Alburquerque Journal

Thursday, April 5, 2001

Shouts, Shoves, Prayers Filled Museum Foyer
By Jennifer McKee
Journal Staff Writer

Hundreds who were turned away from the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents forum Wednesday jammed the foyer outside, shouting, praying and pushing against museum security guards before erupting into whoops and song when regents called off the event. "Cancel the meeting, cancel the meeting," the crowd chanted, loud enough to be heard by the regents inside the building. "¡Qué viva la raza! (Long live the people!") shouted others, echoing the decades-old rallying cry of the Chicano movement.

At least 600 people showed up for the forum, according to estimates from meeting facilitator Merida Blanco, but the room set aside for the event — a wide, sunken area in the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture — could hold only 300. Ten minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., Museum of New Mexico security guards began stopping people at the door of the Indian museum.

Later, Santa Fe police and State Police blocked the door as the crowd broke into two groups — a small, loud contingent in the museum foyer and a larger group outside saying rosaries in Spanish and English.

Regardless of their take on the "Our Lady" debate, both sides had the same argument: that the regents should cancel the meeting and reschedule it at a larger place that could accommodate all. Outside, local activist Gloria Mendoza took an informal vote of the crowd, which concluded that immediately stopping the event was in order. Inside the foyer, however, things went less democratically.

The crowd shouted at police and security guards who tried to explain why the public outside couldn't attend the meeting. John McCarthy, chief of security for the Museum of New Mexico stepped into the foyer crowd several times to explain the situation — that fire codes prevented letting anyone else into the building — but he was outshouted. Two older men in the crowd clenched their fists at each other, but the group otherwise remained peaceful.

"It's upsetting because they call it a public forum and it's not," said David Trujillo of Santa Fe, an opponent of the "Our Lady" artwork. "They knew the turnout was going to be this large," said Steven Carrillo of Santa Fe as he walked into the foyer crowd with his infant son on one shoulder and a diaper bag on the other. "This is outrageous."

State Police, who repeatedly told the crowd that "yelling isn't helping" escorted a few out of the foyer, where officers explained the situation to the removed people one-on-one. "You're not in trouble," said State Police officer Román Jimenez as he walked Roberto Solorzan out of the foyer.

After several go-rounds, Anthony Trujillo, a deacon at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish wearing a "Catholic and Proud" T-shirt, emerged as a go-between, relaying along with facilitator Blanco the wants of the crowd outside to the regents in the meeting room.

The crowd included people on all sides of the "Our Lady" argument, including Peter Simonson, executive director of the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Santa Fe City Councilor Miguel Chavez. Rumors circulated that a large group of "Anglos" had been let in to the meeting while Hispanics were kept out.

"This was a controlled, elitist meeting," said Ilya Morozov, adding that it reminded him of Leninist Russia.

"Oh, please," countered a woman nearby.

Tempers showed no signs of abating until Wood "Mike" Arnold, president of the museum regents, walked past the foyer crowd and into the assembled people outside to announce that the meeting was canceled. "I'm proud of you," he told the people. A small group of musicians started playing harmonicas, and prayers in Spanish along with clapping and cheers broke out among the crowd.

"That was the most fair thing for justice for everyone," said Belen Rodriguez, originally of Guanajuato, Mexico, and now living in Santa Fe, who carried a varnished wood plaque of the original "Our Lady" picture. "They didn't have any other choice," Trujillo said.

The ACLU's Simonson said he thought the regents had tried to make "a reasonable accommodation" in holding the meeting at the museum but that the board nonetheless made the right decision to cancel. Mendoza later said she would pay artist Alma Lopez, whose depiction of "Our Lady" as a robust young woman in a flower bikini sparked the debate, air fare to Mexico City so the artist could see the original image.