On Monday, June 15, 2020, the historic statue of Don Juan de Oñate was removed from its location in Alcalde, New Mexico (Rio Arriba County) without consultation from members of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo or surrounding Hispano communities. The hasty removal was an act of ignorance and disrespect toward the very community and the culture that this very statue represents.
The removal of the longstanding statue will not heal wounds, but instead, instigate the beginning of a very negative and inaccurate interpretation of our Hispanic history and heritage. This will also create cultural division when we have been living in peace and unity with our neighboring family and Native friends for decades.
The online petition to request the removal of the statue by anti-Hispanic groups has instigated unwarranted hate, revenge, bigotry, and cultural division, from an outside opportunist group called The Red Nation, who claim that “Revolution is here… and if you’re not part of it, you’re gonna get swept aside.”
Following the removal of the Oñate statue, this group stamped red paint handprints all over the base and painted “MMIW” – which stands for “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” on the back. As you know, it is a federal offense to vandalize government property. This group and a small number of signatures do not speak for all of us. Do we not have a voice? What about the other 40,000+ people who live in the County and surrounding Pueblos?
The vocal minority will not solve the problem and cannot change the rich history, which is embedded in our very blood. It will instead only speak out with self-serving intentions to fuel anger into the hearts of a majority whose opinions and concerns have gone unheard. The Red Nation is out to deprive the children of the entrada and the story of our emergence into this land.
Juan de Oñate’s statue is a symbol of the first Governor of New Mexico who brought 200 families to this area — the emergence story “ethnogenesis” of the Hispanic people. It represents a migration story of our ancestors and the birth of a people. That migration story involved him. We have become Natives of this land, a people with both Native and Spanish blood running through our veins.
Without Oñate, you exclude who was commissioned by contract to finance it, lead it here, and govern New Mexico. Life is a lesson to be learned both then and now, and mistakes inevitably are made during the process. However, we are here because of our learned experiences and dedication to unite and grow together — not separate. Our togetherness as a people results in a percentage of families staying, living, and successfully raising our families here on this very land.
Attacks on Oñate only attack on our people.
Because of Onate, countless Hispanics in New Mexico and Colorado live and have families here today. Our trees are filled with apples and our land feeds our sheep, cows, and horses, providing a balance of service to their ranchers. We can sit outside and listen on our porch to the strum of an authentic guitar. Oñate brought with him cows, horses, pigs, the Spanish language, the wheel, Christianity, wheat, cabbage, the offices of the Governors in every Indian pueblo, their horno, their sopapillas, etc.
Being in the First Amendment business, we would have preferred public discussion, paired with County resident input. We need to have a public discussion. Ron Lovato, Ohkay Owingeh Governor also suggested a conversation should have taken place, and he would like to be part of that discussion.
A Commission vote regarding the statue’s reinstatement has been threatened. The appropriate action is to let the citizens of the County have a voice in what to do with this very statue that was paid for with our tax dollars, and housed on County land in front of a County building.
The place was intended to help preserve our legacy. History is not here to be liked or disliked. It is here to be learned from. History is not for a specific group to erase. It belongs to all of us. History must be preserved for our learning and appreciation as a united people.