July 05--By 8:30 a.m. on Independence Day, the line of hungry people waiting for pancakes and sausage snaked across the block-wide Santa Fe Plaza. The all-volunteer Santa Fe Community Concert Band serenaded the early-morning crowd at the 37th annual Pancakes on the Plaza event with a medley of patriotic songs, from "Yankee Doodle Dandy" to "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Artists' vendor tents ringed the historic Plaza. Sleek vintage cars, low on gas efficiency but high in beauty, lined up to admiring glances.
The growing crowd mixed young and young at heart, locals and visitors, people of different cultures and political persuasions. It is one of Santa Fe's annual reminders that the City Different is a community and not just a tourist attraction.
Carol Herrera has enjoyed Pancakes on the Plaza almost every year since its inception. "It is the best event in Santa Fe," Herrera said. "I see people I haven't seen in a year. And, of course, the pancakes are great."
Herrera was at the event with two of her longtime friends, Terez Barbarosa and Elaine Giovando. Their children were born about the same time and grew up together. After her children were grown, Barbarosa left to teach at public schools on both of the nation's coasts. She returned, as do so many who leave Santa Fe, to stay.
The women reflected on Santa Fe and their country. They worry some of the underpinnings of democracy are weakening. "I think people feel disinherited," Barbarosa said, noting the deep divisions driven by people from the political far right and the far left.
Herrera said the United States is still a place where people can immigrate, work hard and do well, "but the gap between the promise [of America] and reality is growing."
Giovanda believes the American people "are the most wonderful people. But we're being run by a plutocracy. It is up to us, the people, to get our country back."
Across the Plaza from the three friends, Floridians Roy Bridges and Floyd Juster relaxed on a bench, waiting while their wives shopped. "This is like an old-timey Fourth of July affair," said Bridges, whose family lives part-time in Santa Fe.
"Everyone's having a great time," agreed Juster.
The two men served with the National Guard and made their living in the insurance business. Both were sporting felt American flags on baseball caps. Bridges' cap reads "American Patriot." They are cautiously optimistic that the country is slowly climbing out of its economic doldrums. A light at the end of a tunnel? "I just hope it isn't a train," quipped Juster.
Like Herrera, they believe the U.S. is still the land of opportunity. But Bridges believes it is a meritocracy, a place where people succeed by their own invention and work. "Just look at all these vendors making different things and selling them," said Bridges, waving a hand at the booths. "In a lot of countries, you can't do this. Some people here are practicing crafts, carrying on traditions dating back hundreds of years."
Near the two men, three young women, ready to venture into their bright futures, sat on the grass. Sisters Mona Herrera, 16, and Aisha Herrera, 18, have volunteered at Pancakes on the Plaza for the past decade. It is their dad's birthday, so the event is a family affair. They were resting after spending a couple of hours handing out water and helping at the food tent. Their friend, Fermina Tom, 18, was enjoying her first year at the event.
Aisha Herrera, a recent Monte del Sol Charter School graduate, said she's "freaking out a little" about finding the money to attend college. It also has been much harder than usual to find a summer job. "We're competing now against older people who all need jobs," she said.
Still, she's optimistic about her opportunities in this country. "I still feel you can achieve a lot," she said.
Tom, who studied the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt in high school, believes the 32nd president explained a lot about Americans as a people during the Great Depression, a time when the nation was even more sorely tested than it's been recently. "He said we were strong and could do anything," Tom said.
While more bands played and choirs sang and the hungry line of pancake customers dwindled down, another event was taking place not far from Santa Fe spoke to the promise this young nation still holds for many. More than a dozen immigrants took their oaths as new citizens in the first naturalization ceremony at Frijoles Canyon at Bandelier National Monument.
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or email@example.com.
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