ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The city’s removal of a statue of Juan de Oñate Tuesday morning is sparking renewed debate about what to do with monuments that represent both history and violence. People are divided on whether taking down this part of New Mexico history was the right move.
“I’m all for taking them down. He was not a good guy, Onate, and what he did to people,” said one man who watched crews take down the statue.
“I think if community conversations would have happened, I think the Native American and Hispano communities could have come together to decide what would have been appropriate for that,” City Councilor Klarissa Pena added.
City crews were seen power washing red spray paint from the statue before removing it from in front of the Albuquerque Museum and putting it in storage. Onate helped colonize New Mexico for Spain in the 1500s, but he did it in brutal fashion — slaughtering Native Americans and often cutting off their feet.
One of the artists of the sculpture, Reynaldo Rivera, said he signed a waiver letting the city take it down to help avoid more vandalism and violence following Monday night’s shooting of a protester in Old Town.
This isn’t the first time there has been an attack on the figure. Someone in the late 90s cut off the foot of another Onate statue in Rio Arriba County, and on Tuesday, crews cleaned the spray paint off a sign tagged at Onate Hall at the University of New Mexico.
Historical sociologist and UNM professor, Dr. Felipe Gonzales, said the statue removal could fuel a movement re-evaluating references to Onate and other Spanish iconography in New Mexico.
“Folks don’t want New Mexico to be identified or glorifying anyone who was significant in the creation of racial inequality, of genocidal practices,” Dr. Gonzales explained.
Gonzales said historically, statues and other references to Onate were a way for Spanish New Mexicans to show their claim on the state. This statue removal follows the Rio Arriba county manager’s decision to remove their Onate statue this week for safekeeping.
Just two years ago, Santa Fe city councilors voted to abolish the Entrada, a historical pageant showing Spanish conquistadors reclaiming Santa Fe from the natives.