ESPAÑOLA, N.M. (KRQE) – A controversial figure in New Mexico history has been at the center of the debate over public monuments. This week, the statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate that was removed and put in storage was supposed to be put back on display, but that has been postponed amid protests.
The statue of Juan de Oñate in a Rio Arriba county building in Española has divided people for years.
Some said he represents an integral chapter in state history.
“We love what’s happening. We love that statue to be here,” said one man.
Others called him a ruthless killer for his massacre of the Acoma people.
“Why should we patronize and call him a hero when he wasn’t?”
The statue was taken down in 2020 when protests around the state targeted monuments to colonial figures, and the county cited concerns about vandalism. Since then, it’s been storage.
Recently, Rio Arriba County announced plans to erect the statue once again outside a different building.
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They have already placed a pedestal outside the building near the Sheriff’s Office. Protesters were gathered there Wednesday, calling it disrespectful to Indigenous people.
“If you’re going to put him up, then you might as well put up a statue of Hitler,” one protester said.
Wednesday evening, the county shifted gears, announcing the statue will not go up Thursday after “unforeseen circumstances and the interest of public safety.”
With no further details, they postponed the event until further notice.
“Why would I not fight for something that is thousands of years old? For something that has been cared for and the people that come from that place? Why would I not want to stand in solidarity with a movement like that,” commented another protester.
KRQE reached out to the county asking what those unforeseen circumstances were but did not hear back.