QUEENS FOR A LIFE­TIME

Pasatiempo - - JENNIFER GOES - Adele Oliveira I For The New Mex­i­can

ROSINA CASA­DOS SCHUTZ is in her eight­ies, and she still re­mem­bers be­ing crowned La Reina de la Fi­esta de Santa Fe, or Fi­esta queen. “In those days, I think ev­ery young His­panic girl in Santa Fe looked for­ward to try­ing out to be­come La Reina,” Casa­dos Schutz said. She was nine­teen, and it was 1952. That year, 33 young women vied for the ti­tle, and Casa­dos Schutz was cho­sen via un­usual means: an ap­plause-o-me­ter pro­duced by com­mu­nity mem­bers who crowded into the au­di­to­rium at the St. Fran­cis Cathe­dral School dur­ing the queen’s se­lec­tion. “I had a won­der­ful brother who brought all of his friends, and they raised Cain. My fa­vorite part of be­ing queen was the Paseo de La Reina. My court and I were in a big wagon — I don’t re­mem­ber if it was drawn by a horse — and we were ser­e­naded by a man named Johnny Valdez who used to sing dur­ing Fi­esta.”

At first glance, the role of Fi­esta queen is clear: Its mean­ing is in the ti­tle. But La Reina is more com­plex than she ap­pears: She’s a 20th-cen­tury in­ven­tion with roots in much older tra­di­tions, dat­ing back to Don Diego de Var­gas’ re­con­quest (or reen­try, depend­ing on whom you talk to) of Santa Fe in 1692-1693. La Reina is a civic fig­ure, but her role is deeply tied to Catholi­cism, and strong re­li­gious faith is cited by many for­mer queens as the most im­por­tant mo­ti­va­tor in com­pet­ing. Women who were queens re­mem­ber their reigns as a piv­otal time in their lives, a rite of pas­sage to adult­hood.

“I’m in love with Fi­esta it­self; that’s what made me fall in love with be­ing queen,” said Va­lerie Me­drano Gar­cia, who held the ti­tle in 1985 at nine­teen. “Back in those days, it was very pres­ti­gious be­ing the Fi­esta queen; you re­ally were roy­alty in this town. It changed my en­tire life: I made friends and got jobs that I wouldn’t have oth­er­wise.”

A Fi­esta queen’s reign lasts for one year. She’s se­lected ( judged on public speak­ing, poise, and com­mand of Span­ish) dur­ing the an­nual Baile de Mayo. Dur­ing her reign, a queen’s du­ties are as di­verse as vis­it­ing schools, churches, nurs­ing homes, and other Fi­esta courts in Es­pañola, Taos, and Las Ve­gas; par­tic­i­pat­ing in pa­rades and pro­ces­sions; and wear­ing a se­ries of elab­o­rate gowns and cos­tumes. (Me­drano Gar­cia liked her royal gown so much — “It was from Mexico, lay­ers of lace and bell sleeves” — that she later re­pur­posed it as her wed­ding dress.) The sched­ule can be gru­el­ing: As queen, you’re on call all sum­mer, and days can last up­ward of 12 hours.

Fi­esta can be a con­tentious sub­ject. Its true mean­ing is up for de­bate. For those who have long his­to­ries of cel­e­brat­ing each year with their fam­i­lies, Fi­esta and the im­age of La Reina rep­re­sent tra­di­tion, faith, and fam­ily. For some for­mer queens, this is straight­for­ward. “The Fi­esta com­mem­o­rates the peace­ful re­set­tle­ment of New Mexico and how that was achieved through a peace­ful meet­ing with the Na­tive Amer­i­cans in 1692,” wrote Jes­sica Lucero, 2006’s queen, in a Face­book mes­sage. “The re­li­gious as­pect com­mem­o­rates La Con­quis­ta­dora.” La Con­quis­ta­dora is a 31-inch-high Mar­ian statue (the old­est of its kind in the United States) to whom de Var­gas prayed be­fore his suc­cess­ful re­con­quest of Santa Fe.

For other New Mex­i­cans, Fi­esta hon­ors a painful history. “The re­con­quest of Santa Fe was not blood­less,” said Matthew J. Martinez, a history pro­fes­sor at North­ern New Mexico Col­lege in Es­pañola and head of the North­ern Pue­b­los In­sti­tute. “Fi­es­tas in Santa Fe and Es­pañola tend par­tic­u­larly to sore­ness, be­cause they honor the con­quis­ta­dors de Var­gas and Oñate, whereas Fi­es­tas in Las Ve­gas and Taos are more com­mu­nity-fo­cused.” (Fi­es­tas in Las Ve­gas, Taos, and Mora celebrate those cities’ pa­tron saints.) Martinez said that in­creased en­gage­ment with lo­cal Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes and broad ac­knowl­edge­ment of the vi­o­lence of con­quest would go a long way to­ward mak­ing Fi­esta more in­clu­sive. Most years, the queen’s court in­cludes an In­dian princess, who is usu­ally se­lected by the Fi­esta Coun­cil or asked to par­tic­i­pate by that year’s queen.

This year, Naomi Cata is Santa Fe’s In­dian princess and served as Es­pañola’s princess last year. Cata was raised Catholic and grew up on Ohkay Owingey (for­merly San Juan Pue­blo). “I’m half Span­ish and half Na­tive Amer­i­can, and I em­brace both of my cul­tures,” she said. “You don’t have to be one or the other. To­day, there’s re­ally no such thing as pure Na­tive Amer­i­cans or pure Spa­niards.”

Last year’s Santa Fe In­dian princess, twenty-three­year-old Loren Mus­grave of Nambé Pue­blo, said, “I feel like Na­tive Amer­i­cans are pretty well rep­re­sented in Fi­esta. The Fi­esta Coun­cil tries to be in­clu­sive of both cul­tures and never put me in an un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion. I don’t know any­one who isn’t both Na­tive Amer­i­can and His­panic. And that’s part of the Fi­esta it­self: the story of how we’re blended, how we got to where we are.”

The first Fi­esta queen, Amalia Sena-Sanchez, was crowned in 1927, three years af­ter the inau­gu­ral burn­ing of Zo­zo­bra. The in­sti­tu­tion of a Fi­esta queen was es­tab­lished dur­ing the post-World War I mod­ern­iza­tion of Fi­esta, which was in­flu­enced by East Coast artists (in­clud­ing Will Shus­ter, Zo­zo­bra’s cre­ator) and also in­tro­duced other sec­u­lar events such as the Des­file de los Niños (Chil­dren’s Pet Pa­rade) and the Des­file de la Gente (His­tor­i­cal/Hys­ter­i­cal Pa­rade) into the fes­tiv­i­ties.

Sena-Sanchez was thir­ty­five and mar­ried with chil­dren when she was queen, but to­day’s queens must be un­mar­ried and child­less. They must also be rea­son­ably flu­ent in Span­ish and be be­tween the ages of twenty-one and thirty. (The rules for po­ten­tial de Var­gases and his ca­balleros are looser — they may be mar­ried and/or fathers, and there’s no up­per age limit.) It’s un­clear when and why the un­mar­ried and child­less re­quire­ment was in­stalled, and the Fi­esta Coun­cil did not re­spond to re­quests for in­for­ma­tion about when and why these re­stric­tions were in­sti­tuted.

As re­ported by Staci Mat­lock in The Santa Fe New Mex­i­can in July, par­tic­i­pa­tion in the com­pe­ti­tion to por­tray La Reina has de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years; some spec­u­late that this is be­cause fewer young women qual­ify for the role — women in their twen­ties are of­ten in school or the work­force or are get­ting mar­ried and start­ing fam­i­lies.

Many queens be­lieve mar­ried women and moth­ers should be el­i­gi­ble. Amanda Quin­tana Bowles, who was queen in 1993 at nine­teen, told Mat­lock, “Some peo­ple have this idea that La Reina is pure and vir­ginal. ... But then you look back and see the first La Reina was mar­ried with kids. Why can’t a woman be em­pow­ered and beau­ti­ful and a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of her city if she is mar­ried and has chil­dren?”

Most queens come to the role with a sense of des­tiny, hav­ing par­tic­i­pated in Fi­esta since they were small chil­dren, danc­ing on the Plaza or watch­ing their older sis­ters and cousins have their turns as La Reina or Span­ish princesses, while fathers and older broth­ers of for­mer queens of­ten por­trayed de Var­gas and his ca­balleros. “I’d wanted to be La Reina since I was a lit­tle girl,” Jes­sica Lucero said. “My par­ents and my grand­par­ents were very in­flu­en­tial in my faith and in teach­ing me the history [of Fi­esta], and I al­ways knew that be­ing queen was some­thing that I wanted to do.”

While the queen her­self is not a re­li­gious fig­ure, it is of­ten the faith-driven as­pects of the ex­pe­ri­ence that stay with the queens long af­ter they’ve re­tired their crowns. “It was my faith and my love for Our Lady that inspired me to want to rep­re­sent our city,” said Jen­nifer Richard­son-Romero, who was queen in 2005 at twenty-four. A high­light of Richard­son-Romero’s reign was chang­ing the vest­ments of La Con­quis­ta­dora. “I never thought I’d be that close to Our Lady, this im­age that we celebrate: Our Lady of Peace, Nues­tra Señora de La Con­quis­ta­dora, our mother Mary, and our pa­tron saint of Santa Fe,” Richard­son-Romero said.

Many for­mer queens said a high­light of the ex­pe­ri­ence was the pro­ces­sion of “La Pere­g­rina” or the Pil­grim (La Con­quis­ta­dora’s mo­bile twin) from the Cathe­dral Basil­ica of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi to Rosario Chapel, or be­ing crowned by the Arch­bishop. Oth­ers were sur­prised by the ex­tent of the re­li­gious na­ture of Fi­esta or saw it dif­fer­ently once they were queen. “Up un­til I was com­pletely in­volved, I didn’t re­al­ize that Fi­esta was so re­li­gious,” said Donna Gar­cia Lesher (queen in 1991 at nine­teen). “The year be­gan with me and my court along with Don Diego de Var­gas and his staff at­tend­ing Mass at a dif­fer­ent Catholic Church each Sun­day, fol­lowed by a week of 6 a.m. novena of Masses and a num­ber of pro­ces­sions honor­ing La Con­quis­ta­dora.” Mus­grave, last year’s In­dian princess, said she didn’t know what to ex­pect re­gard­ing Fi­esta’s re­li­gious na­ture. “The first church vis­its were in­ter­est­ing, and I was def­i­nitely out of my com­fort zone, be­cause I wasn’t raised Catholic. But I got used to it, and I en­joyed the pos­i­tiv­ity of each Mass.”

Though she’s cen­tral to Fi­esta for many for­mer queens, La Con­quis­ta­dora wasn’t ac­tu­ally part of Fi­esta un­til 1958, ac­cord­ing to a Sept. 2011 ar­ti­cle in Pasatiempo by Khris­taan D. Vil­lela. Vil­lela writes that af­ter World War II, Fi­es­tas in­creas­ingly fo­cused on Span­ish her­itage and Catholi­cism. Of this shift in em­pha­sis, Vil­lela writes: “This can be in­ter­preted as a re­ac­tion of the city’s His­panic pop­u­lace to the in­creas­ingly sec­u­lar and bo­hemian na­ture of the city. In to­day’s Fi­esta, La Con­quis­ta­dora and her trav­el­ing dou­ble con­tend with and of­fer a coun­ter­point to Zo­zo­bra, like David and Go­liath.”

De­spite Fi­esta’s strong ties to Catholi­cism, for­mer queens are very clear that their role is a civic one. “It’s not an ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal role,” said Quin­tana-Bowles, who or­ga­nized a La Fonda lun­cheon in Au­gust for all for­mer queens, the first gath­er­ing of its kind. “La Reina is not meant to rep­re­sent a Mar­ian fig­ure or vir­gin­ity or any­thing like that. She’s on the same

level as the mayor and rep­re­sents the beauty, in­tel­li­gence, poise, and pros­per­ity of the city.”

Re­cent con­tro­ver­sies, like this year’s de­thron­ing of Es­pañola’s Fi­esta queen for post­ing dis­parag­ing com­ments about that com­mu­nity on Face­book fol­low­ing the theft of her crown, or a phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion be­tween La Reina and other mem­bers of the 2009 Santa Fe Fi­esta Court, have been detri­men­tal to the im­age of the Fi­esta queen, con­tentious colo­nial history aside. But the vast ma­jor­ity of for­mer queens con­tinue to take the role very se­ri­ously and see it as an es­sen­tial part of Fi­esta. “Be­fore I was queen, go­ing to fi­es­tas and walk­ing around the Plaza was fine; it was good, but once I be­came in­volved I saw a deeper mean­ing,” said Linda Bor­rego, queen in 1972 at twenty.

For the women who por­tray her, the in­flu­ence of be­ing La Reina is life­long, and part of a for­mer queen’s iden­tity, even decades af­ter the fact. “I still re­mem­ber the night of my coro­na­tion,” said Ida Sanchez-Fer­nan­dez, who was twenty-three when she was queen in 1957. “My hus­band — who I hadn’t dated yet — was stand­ing nearby, and he said to his friend, ‘I want to marry that girl.’ Well, af­ter Fi­esta, he asked me for a date. He’s eighty-two, and he talks about it even to this day — he was just so proud of be­ing mar­ried to the Fi­esta queen.”

Harry M. David­son: Fi­esta queen dur­ing the Fi­esta pa­rade on Lin­coln Av­enue, 1949; op­po­site page, Fi­esta queen Mari­aIda Sanchez, 1957, Neg­a­tive No. HP.2009.91.2; im­ages cour­tesy Palace of the Gover­nors Photo Ar­chives (NMHM/DCA)

Left, Har­vey Caplin: Fi­esta queen Mary Es­ther Gar­cia in front of San Miguel Church, 1958; right, New Mexico Tourism Bureau: Fi­esta queen and her court, Sun­day morn­ing pro­ces­sion on East San Fran­cisco Street, circa 1950; be­low, Neil Ja­cobs: Fi­esta queen Karmella Bor­rego lead­ing a pro­ces­sion, 1983; op­po­site page, top, Fi­esta queen Mari­aIda Sanchez and her court, 1957; op­po­site page, bot­tom, Fi­esta queen Olinda Ro­driguez, 1936; im­ages cour­tesy Palace of the Gover­nors Photo Ar­chives (NMHM/DCA)

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