There are all kinds of reasons to visit Taos, New Mexico, one of that state’s most enchanting places. From Denver, it’s just a bit more than a five-hour drive. But once there, it’s almost the perfect place to lounge, enjoy authentic New Mexico ambiance and kill a day or two or more. Simply put, Taos is a lovely getaway. And it’s even lovelier if you’re there for Las Fiestas de Taos.
And there certainly was a smattering---actually, quite a bit more---of visitors over the weekend for the Feast of St. Anne “Santa Ana” and St. James “Santiago”, the more formal name of the annual summer celebration. The plaza teemed with thousands of faces from Taos and scores of towns and hamlets from across the state and beyond.
“For a lot of people, the Fiesta gives them a reason to come back and connect,” said Taos City Councilman Darien Fernandez. Of course, connecting at the Fiesta means great company, great food and two days of the music they’ve missed from being gone.
While there are plenty of similar events that take place each summer across New Mexico, the Taos version is special. “We’ve always been a center of trade,” said Fernandez. The Fiesta is trading culture, language and stories and it’s also about preserving culture. Every year I try and bring someone new to the Fiesta.”
While Colorado and New Mexico have been at war on whose state grows better chile, for Fiesta weekend, it’s settled law. The green chile burgers---red, if you prefer---the turkey legs or the potpourri of other foods thrill the pallet.
Taos, a summertime tourist mecca, gets a nice, mid-summer economic boost from the Fiesta. “Everyone in Taos is at the celebration at some point over the weekend,” said Fernandez. “It really is a celebration that the community partakes in.”
Fiestas and faith have been intertwined in New Mexican history for centuries. A Fiesta Mass is the way nearly all celebrations have begun over the years, though there may be some changes in the offing. Native Americans have spoken up and voiced criticism about a certain symbolism they find offensive.
Farther south, In Santa Fe, La Entrada, the traditional start of that city’s Fiesta and led by a man dressed in conquistador regalia, has been ended. Indigenous people say the conquistador who leads La Entrada (the entry) symbolizes death and mayhem committed upon natives. Juan de Oñate, who journeyed with his army to present day New Mexico, is said to have been ruthless with native people and once ordered the amputation of the right legs of 24 four men.
Oñate and Don Diego de Vargas, each leaders of their respective forces, were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of natives, many in the most depraved manner. Native leaders have compared the honoring of the conquistadores to the South’s veneration of the Confederacy and the subjugation of African American slaves.
“It’s wise to talk about these things,” said Taos City Councilman Pascualito Maestas. “There is still some tension,” he said, “even though all of us have family in every community.” New Mexico, like a number of other states, has eliminated Columbus Day as an official holiday and instead marks the occasion with Indigenous People’s Day. In nearby Española, a 46-mile trip from Taos, the conquistador has been removed from its Fiesta.
Maestas, a native Taoseño, can he can trace his family’s roots to the 17th century. “My father’s side of the family goes back to the 1600’s.” The Councilman was a Fiesta dancer as a teen. His wife was a princesa in 2012. “We toured northern New Mexico and danced all the bailes and got to know more about the Fiesta,” he said.
For now, the Taos celebration includes three cultures that have shaped Taos history, said Councilman Fernandez. “It’s part Native American, part Hispanic and part Anglo.” But change is coming and it may be reflected sooner than later.