Belen residents rally against removing city’s iconic nativity scene

BELEN, NM (KRQE) – Belen residents say they’re battling to save their heritage. Hundreds rallied Sunday in support of keeping the city’s iconic nativity scene, which honors a local woman.

“It’s part of our identity, we don’t want it to go away,” said Bosque Resident Betty Martinez.

It was an emotional day in Belen as hundreds gathered downtown to show their opposition to removing the city’s 23-year-old nativity scene. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the city demanding its removal last month.

“We’re here to tell this group out of Wisconsin, this group that wants to erase a piece of our tradition and a piece of our history, that this nativity is gonna stay,” said Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova, while addressing the crowd.

The monument was installed in 1992, built to honor Belen Resident Theresa Tabet. She was dedicated to bettering her community and part of that was putting up nativity scenes here for decades. She saw them as a symbol of Belen, which in Spanish means Bethlehem. This permanent display was added after her death, and her family says losing it is unthinkable.

“It would be devastating to the family and I think it would be to the community as well,” said Theresa Tabet’s Great Grandson, Andrew Tabet.

They say not only is the city’s history at risk, but Theresa Tabet’s legacy as well.

Tabet said, “She dedicated her life to this city and the well-being of it, tried to keep it clean and tried to keep it in positive lights, so to us it was an attack to the family in a way.”

The group calling for the nativity’s removal says it has a local complainant fueling its request. Mayor Cordova says he doesn’t believe that’s true and if the group wants to take this to court, they will need that local person to do so. The city in the process of sending a letter back citing their refusal to get rid of it, meaning this fight could easily end up in court. Cordova says the city is ready for that if it happens, and that this is the first time they’ve ever gotten a complaint about the nativity.

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