Albuquerque remains undecided on Oñate statue’s future one year later

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – After a June 2020 protest ended with a shooting, the City of Albuquerque moved fast to put a controversial Juan de Oñate statue in storage. But one year later, the city isn’t that much closer to a final decision about where to put the statue and the rest of the bronze figures showcased in the La Jornada public art piece.

The pause on the future of the La Jornada sculpture has persisted since roughly December 2020, after the city’s “Race, History, and Healing Project” published a report about the art piece. That report suggested the Oñate statue and the other statues in the La Jornada piece be permanently removed from the corner of 19th Street and Mountain, near the Albuquerque Museum.

However, that report specifically stated, “where the Oñate statue will end up and how La Jornada might be re-envisioned has NOT been determined.” After receiving the reports, city councilors opted to take time to wait out the pandemic in an effort to gather more community conversation surrounding what’s next for the monument.

Albuquerque City Councilor Klarissa Peña helped lead some of the initial work in starting the community conversations following the statue’s post-protest removal. Peña says she is concerned that many important local voices are still waiting for the pandemic to subside and could be left out of the next series of community conversations.

“Although it’s been a year since we’ve had these discussions initially, I think we still just need to wait to ensure that all voices are at the table and being heard,” said Peña. “Not everyone’s vaccinated, we’re not 100 percent open.”

Since the Oñate statue’s removal in June 2020, the rest of the La Jornada statue has remained untouched outside the Albuquerque Museum. A spokeswoman for Mayor Tim Keller’s office said Monday the final decision on the Oñate and La Jornada sculpture’s location rests with Albuquerque City Council, referencing a 2020 resolution passed by councilors. That resolution states, in part, “Community recommendations will be presented to the Albuquerque Arts Board for review, and will then be submitted to the Albuquerque City Council for consideration.”

Albuquerque City Council President Cynthia Borrego recently proposed a new resolution that would solidify “no new changes, alterations or related actions” for the art piece until after the criminal investigation related to the protest shooting is over. In a written statement sent to KRQE News 13, Borrego said she would defer action on the resolution until September.

“This resolution will be deferred for 90 days,” Borrego said. “Due to the pandemic, it is too early in our process of healing to raise this divisive issue.” Borrego and other city councilors unanimously passed the deferral during a Monday afternoon meeting of the Finance and Government Operations Committee.

As the Oñate and La Jornada sculpture await relocation, there’s also a mayoral election happening this year. KRQE News 13 asked Councilor Peña Monday if a decision or discussion is being delayed because of that election. Peña said she hadn’t thought about the election in context to the future of the statue.

“I’ve heard from lots of constituents in my community,” Peña said. “I think that we have a lot of people who are obviously indigenous and Hispanic, Latino, Chicano, however they identify, Mestizos, who really, who really are passionate about this and really want the right thing to be done.”

Albuquerque City Council has no mandate on when they must decide what’s next. Meanwhile, the city has moved ahead with renaming Don Juan de Oñate Park to Brentwood Hills Park in northeast Albuquerque. Kit Carson Park near the Albuquerque zoo has also been renamed, Rio Grande Park.

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