Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Elena Ortiz (Ohkay Owingeh) was allowed to go to the events of the annual late summer week of Fiestas, such as the burning of Zozobra and the Pet Parade, but never to the Entrada.
“My father would not stomach it,” she recalled. “He always told us, ‘It’s the celebration of the conquest of your people.’”
Ortiz didn’t see the Entrada until she was an adult, and it was still a scarring experience.
The Entrada is a one-hour reenactment of the conquest of Santa Fe by Don Diego de Vargas in 1692, twelve years after the expulsion of the Spanish during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Though Los Caballeros de Vargas, who sponsor the pageant, declare that it’s an accurate portrayal of historical events, that assertion gets a hearty laugh from Ortiz.
“Revisionist history and racist” is how she’s described it in the countless letters she has written to newspaper editors and school and city government officials in the past decades trying to raise the issues of cultural insensitivity that bedevil the Entrada.
Ortiz, who holds a management position in an international educational touring company, is adamant that all vestiges of the Entrada be abolished, especially the visits by the member of the Fiesta court wearing faux armor and full Colonial Spanish regalia to the public schools. Over the years, if Ortiz found out which day they were visiting her children’s schools, she’d pull them out, without apology or excuse.
“They promote this Eurocentric conquest agenda, and it’s a violation of our civil rights,” she said. “It’s a religious event, and has no place in the schools.”
Moreover, she’d like to see the Entrada abolished by the current administration, which has already embraced Indigenous People’s Day. Her position is clear: “If the mayor’s trying to placate us, it won’t work,” she said. “The Entrada has to go. Seven generations from now I don’t want anyone to even remember that they did this.”
“If it would get the Entrada abolished, I’d go to jail,” said her daughter Savannah, 19, who was the inspiration for her mother getting out into the streets, chanting: “When Native lives are under attack, what we do? Stand up, fight back!”
“I was on the board of Savannah’s school, which prides itself on its multi-culturalism,” Elena said. “We had heated discussions about them providing an historically accurate counter narrative, and refusing the visit by the Fiesta court. I wanted them to say ‘You cannot come on our property,’ but they wouldn’t stand up for the Native students. And that’s when I decided we are not going to put up with this any more.”
Last year the group of protestors, larger in number than the first Entrada protest at the plaza during Fiestas in 2015, included activists from The Red Nation and young people from the University of New Mexico’s Kiva Club. The Santa Fe Police Department was waiting for them, after Elena, as a courtesy, had let them know that the protest would be “peaceful, but noisy.”
“It was pretty freaky; 30 cop cars,” Elena recalled. “I panicked a little; they had Washington Avenue blocked off. I thought ‘Oh my God, they aren’t here for us, are they?’”
There was a SWAT team positioned on the roof. “We called up to them,” Savannah said. “‘Are you afraid of a bunch of non-violent Native women?’”
“The city doesn’t have any problem celebrating the subjugation of Pueblo people because it sees us as less than. But I have never encountered any women stronger than Natives when pushed against the wall—we will fight back,” Elena said. “If I didn’t protest the Entrada I’d be saying that it’s all right to allow ourselves to be subjected to this marginalization and abuse. We’d be failing our kids.”
Savannah, who is a creative writing student at the Institute of American Indian Arts, is proud of her mom for standing up for her, and for being a good role model.
“For the longest time I was afraid to speak up because it would always go in favor of the other party, because I was a minority,” said Savannah. (Though Santa Fe is on Tewa land, only 5 percent of its population is Native.) “My mom told me it was okay to speak up. I feel more power than I did a year ago. Now, if there’s something I don’t like, I don’t hold it back. I call it like it is.”
Though mother and daughter have always been close, protesting the Entrada together has strengthened their bond.
“We have common goals, and a common sense of outrage,” Elena said. “I’d love to see more Native mothers from the Santa Fe public schools join us this year.
“Honestly, I think there’s going to be a confrontation during one of these protests where we’re going to reach a terminal velocity—when an unstoppable force will meet an immovable object. And that’s what it’s going to take.”
ICMN reached out to the City of Santa Fe and Fiestas de Santa Fe organizers for comment, but calls were not returned by press time.