This morning (July 21), Taoseños and visitors from throughout the state and region dove into another Las Fiestas de Taos – a time of celebration, feasting and dance for many who flock to the heart of the historic Taos Plaza.
But for others, the three-day fiesta is a time of headache and concern. Originally intended to pay tribute to the saints and bring the community together, the Fiestas de Taos are a long-standing tradition. Since before the 1930s, they have brought locals together for annual royalty courts and festivities at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and in Taos Plaza.
Although the fiestas have their roots and loyal followers, several merchants in Taos Plaza – where many of the events still take place – are displeased with the event; some say it has lost its meaning and significance through commercialization, overcrowding and its tendency to attract crime.
“People put their chairs right there in front of the shop,” Acuarelas Studio Gallery owner Leandro Rodriguez said. “They lean on the glass and every 10 minutes, I have to tell people to get off the glass. You have to call the cops every 10 minutes or so.”
Other shop owners expressed distaste with some of the vendor products being sold at the event, saying the commercialization embodied in cheap plastic toys and souvenirs take away from what authentic historic and religious meaning remains.
Jackie’s Trading Post and other shops will be closed, with their owners also citing congestion. And while more foot traffic might seem like it could translate to better business, some vendors say there are just too many people to keep track of, increasing the likelihood of unwelcome wear and tear and possible shoplifting. At least seven stores on Taos Plaza are planning to close for the fiestas.
Several owners told The Taos News that crime is always a concern, that the odds of theft are too high throughout the weekend and that they don’t wish to open their stores to the potential losses.
The crime and general “riffraff” that worry some shop owners are problems that local law enforcement is working to address this year. Lt. David Maggio, interim police chief with Taos Police Department, said that security begins with a complete analysis performed in cooperation with Taos Volunteer Fire Department. Handling the foot traffic shop owners noted is one part of law enforcement officials' strategies; cordoning off certain areas with traffic cones helps mitigate congestion and serves to guide visitors, and contingency plans are made in case of emergencies.
Theft, excessive drinking and drug use are frequent challenges law enforcement has encountered during the fiestas, Maggio said. And at the darker end of the spectrum, there is potential gang violence.
Maggio said that extra support has been called in to assist in spotting and responding to crime throughout the weekend. “We always beef up security,” Maggio said. “We brought up seven mounted police from the New Mexico State Police. We have extra bicycle and unit patrols. We contract with the [Taos County] Sheriff’s [Office], and we have the ham radio operators with the Taos Amateur Radio Club serving as extra eyes and ears.”
Maggio said the security teams will be looking out for gang colors – red for the Barrio Cruz Alta Gang, otherwise known as North Side Locos, and blue for the Brew Town gang.
Despite the specter of crime and some of the less-than-glowing views of the modern fiestas, 26 of 49 businesses surveyed by The Taos News in and around the Plaza support the event and look forward to them each year. Of the 49 surveyed, 14 had no comment or opinion. Only nine offered open and clear objections to the fiestas, claiming the event does nothing for their businesses. But those in support of the annual event welcome fiestagoers with open arms, saying that the event has its roots, its place in Taos.
“We like everything and anything that brings people to the Plaza,” said Jan O'Donoghue, owner of Taos Abode Quilting. “It's lovely to have the families and the kids downtown. The pros outweigh the cons.” For her, the event always brings visitors to her shop.
Others say the event is part of the culture of the town and that the commercial aspect should take a backseat to tradition. “I think it’s wonderful to get the town together to celebrate,” said Leo Weaver, the manager of La Tierra Mineral Gallery. “That’s what the Plaza is for. As far as business, that’s not what the fiestas are about.”
Conflicting views aside, the traditional event returns again this year, set to honor Taos' patron saints, Santiago and Santa Ana, through dancing, festivities and a Mass with opening ceremonies starting at 5:30 p.m. Friday (July 21) at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. According to a letter written by Fiesta Council President Anna Herrera, the event spans centuries of tradition to preserve the culture in the area and has been passed down over several generations. Festivities continue through Sunday evening (July 23).
For a complete listing of events, check the listings in The Taos News calendar, “Que Pasa?”
Harrison Blackman contributed to this report.