The location of the statue of Don Diego de Vargas is a mystery to everyone but Santa Fe city officials.
The bronze statue of the conquistador Don Diego de Vargas, which was removed last year from its nearly decade-long home in the Dompark next to the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, was supposed to be put in a safe place but was later found in the back yard of the contractor removing it with the crane straps still hanging over its base.
The reveal spurred the group that donated the statue, Caballeros de Vargas, to loud requests to put it back in Cathedral Park or return it to the organization.
The issue has sparked a split among the Caballeros that has resulted in several board resignations, including the group’s former president, former mayoral candidate and former councilor Ron Trujillo.
“There have been some members of the Caballeros who are okay with what is happening,” Trujillo said. “You support what the mayor is doing. And there is another group that doesn’t. I’ve decided that I can’t do this anymore. I’ve tried every way. “
Trujillo and others had attempted to write a letter to the city in July asking for the statue to be returned, but Trujillo said this was saved after the group shot down the vocabulary.
“What the letter wanted to say was, ‘Put it back in Cathedral Park; if not, give it back to the Caballeros, ”he said.
According to a Facebook post from Trujillo, he and two other board members resigned after Trujillo declared a threat from the Catholic Church to capture La Conquistadora – the statue of the Virgin Mary that de Vargas brought to Santa Fe during the Reconquest in 1692. from the organization to wade into supposedly city politics in an election season. Gilbert Romero, president of the Caballeros when the statue was erected, was one of the others to step down.
“If the Caballeros want to go in a different direction, they have to find someone who thinks like them,” said Trujillo.
Gerald Pacheco, who was named president of the Caballeros de Vargas in September, said in an email that the group was maintaining open communication with the city about the statue’s fate.
Pacheco did not respond to a request for additional comments on the withdrawals.
Webber said Thursday that phrases like “return the statue” or “return the statue” do not accurately reflect the situation as the city belongs to the city. He also reiterated Pacheco’s stance that both parties communicated through the statue.
“Relations with the Caballeros leadership and the Fiesta Council are very constructive and have been in place since last summer,” said Webber.
“What I want to deconstruct is that there are these deeply hostile relationships that are ingrained in this city,” he added. “We’re all friends; we know each other; we talk to each other; we socialize and respect traditions, monuments and practices.”
While the city owns the statue, the group commissioned artist Donna Quasthoff to create the piece in 2007 and later donated it to the city.
The statue returned to the spotlight 13 years later after Webber issued an emergency proclamation for fear of vandalism calling for it to be removed along with the removal of the Soldiers Memorial in the plaza and the Kit Carson Obelisk outside the Federal Courthouse.
On June 18, 2020, the city removed the statue in the early morning. The city tried to remove the Santa Fe Plaza obelisk early that morning with government assistance. On Indigenous Peoples Day last year, the plaza obelisk was destroyed after activists pulled it from its base with a rope and chain.
The decision to remove the statue was praised by some but frustrated by others, who felt the mayor was trying to wipe out its Hispanic heritage.
De Vargas has become an increasingly controversial historical figure. The conquistador led the Spanish retaking of Santa Fe a dozen years after they were driven out during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680; de Vargas supporters describe the reconquest as peaceful.
The Caballeros met with Webber after the statue was discovered in the contractor’s courtyard, but that didn’t add up to anything substantial, Trujillo said.
“I had the discussion, we met and he just wanted to talk about it: ‘We’re going to go through this process,'” said Trujillo.
The process in question was likely the culture, history, art, reconciliation and truth process, which aims to involve residents in cultural-historical discussions. The role of monuments and other public art is likely part of this conversation.
Webber said he was concerned that if reinstalled, the statue could be destroyed again, as have other city landmarks in recent years. The statue has been destroyed several times since its installation in 2007.
“We saw vandals paint things on the cross of the martyrs,” said Webber. “These tensions have been around for a long time. But given what is happening in the country and in general, I would prefer to make a collective agreement on how we can live healthily in each case before we create more opportunities for action that is beneficial or divisive. “
For the Caballeros part, Pacheco wrote that he was begging the residents to participate in CHART.
Trujillo said he wasn’t convinced CHART will be the answer, while Webber said he believed the city could only heal through open dialogue.
“I only get this message from the leadership with the Caballeros and the Fiesta Council and the urban indigenous community,” said Webber.
But Romero, who said he believed Webber’s victory in the recent mayoral election sealed the statue’s fate, said a solution was clearly the best.
“I think if you really wanted to make it up to everyone, you would take it back to where it was,” said Romero.