By Simon Romero
The Caballeros de Vargas escorting a representation of the Virgin Mary, at the Fiesta de Sante Fe. For the first time last month, the festival did not include a celebration of the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico. (Adria Malcolm for The New York Times)
SANTA FE, New Mexico — 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 last month, 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.
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.
“The Entrada grew into a wedge between us, exposing the deep wounds of colonialism,” said Regis Pecos, a former governor of Cochiti Pueblo, one of New Mexico’s 23 federally recognized tribes. Mr. Pecos, who negotiated on behalf of Native American leaders to end the pageant, added: “We know the reconquest was anything but peaceful. So why celebrate something so divisive?”
The Entrada, which translates roughly to “entry,” portrayed the reassertion of Spanish control in 1692 over New Mexico by the conquistador Don Diego de Vargas as a harmonious feat of colonial rule, in which Native peoples agreed to cease hostilities and yield to European rulers.
But historians have documented that de Vargas grappled for years with protracted resistance from various tribes. Trying to quell such defiance, his forces carried out mass executions of dozens of Native Americans in Santa Fe, not far from where the Entrada was re-enacted.
The struggle for control of what was then one of the Spanish Empire’s most remote colonies still resonates in Santa Fe, where Hispanics account for 54 percent of a population of 84,000. Anglos comprise 40 percent of the population and Native Americans 2 percent.
The pageant was neither very old nor as historically precise as some here suggest.
At a time when cities around the United States were in a craze for pageants evoking the feats of early European settlers, the Entrada was created in the early decades of the 20th century largely to lure tourists to Santa Fe.
Anglos filled many of the conquistador roles in the early years until Hispanics began supplanting them.
Some have complained that the Entrada’s cancellation is emblematic of ways in which Hispanics have ceded economic and political power in Santa Fe to Anglos in recent years, to the point that many families who have hewed for generations to the city’s Hispanic traditions can no longer afford to live here.
Many Native Americans, however, hold different views. Mr. Pecos said the debate over the Entrada could allow Hispanics to focus more on their ties to indigenous cultures. He pointed to revelations that many Hispanics here have forebears who were Genízaros, Native American slaves sold to Hispanic families from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
“This may be an opportunity,” Mr. Pecos said, “for people in New Mexico to be frank and earnest about their ancestry.”
Either way, the pageant’s end may also reflect how political power here is shifting. Tribes are asserting greater economic sway, thanks to casino gambling revenues.
Some here wonder what the city could stand to lose.
Richard Barela, president of the Union Protectiva de Santa Fe, an organization dedicated to preserving the city’s Hispanic culture, told The Santa Fe New Mexican that the pageant’s end was part of an erosion of traditions that make Santa Fe stand out among American cities. “You start doing away with those and we just become like Phoenix, Arizona,” he said. “No espíritu,” he added. “No spirit.”