On this, the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail, the city at the end of the trail explores its history to better understand how the cultures of New Mexico have arrived in the present.
For the past five days, New Mexican reporter Robert Nott has written about the arrival of the Americans in their prairie canopies – the dangers of the journey, the hardships along the way and the different cultures that await the travelers. The photographer Gabriela Campos has documented people and places on the modern path and shows how the impact of this trip is still having an impact today.
In Santa Fe, the city’s residents had to face strangers who brought money and goods, but often looked down on the customs, beliefs, and language of the locals. For the natives along the way, the American coming was nothing short of a disaster as the US pushed west.
Just as the first arrival of Europeans in the Southwest unsettled the lives of indigenous peoples here, the addition of a third culture – the Americans – created new tensions and adjustments even before the territory was conquered and incorporated into the United States.
Those memories linger in Santa Fe today as today’s residents grapple with the aftermath of this clash of cultures.
Last year’s fall of the Soldiers Memorial – an obelisk dedicated to U.S. soldiers, veterans of civil war battles, and skirmishes against tribal tribes – brought to the surface the conflicts behind the tricultural myth of Santa Fe. The area’s locals had long campaigned for their removal, angry both with the monument as a symbol of cultural imperialism and the racist language scratched out on a plaque on its base in the 1970s.
Now only the base of the obelisk is left, and people are still arguing about its importance and the future of the center of the plaza.
This weekend, as the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail is celebrated, Santa Fe residents begin their own reflection on the past. The controversial but necessary process of culture, history, art, reconciliation and truth – CHART – has its first public event on Sunday.
There the organizers will introduce team members to the public, celebrate the Santa Fe River and otherwise begin the months of work that – we trust – not only lead to important conversations about our history, but also to concrete recommendations on how this story should be shared in the Publicity.
CHART is the city-established process created after the obelisk collapsed last year and the statue of Don Diego de Vargas was removed from the Cathedral Park. It is an attempt to bring long-simmering tensions to light and resolve differences with respect and compassion.
The way to the starting point was arduous. In July, the Albuquerque-based group Artful Life received an order. Since starting work in August, the group has selected a team of moderators from more than 150 applicants. Around $ 265,000 has been budgeted for the process. Twenty moderators, including Artful Life staff, are tasked with “listening” to the community.
When the group presented their first report to the city council last week, Artful Life executive director Valerie Martinez made it clear that she expects the community to lead the process.
While Martinez is right that this has to be a bottom-up movement, she is misguided if she believes that concrete recommendations are not a necessary end-goal.
A year of discussion without recommendations leads to further dissatisfaction among residents. This cannot be a month-long conversation with no solution in sight.
The need for reconciliation is great. Likewise the need for action. Santa Fe needs more than a box to cover the base of the obelisk.
A decision also needs to be made about the fate of the Don Diego de Vargas statue, which was brought to safety last summer.
Progress needs to be made in deciding how best to tell its story in public places – and not just in the plaza. Across the city, there must be a way to more fully share the history of the Native American, Hispanic, and newer comers.
It’s about how Santa Fe is changing and who will determine its future. It’s about what this city wants to be.
The upcoming process must be warm, respectful and solution-oriented. What that is must of course emerge from an honest and public exchange of different perspectives. The work begins today in a city where cultures have clashed and coexisted for centuries. Done right, Santa Fe can return to coexistence, leaving the conflict and collision in the past.