EDITORS NOTE: The following column is a reader’s submission. Any opinions or views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Valley Daily Post or any person associated with the Valley Daily Post. The Valley Daily Post accepts columns submitted by local residents of northern New Mexico. To submit a column for possible publication please send the draft and your personal contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org Today’s column is submitted by Marcie Martinez.
Column: “LA REINA DE LA FIESTA” HAD HER CROWN AND SCEPTER STOLEN THEN MADE SOME DISPARAGING COMMENTS ABOUT THE TOWN SHE WAS CHOSEN TO REPRESENT, SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
Column submitted by Marcie Martinez
Who would have thought that a seemingly fairly insignificant occurrence in a small town in northern New Mexico could cause such a ruckus throughout social media and the Albuquerque News? The mêlée began with a report on June 17, 2015 titled “New Mexico fiesta queen blasts town after crown stolen” and spiraled nearly out of control over the next few days including another article regarding the statement made by the fiesta queen, Angelina Vigil, on social media.
Both articles incited a flurry of comments from people on several fronts. Many people felt that she should keep the crown because, “she was only telling the truth” about what they believe to be a trashy town; others commented that she should not “bite the hand that fed her” by chastising the entire town, especially when she was chosen to represent that town as one of its leaders; and yet others were upset that the story would even make the news. While each camp of commentators has a logical explanation for their views, there are some underlying, deeply rooted truths that do not automatically come to light when witnessing this interesting phenomenon.
A COMMUNITY DIVIDED
There is the group of people who clearly support Ms. Vigil because they know her personally, they care about her, and believe that she was justified in making those statements. This group comes off as highly defensive and make no real argument except that she is a “good person,” that those who believed she should be removed as queen are “stupid,” and that she should have been allowed to remain queen.
Then there is the group who also believes she should remain queen not because they know her personally but because they believe the town is as bad as she claimed and she should be allowed to freely speak her mind. This group tends to also believe that because she is “young” should not be punished so harshly.
Another group consists mainly of members of the community who take the role of fiesta queen seriously and, more importantly, are tired of the negativity surrounding the community. This group believes that someone in a public role and representative capacity, such as fiesta queen, not only has an obligation to work toward changing the view of the town but also should act like a leader even through adversity. There are a few who are not from Española who also agree with this perspective.
Another group consists of those who mostly are not from the community and who think that the story was blown way out of proportion and should have barely been “news” if at all, whether they agree that Española is as bad as many people claim or not. There is also a group consisting of those people who believe that the fiesta itself represents a tyrant, Don Juan de Oñate, who, according to them, does not deserve any honor or glory.
Each group is justified in their thinking; the difficulty arises in seeing the perspective of others. The first group, generally commenting and acting on emotion based on their feelings for Ms. Vigil, become defensive and are unwilling to see any other perspective. They also believe she is speaking the truth and has a right to “free speech.” While this might be true there are other things to consider. Those in the other groups also react to the reaction of Ms. Vigil’s supporters and it becomes an endless battle.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH OR AN INADEQUATE SUPPORT GROUP?
Freedom of speech is an inherent individual right that should not be taken lightly. It is a right that we each possess but, as with all of our inherent rights, we also have a right to contract them away; we have the ability to, essentially, waive our rights. When someone takes on a public role, especially a representative role, they create a contract with the public body they are chosen to represent. This type of contract is not uncommon. It exists in every such situation everywhere. When Ms. Vigil chose to represent the entire town of Española she also agreed not to make any disparaging remarks or comments, especially publicly, about the town. There are no exceptions to this agreement; a contract is a contract.
It is no secret that Española has a reputation for being “bad.” This reputation has been perpetuated not only by the actual criminals in the town but also by so-called leaders who are nearly as bad as (or maybe even worse than) the criminals with their corrupt nepotism and inbred politics. Unfortunately “good” people, as well the media, also perpetuate this reputation. Some non-political members of the community have been trying to change that reputation and have made great strides but it seems that they are taking one step forward and two steps back when situations such as the present arise.
Was Ms. Vigil justified in making the statement, “I seriously hate coming to this effn town!!!!?” Does being a victim of a burglary give someone a right to make such a statement, whether or not they are presently acting in a role representing the very town they are claiming to hate visiting? First, there is that “free speech” issue; for this I would say absolutely yes, Ms. Vigil had a right to make that statement but only IF it were based solely on free speech. Did Ms. Vigil’s statement help or hurt that endeavor? The answer is obviously that it hurt.
There are burglaries and drug use in every city and town, and even within many households all across the country. There are data suggesting that Española might be worse than a majority of those places but this does not mean that the community should not come together and work toward not only cleaning up the crime but also trying to fix its image. Many people seem to think that the community should just accept the reputation and give up trying to improve it. This thinking is irrational at best.
Ms. Vigil and her supporters seem to fail to recognize that she had an opportunity to help the community and she was actually in a role in which she agreed to do so but instead, in the heat of the moment, she chose consciously or unconsciously to hurt the community. It is also said that because she is “only 24” she should have been allowed to remain queen. When one enters a contract over the age of 18, one is expected to fulfill his end of the contract regardless of age. This is not to say that those who should have been mentoring her did not fail her.
Ms. Vigil was not only absolutely entitled to react to the burglary, she was obligated to voice her opinions on some forum about the situation namely because she was chosen to represent Española and it was the heirloom crown and scepter that were stolen. Unfortunately it was the way Ms. Vigil chose to react, whether consciously or unconsciously, that caused the damage. I propose that a statement similar to the following could have served a better purpose, “I am deeply saddened to say that my mother’s house was broken into and the treasured crown and scepter that I have an honor to hold for the time being were stolen. It is this very type of act that has given Española such a bad reputation and it is difficult not to agree; however, I believe this is an opportunity to inform the community that now is the time to clean up this town. Please let me know if anyone has any information relating to this theft…”
Her supporters are likely saying, “she was UPSET, she reacted to being upset…she said the same thing but in her own words!” The beauty of posting on social media is that it allows you time to think and ask others how to approach the situation. A true leader, young or old, holds his tongue especially in the face of adversity and never takes on a role of victim. True leaders emerge from adversity. In this case Ms. Vigil showed that she is not a true leader, at least not at this time, and she is not suited to represent the town. This is also evidenced by the fact that she did not have the wisdom to attempt to redeem her sullied reputation by resigning. Where were her supporters during all of this? There were people claiming to support her by coaxing her ego and encouraging her to fight for the crown but that kind of support is not always helpful. Where were the people who should have been there to teach her how to be a leader at a time like this? Not everyone is a born leader, for some it takes years to even show signs of being a leader and most of the time they do not become true leaders without the aid of a mentor. Where were Ms. Vigil’s mentors after each article came out and upon reading the comments from the various camps? Was there anyone in her circle who helped her see the perspective of others or does everyone with whom she surrounds herself act as a groupie?
The fact that this type of situation has never happened before does not mean that situation could not have happened with another fiesta queen. It is entirely possible that previous queens also did not have proper mentorship.
IT’S JUST A FIESTA, SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
Perhaps the most important questions are, why did this situation create such a frenzy, how could so many people have an opinion about it, who cares about Española, and isn’t it just a crappy little town north of Santa Fe that nobody wants to visit anyway? In response one must attempt to understand the history of northern New Mexico, the culture, and the pride of a community that likely outrivals all others.
Those who believe the issue did not deserve much, if any attention, should pick up the book North From Mexico, by Carey McWilliams. This book shows from where the proud people of New Mexico came. It shows they come from strong Spanish conquistadores, humble and decent hardworking Mexican laborers, and proud and wise Native Americans. Though perhaps not knowing consciously that they are a people deserving recognition, they understand at least subconsciously that they have much to offer the world even amidst the reputation of crime, poverty, and “Española jokes.”
The fiesta is not about paying homage to Don Juan de Oñate, it is about paying homage to a culture so rich, so alive, and so important to the history of much of the United States that it deserves to thrive – and to be known – even after five hundred years. The fiesta is about one small town that has chosen to hold on to its roots and to the things with which it truly identifies. The majority of inhabitants of Española and its surrounding communities do not relate to the drug use or crime. The majority of inhabitants are God fearing, hard working individuals who remember a time when they worked the farm from dawn till dusk and at the end of the day enjoyed a plate full of frijoles, papas, and chile and then a lazy swing on the porch. The majority of inhabitants recall a time where they came together to plan and then celebrate fiestas in every little town. They recall a time when the parades and performances, celebrating their roots, were so magnificent that anyone, from the oldest viejito to the youngest hijito would feel proud to have come from such a place and from such a people.
The pride that the community has for its own is unrivaled. Just take a trip to the State High School Basketball Tournament in Albuquerque when the EVHS Sundevils are playing. The entire stadium is filled with red, gold, and black. The people sitting in the stands are not generally druggies, or drug dealers, or the likes of the thugs that broke into Ms. Vigil’s home; the people sitting in the stands are decent people who relish in the success of their youth and their town as a whole. There are always a few bad apples in every locality that like to cause fights or create drama. Just because Española has had the unfortunate experience of being labeled as being bad and the butt of a great many jokes does not mean that it does not have much to offer the world or that its inhabitants do not deserve respect. The actions of a few, even if it is a greater few than in other towns, do not reflect the actions of everyone. This is a reputation that the town cannot seem to shake despite its many wonderful qualities and despite the many successful individuals from Española and have gone on to do great things.
So, why was it such a big deal? If the answer has not already jumped out at you then a visit to the town, namely for one of its cultural events, is probably in order. Española has made a name for itself for being crime stricken and “ugly” but it might be the best-kept secret yet.
Now what should the town do after it, again, made the news for something negative? Should we just accept our reputation and move on? Should we continue this infighting about whether Ms. Vigil should have been allowed to keep her crown or not? Is bringing up her past faults, the fact that it may very well have been someone who knows her personally who stole the crown and scepter, and all of the other negativity surrounding the situation, going to fix what has happened both to the town and to Ms. Vigil? I would say no.
My philosophy is that the sooner we learn the lesson provided in the adverse situation the sooner we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and the sooner everyone returns to happiness. This situation has provided an incredible opportunity for many people to learn many lessons. Ms. Vigil is not the sole person to blame for this fiasco, notwithstanding the thieves who set off this series of events in the first place. Blame is not productive, however; instead, we should all stop and think about what could have been done to prevent the entire situation. It is my belief that part of the reason that Española continues to have such crime is because of the negativity itself so it is like a downward spiral. As long as the inhabitants expect crime then crime will exist. Once people stop believing that the town is so bad, and giving the bad elements so much energy, we will start seeing changes. This can only happen on a global scale but as with anything else it starts with the individual.
Let us stop pointing fingers and start working together to prevent something like this from happening again. To Ms. Vigil, I am sorry that you were thrust into a situation where your character was tested, but this is a fact of life. If you choose to seek leadership positions it will happen again and again. I hope that you use this situation as a learning experience: first to think twice before posting your opinions on social media. I, myself, have lost “friends” for doing the same. Would I say that I was wrong? Probably not, but then again I was not in a role where my opinions would be shared with the media. In the future, however, I have already vowed to think more critically before speaking. Second, I hope you continue seeking improvement and aspiring toward leadership. Not everyone has the courage to put her name in the hat to be queen. However, along with this piece of advice, please consider with whom you surround yourself. Although they are people you care about and they might have your best interests at heart, they do not always have the mentorship abilities necessary to take you to the next level. They might think they are doing you a favor by standing in your corner but support without honesty is no support at all.
As for the community members who have been so vocal, please consider stepping up to the plate and joining the Fiesta Council or other organizations where your expertise and even opinions would be best utilized. Something tells me that if Ms. Vigil had been properly mentored and if she had been given some direction all of this might have been avoided.
Whether she actually hates Española is another question. If she does then all happened as it should have but if she was just misguided and if she never had the role models necessary to teach her how to act with diplomacy in the face of adversity then what happened is not entirely her fault. Statements are often misconstrued and opinions misunderstood; I know this from personal experience. Everyone deserves forgiveness and, without questioning the sincerity of Ms. Vigil’s apology, she did apologize. Let us all turn the experience into something positive.
About the author: Marcie is a native New Mexican, born in Española and raised in Chimayó. She is a graduate of Española Valley High School and has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from New Mexico State University and a master’s degree in materials science from Colorado School of Mines. She is the founder of the web sites, http://naturespresence.net and http://naturespresence.info