ever want to see that. On the other hand, what pain is behind that?” says Younis y Delgado. “And if you can empathize with that, you can at least open your mind to hearing what their message is.”
The night before the Entrada, a Diné woman from Pueblo Pintado named Cheyenne Antonio was among a handful of people making signs at the Wise Fool New Mexico community space. The activists attached sheets of paper onto cardboard placards, praising the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and its leader, Po’Pay, and demanding the protection of Chaco Canyon from fracking. A haunting effigy of a skeletal conquistador with a black heart stood nearby.
Antonio got involved organizing against the Entrada through The Red Nation, an Albuquerque-based political group dedicated to the liberation of Indigenous people, and the University of New Mexico’s Kiva Club. She helped lead the successful campaign for Albuquerque to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, and was also part of the ongoing effort to get UNM to abandon its conquistador-centric seal.
She is part of a younger generation of Native people who’ve formed a burgeoning movement over the last several years to confront vestiges and policies of white supremacy and racial capitalism nationwide.
“Our organizers for this event are young,” Antonio tells SFR. “It’s young people, and so they’re more aware. They care about their communities. They’re all very active within their Pueblos.”
She says that this movement is growing, citing protests against the Entrada from the last two years.
“It’s very important we continue to educate ourselves [about] how the state was founded, but also to move forward to protect what is sacred and most valuable to us such as water and air, our health and safety, our tribal sovereignty as a nation—because in all capacities, we benefit the state.”
Absent from the planning meeting was Jennifer Marley, a lead organizer with The Red Nation who would become a political martyr after her arrest. Marley told SFR by phone the night before the Entrada that her own political evolution was shaped not just by the layered violence of the region, but also by her immediate lineage: Her father was of majority European descent, creating internal tension for her as she struggled to form her own identity in San Ildefonso Pueblo.
“Growing up, that was a source of conflict with my own identity because of how I was treated in my community, and whether it was severe or cracking fun of me, it made me self-conscious and self-aware,” Marley says. “It had me really thinking critically of the intersection of the identities, and the manifestations of identities that have come to exist here are super important.” Her father, she says, was a “violent, sexist, brutal person; he was an embodiment of Spanish conquest and US imperialism, the way he harassed my mother and whole family. So understanding myself as a living product of this violence that’s never ended has made me passionate about these struggles.”
The modern version of Fiestas and the Entrada have their roots in the early-20th century collaboration between mostly Anglo men, who were prominent merchants and members of local fraternity chapters such as the Scottish Rite. Before that, the sporadic portrayals of the reconquest that would eventually evolve into the Entrada featured reluctant Native participants, according to Chris Wilson, author of The Myth of Santa Fe, published in 1997 by UNM Press.
Pueblo Indians participating in such productions, Wilson writes, “fought mock battles with the Spanish in the 1883 and 1912 pageants and even submitted by kneeling before a large cross in 1883. But starting in 1920, Anglos and Hispanos had to be recruited to fill Indian roles.”
The decision in the late 1920s to focus Fiestas’ pageantry on the ostensibly peaceful 1692 invasion by Don Diego de Vargas, rather than the violent battles between Pueblo resistance and Spanish colonizers that occurred one year later, he argues, squared well with the city’s conscious branding of itself as a melting pot and desire to obscure persistent local inequities. The Catholicization of Fiestas happened gradually from 1920 onward, centered on a 1712 proclamation calling for “Vespers, Mass, sermon and procession through the Plaza” at the weekend’s opening.
Fiestas, and specifically the Entrada, has since become a kind of ethnic-religious occasion for generations of Santa Feans who’ve grown up unaware of anything different. In a piece she wrote in 2011 for Pasatiempo, folk art museum director Khristaan D Villela suggests the deepening religious undertones of Fiestas were “a reaction of the city’s Hispanic populace to the increasingly secular and bohemian nature of the city.”
The Caballeros de Vargas, a fraternity which was refounded in 1956, organizes Catholic ceremonies dedicated to an interpretation of the Virgin Mary known locally as “La Conquistadora,” represented by a wooden madonna brought to New Mexico in the 17th century. They also write the script for the Entrada. The Fiesta Council, meanwhile, is responsible for organizing the majority of the weekend’s events and selecting actors to represent de Vargas and La Reina in the Entrada.
The groups also produce local power brokers. A 1989 article in the Albuquerque Journalfeaturing future mayor Javier Gonzales, who was elected to represent de Vargas that year, shows how close to their hearts some powerful men in the area carry the tradition of the Entrada. At that time, the current mayor’s father, brothers, uncle and cousin had portrayed de Vargas before him.
“‘I look at my father and we both had tears in our eyes,” Gonzales told Journal writer Camille Flores at the time. “The bear hug that followed,” Camille wrote, “further sealed a bond between the two men, 22-year-old son Javier and father [George] Gonzales.”
At an early-morning Pregón de la Fiesta Mass last Friday, Gonzales addressed the congregation both as mayor and as a devotee of the religious tradition. He praised the 1712 proclamation for its guidance and said he believed the weekend would bring healing and hope. The Fiesta Court and members of the Caballeros de Vargas were also in attendance.
“I pray to La Conquistadora and ask that she allow me to be the alcalde you need on a daily basis,” the outgoing mayor said, thanking the congregation one last time for allowing him to serve the city.
The morning proceeded as a mostly typical Catholic Mass, but was interspersed with words from members of the Fiestas elite. Dean Milligan, president of the Fiesta Council, thanked city councilors and former de Vargas actors Ron Trujillo, who is running for mayor next year, and Carmichael Dominguez, for showing up that morning. David Monserrat Jaramillo y Estrada and Hope Andrea Quintana, who were selected by the Fiesta Council to represent de Vargas and La Reina de la Fiesta de Santa Fe, also addressed the congregation, and a priest praised the 1692 resettlement of Santa Fe and the Entrada depiction as “a moment we would like to grow into a whole life of peace.”
Also sitting among the pews was Doug Nava, who is gunning for the north side District 1 City Council seat again next year. In a conversation with SFR one month prior, Nava explained that his conflicting feelings about the Entrada pageant came as a result of his personal growth and maturity. He loves Fiestas; he ran for the part of de Vargas in his 20’s, and he has a large tattoo of La Conquistadora on his right arm. He now recognizes that the pageant is offensive to some Native people, and says he’s open to pushing for changes to the event.
“It is time for us to become sensitive to people’s feelings. I highly support it,” he said, referring to ideas for making the Entrada more inclusive. Even so, Nava, who describes himself as a “Spanish person,” contends that it is the protesters who are “abrasive,” reflecting the sentiment of many who grew up loving the pageant.
“I would never go to a Pueblo and tell them to stop dancing for their corn harvest; that’s who they are, that’s what they believe, and they do it publicly,” said Nava. “But yeah, I can tell you right now, I would love to see a change. And for the sake of human life, I don’t want to see downtown turn into a big riot.”
There wasn’t a riot in the Plaza on Friday, but the police were ready for one. When this year’s Entrada kicked off two hours earlier than scheduled—a surprise decision made by city officials, the Caballeros de Vargas and the Fiesta Council in order to preempt planned protests—a flank of police looked on uneasily as a few protesters heckled performers on stage. Officers dressed in urban camouflage peered down from surrounding rooftops, snapping photos of anybody in the vicinity of protesters.
Nobody representing the Pueblo Indians receiving de Vargas’ entourage got down on their knees, as had upset people during past performances, but the pageant’s script still emphasized subjugation. De Vargas tells the man playing the part of the Tesuque Pueblo cacique that the Spanish king will grant them a full pardon for the Pueblo rebellion in return for their conversion to Catholicism. Before exiting the stage, the whole procession gathered under the bandstand for one last song. One actor triumphantly waved the flag of the Spanish empire as the audience cheered and jeered.
Police then attempted to herd the growing number of protesters to a “free speech zone” at the northeast corner of the Plaza. Santa Fe Police Captain Adam Gallegos blithely explained over a loudspeaker that they were being moved at the request of the Santa Fe Fiesta Council, the event’s permit holder. As the mass of police and protesters on the street between the bandstand and the Palace of the Governors grew more chaotic, some of the Pueblo vendors under the Palace’s portal, which was festooned in typical Fiestas fashion with the family crests of names who took part in de Vargas’ expedition, expressed mixed feelings at the day’s events.
“People don’t need to get hurt and people have been hurt in the past. Vendors along the portal have had items that have gotten broken,” says a woman named Monica, who says family has sold items under the portal for generations. “I fully understand the reasoning behind the police actions.”
Another vendor, Eileen Rosera from the Kewa Pueblo, voiced her support for abolishing the Entrada.
“There is no such thing as a designated area for a protesting event. It is freedom of speech, they can be anywhere they want,” she says. “There’s never an orderly fashion to everything. Once again, the Native American is being pushed around.”
A group bearing signs and life-sized marionettes led by Jennifer Marley arrived to the northeast corner of the Plaza, but was blocked by police because they didn’t have a permit. They instead walked up Washington Avenue, freely taking the street as the concentration of cops in the Plaza tried to catch up. A brief standoff ensued at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Marcy Street before Marley was suddenly snatched into a throng of officers. Video taken by SFR shows police pushing aside people who held onto Marley’s body as officers yanked her out of the crowd. The booming voices of enraged protesters, who chanted “fuck white supremacy” and “let her go,” echoed down the street.
Two separate videos taken by SFR that day suggest that police handled Marley more aggressively than they did two white protesters earlier in the afternoon. In the first video, multiple officers handcuff Sierra Logan and Jennifer Haley while one commands that their limp bodies be carried away. In contrast, officers who arrest Marley tug her arms forward as she is handcuffed and kneeling passively on the street while wearing tall moccasins and a one-shouldered dress in the Pueblo style. Rather than offer to carry her, they demand she stand up. Marley was eventually taken away on foot.
The aftermath of Friday’s response to anti-Entrada groups could mark a turning point for the local tradition. The clash was disclosed on the national stage in an Associated Press article, and the ongoing criminal cases of those arrested—all of whom were released from Santa Fe County jail by Sunday afternoon—have mobilized a grassroots network of supporters for the defendants.
In a statement via Twitter, Mayor Gonzales thanked “peaceful protesters,” Entrada participants and law enforcement for taking part in a “very difficult conversation” that he says “moved forward.” In a later interview with SFR, the mayor says that some Hispanic families, including his own, may have a hard time recognizing their ancestral role in conquest because they lost land and culture in later waves of Anglo-American colonization. He demurred when asked if the Entrada should be abandoned, advocating instead for “dialogue.”
Lawyer Dan Cron is representing Marley on a pro-bono basis. Last November, Cron put together a strike force of local lawyers willing to represent people charged in protests. As soon as he heard of the arrests that happened Friday, Cron tells SFR, he sent out an email blast to criminal defense attorneys on a listserv in order to start pairing attorneys with defendants free of charge.
Outside of criminal court, the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is reviewing the constitutionality of police corralling protesters into a so-called “free speech zone” on behalf of a private entity like the Fiesta Council. Police Chief Patrick Gallagher tells SFR that the police strategy for facing the protest was influenced by recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, that saw violent clashes including death and injury at a rally turned rumble. The main priority for police, he says, was separating Entrada dectractors and supporters from one another.
ACLU attorney Kristin Greer Love says she’s also looking into the possibility of civil rights violations at the Entrada protest, including a claim by one defendant, Julian Rodriguez, that he was not taking part in the protests and was racially profiled prior to his arrest.
That work would add to the pressure the ACLU is already mounting on the city by investigating possible violations of the First Amendment through its financial support for Fiestas week, which supporters have described as a religious celebration. A resolution passed by the city declares that it will reimburse the Fiesta Council for $50,000 annually with funds generated through a lodger’s tax.
“We need to see specifically what was reimbursed by the city,” she tells SFR, referring to whether financial support for Fiestas goes against the principles of separation of church and state.
At the Municipal Court building on Monday morning, about two dozen defendants and supporters gathered for the arraignments of the Entrada defendants. Ahjo Sipowicz wore a shirt with a piece of paper stapled to it that read, “Free Santa Fe 8,” a reference to Carmen Stone, Nicole Ullerich, Sierra Logan, Julian Rodriguez, Jennifer Haley, Trenton Ward, Chad Brown Eagle and Jennifer Marley. All except Marley only face misdemeanor counts of criminal trespass or disorderly conduct.
Savannah Junes, a Pueblo woman from Ohkay Owingeh who helped organize the protests, tells SFR that The Red Nation has created a legal fund for arrestees. She believes Santa Fe Police violated the right to speech and assembly, something that the attorney representing most of the defendants that day, Todd Coberly, also suggests.
Inside the courtroom, defendants sat among the cream-colored pews as Judge Virginia Vigil called up each of them to answer to their charges. Vigil’s mix-up of the two Jennifers—one of whom only faces two misdemeanor counts, the other two misdemeanors and two felonies—caused some confusion, but everybody pleaded not guilty. Pretrial appearances will happen next month.
Marley will be the last defendant to formally hear her alleged crimes read in court. She was scheduled to appear Wednesday morning in the Santa Fe County Magistrate Court.
In a statement posted to her Facebook after she was released from jail, Marley remained committed to her cause.
“I hope and pray that all realize the necessity for a long term Pueblo Resistance movement, I pray that liberation becomes something possible in the minds of all Native people,” she wrote. “Pueblo resistance never died, it is as resilient as we are, and it will persist for centuries to come.”