The Shaky Ground of Tradition

José Smith - June 26, 2013

'I’m sure we could all name a host of reasons why we’ve drifted from our traditions...'

Flickr User: McD22

I’ve been false-starting this blog post for nearly a month now. Several ideas came and went. My last post was a spark of an idea that came to me one afternoon while my kids were napping, so I pumped it out and emailed it in. It was short and to the point: there’s a certain type of local in Santa Fe that is connected in deeper and more significant ways to northern New Mexican culture. I wasn’t saying that these “genuine locals” are better than other types. My aim was to point out that some of us, a dwindling population, are rooted to New Mexico’s past and impacted by traditions and mores in unique, but not always positive ways. I had promised a series of posts on this subject and until a few days ago hadn’t found the right angle to further the subject. 

Then, in Sunday’s opinion section of The New Mexican, the Very Reverend Adam Ortega y Ortiz, wrote a critique of the recent cover of the Santa Fe Reporter’s Summer Guide, which depicted, in the Revered’s words, “an image of the Virgin Mary clad in a two-piece bathing suit drinking a margarita.” The critique goes on to say that the image was “demeaning”, and that those responsible for it, “educate themselves about the cultural and religious sensitivity issues in our community.” The Reverend speaks of the significance of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and La Conquistadora to Santa Fe’s history, and how recent celebrations of Catholic traditions are the “core and essence of La Fiesta de Santa Fe.” It was a stark reminder for me of the very traditions that are paraded through our city streets, aimimg to celebrate violent events that, as the Reverend puts it, were about “securing a foothold for the [Catholic] faith here in Santa Fe.”

Whether the Reporter’s image is demeaning is truly a matter for debate. Personally, I find it both demeaning and harmless. I tend to question the faith of those who get so riled-up about such things, yet, I’d have to agree with the Reverend about a publication that doesn’t seem to have much sensitivity to the religious beliefs of its community. 

To me, the lasting worth of the Reporter’s cover is more about the fact that it sparked an outcry at all. I’d like to ask the Reverend: Is this really about that image? Maybe there’s more to this. My father-in-law recently commented to me, after attending one of the morning services at Rosario Chapel for La Conquistadora, that there weren’t any young people there. That it’s the older ones are keeping the traditions alive. I believe that he’s right. The older ones, los vejitos, are the ones continuing to give the Roman Catholic Church relevancy in Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico. Yet, as devout as many of our elders have been and continue to be, there’s also a complicated relationship that Catholicism breeds amongst its followers. I’ve seen it in my own family my entire life, seen it with friends too, and I still struggle with following the faith that I was born and raised to value. 

The question to me is, how really valuable is this faith? Why does it seem to be losing it’s value, in both practical and spiritual ways? Is the outcry of the Very Reverend Adam Ortega y Ortiz simply about this Reporter cover image? The answers to these questions are no doubt complicated and debatable. What is clear to me is that Santa Feans do have some kind of disconnect from not only their faith, but also from their entire history. I’m sure we could all name a host of reasons why we’ve drifted from our traditions, but I’d like anyone who reads this post to ponder one last question: How relevant are our traditions, and more importantly, how relevant have they been in the past?