Spanish colonial landmarks fuel racial strife in US Southwest – NBC Los Angeles

Statues of Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate now lie in storage after protesters in New Mexico threatened to topple them. Protesters in California have pulled down sculptures of Spanish missionary Junipero Serra, and now schools, parks and streets named after Spanish explorers face an uncertain future.

As statues and monuments associated with slavery and other flawed moments in the nation’s history crumble at the hands of protesters and, in some cases, politicians’ decisions, the movement in the south The American West turned its attention to depictions of long-venerated Spanish colonial figures. by some Hispanics but despised by Native Americans.

Protesters say figures like Oñate, who led the first Spanish expeditions to what is now New Mexico, should not be celebrated. They point to Oñate’s order to cut off the right foot of 24 captive tribal warriors after his soldiers stormed Acoma Pueblo. This attack was precipitated by the murder of Onate’s nephew.

They say other Spanish figures oversaw the enslavement of indigenous populations and attempted to ban their cultural practices.

Some Hispanics who trace their lineage back to early Spanish settlers say removing likenesses of Oñate and others is tantamount to erasing history — a complicated history both marred by atrocities against indigenous peoples and scarred by travel. arduous journeys that many families have undertaken for the promise of a new life or to escape persecution in Spain.

This history remains tightly woven into the fabric of New Mexico, as many Native American Pueblos are still known by the names given to them by the Spaniards and many continue to practice Catholicism, which even Pueblo leaders acknowledge.

“New Mexico is a special place for all of us. We are all neighbours. We share food, we work together, and in many cases our family relationships go back generations,” said J. Michael Chavarria, president of the All Pueblo Council of Governors and governor of Santa Clara Pueblo.

Earlier this month, protesters attempted to demolish a statue of Oñate outside an Albuquerque museum using chains and a pickaxe. A fight that broke out ended in gunfire which injured a man. The next day, Albuquerque removed the statue and put it in storage.

Another statue of Oñate was removed by Rio Arriba County officials ahead of a planned protest demanding its removal, drawing praise from activists and some Pueblo leaders.

Albuquerque City Councilwoman Cynthia Borrego, who is Hispanic, acknowledged the sordid aspects of the story during a city-sponsored prayer and healing event sparked by the protests.

“We also have to remember that these were times of war…but we can’t go back 500 years,” she said.

Daniel Ortiz, 58, a retired financial advisor in Santa Fe, can trace his family’s roots back 14 generations. He said the statue removals amounted to anti-Hispanic sentiment and a rejection of Hispanics’ unique contribution to the region.

“This is the work of a small, radical Native American group, not our Pueblos,” Ortiz said. “They have hijacked the Black Lives Matter movement and our Anglo-Saxon leaders are too scared to stand up to them.”

Ortiz is leading an online petition calling for the monuments to be returned.

Others have taken to social media to call the vandalism an act of “Hispanicphobia”, linking it to anti-immigrant sentiment.

Even the Spanish Embassy in the United States weighed in, saying defending Spanish heritage is a priority and that educational efforts will continue so that “the reality of our shared history is better known and understood”.

Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to set foot in what is now the American Southwest. It began with expeditions in the 1540s as the Spaniards searched for the legendary Seven Cities of Gold. Decades later, settlement accelerated and Santa Fe was established as a permanent capital in 1610.

Spanish rule over the territory of New Mexico lasted approximately two centuries until the region briefly became part of the Republic of Mexico before being taken over by the United States.

Spain’s enduring hold on the territory made it different from other regions in the southwest and opened the door to commemorating Spanish influence.

Some scholars say the commemoration phenomenon is tied to efforts that began more than a century ago as Hispanics tried to convince white members of Congress that New Mexico should become a state.

According to John Nieto-Phillips, author of “The Language of Blood: The Making of Spanish-American Identity in New Mexico, 1880s-1930s.

“They particularly derided the Mexican population as bastards and half-bloods unable to govern themselves,” said Nieto-Phillips, vice provost for diversity and inclusion at the University of Mexico. Indiana.

As a result, Nieto-Phillips said the region’s Hispanic elites adopted a uniquely Hispanic-American identity over their mixed heritage as a means of embracing whiteness. Some Hispanics embraced notions of “pure” Spanish blood as part of the eugenics movement that peaked in the 1920s and 1930s to assert that they were racially different from other ethnic Mexicans in Texas and California, a-t -he declares.

It is an identity that endures today. The image of the conquistador has appeared on college emblems, moving truck companies, and was once the mascot of the Albuquerque minor league baseball team. Meanwhile, Latinos in other southwestern states often identify as Mexican American or Mestizo, a mixture of Spanish and Native American ancestry.

However, in recent years, the spanish conquistador and all related effigies saw intense criticism thanks to a new politicized coalition of Native American and Latino activists. The protests forced the cancellation of Santa Fe’s annual “Entrada” – a re-enactment of when the Spaniards reasserted themselves after the Pueblo revolt.

In California, people have defaced Serra statues for years, claiming that the Spanish priest credited with bringing Roman Catholicism to the western United States forced Native Americans to remain in missions after their conversion or to face brutal punishment. protesters in Los Angeles and San Francisco recently pulled down statues of Serra.

Recent violence in New Mexico has forced some elected officials to consider removing public art and renaming schools linked to the Spanish conquistadors.

Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, who grew up in Grants, New Mexico, and is the author of an upcoming book on colonial legacies in the Southwest, said she understands how thrilled Hispanics can be to be able to trace their history back to the earliest colonies in New Mexico which predate even the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

But with these proud reflections should come a critical examination of the colonial heritage and the anger aroused by these monuments.

“These incidents did not happen in a vacuum,” said Fonseca-Chávez, an assistant professor of English at Arizona State University. “It’s been building for over 20 years…people are really frustrated with the lack of historical and social awareness of New Mexico’s history.”


Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team.

Edward K. Thompson