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New Mexico’s Historical Controversies are America’s Historical Controversies

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I appreciated this discussion of the Entrada celebration in Santa Fe, a now long-running tradition in the city reenacting the Spanish reconquest of it in 1692 after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the only successful Native revolt in the Americas. For the Hopis, they remained free of European control all the way until the American takeover after the Mexican War as the Spanish never bothered returning there. Finally, Native protests have ended it, at least for now.

For as long as nearly anyone here can remember, Hispanic residents have donned the garb of conquistadors and European nobility once a year to celebrate the 1692 reconquest of New Mexico from Native Americans who submitted to the Spanish Empire after a grisly revolt.

But after escalating protests by Native Americans who saw the re-enactment as a racist attempt to gloss over atrocities carried out by Spanish colonizers, the annual tradition known as the Entrada officially came to an end on Friday, replaced by a multidenominational prayer gathering to begin the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe.

The move, aimed at forging reconciliation in the 411-year-old city, was an attempt to avoid the kind of turmoil that authorities elsewhere in the country are grappling with over Confederate monuments and other symbols of historic brutality, including statues honoring European conquerors.

The end of the Entrada is rekindling debate over how to portray New Mexico’s complex history, marked by centuries of enslavement of Native Americans, military conquest by Spain and the United States and attempts to depict the state as a place where Hispanics, Native Americans and Anglos, or non-Hispanic whites, peacefully coexist.

But I don’t think the Confederate statue comparison is quite apt. Rather, it should be compared to what needs to happen in the rest of the United States–a real reckoning with the violent conquest of the continent by whites. What needs to be attacked here as well is Columbus Day and the statues of Columbus that line the nation, not to mention so-called “western heroes” around the region. From Columbus to Andrew Jackson to George Armstrong Custer is a line of violent racist conquerors seeking to exterminate or enslave Native peoples. That’s what the Entrada ultimately celebrates and so does Columbus Day, despite Italian-American efforts to make into a day celebrating their culture and heritage.

Another way this whole issue is a deeply American and not just a New Mexican issue is that the Hispano population (which is what old-school Latinos in New Mexico prefer) blames much of this on the whitening of Santa Fe as it becomes a bastion of the global elite where regular people–and specifically people of color–can’t afford to live there anymore. And that’s a very real phenomena of many of our cities, from New York to Portland.

What the Entrada, Santa Fe, and the racial complexity of New Mexico represent is something both unique to that place and what the rest of America increasingly looks like. Who should we celebrate? Who has the right to public space? Who makes decisions over cities and urban festivals? Who wins in a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society with complex histories? These are central questions we face in the endless recasting of American identity.

As an aside, the linked article mentions Chris Wilson’s The Myth of Santa Fe and I cannot recommend that book highly enough. You should read it, as it is a fantastic study of that city and how much that you think is timeless in that city was basically created in the years after 1912.

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