SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico State Police are investigating the vandalism of a statue of a New Mexico priest amid an ongoing fight over cultural symbols in the state. The statue of Fray Angelico Chavez, which sits outside the New Mexico History Museum, was vandalized early Tuesday morning.
“This is absolutely a ‘no-no’ in my view,” Martha Baca, who lives in Santa Fe, said. “The vandalism of any kind of our statues should not be done because they’re part of history.”
“I think that people would rather not see vandalism. At the same time, it’s kind of pointing to how some people feel they don’t have any other way to express. They’re not being heard. So, I think it’s looking back at why is this the only way that people feel heard,” Lisa Pounders, who lives in Santa Fe, said.
The Chavez statue had red paint splashed on it. On the wall behind it, read “1680 land back,” which is likely referencing the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
Chavez was born in Wagon Mound, New Mexico, in 1910 and passed in 1996. He was a prominent historian, poet, and the first native New Mexican to become a Franciscan. He served in both World War II and the Korean War as an Army chaplain. The New Mexico History Museum said the statue being targeted may have been a case of mistaken identity.
“The statue is of a 20th century Franciscan. And it’s very possible with the message that was spray-painted on the wall of the museum that people might have thought that this was a statue of a 17th-century Spanish priest. And, we don’t know what was inside somebody’s head. But we just want it to be clear that this is actually somebody who is a contemporary person and he’s in front of the history library because the history library is named in his honor,” Billy Garrett, Interim Director of the New Mexico History Museum, said.
There has been a lot of controversy over statues and symbols in Santa Fe. In June, the Mayor of Santa Fe abruptly removed the statue of Spanish Conquistador Don Diego De Vargas, which caused heated debate. The obelisk in the plaza has also been criticized for its depiction of indigenous people.
Crews have mostly cleaned up the graffiti on the Chavez statue though the message spray-painted on the museum wall is still slightly visible. Garrett hopes people will think twice before vandalizing again.
“As a history museum, we want to be a place where people can come together to talk about different perspectives on history,” Garrett said. “We understand that there are different ways of looking at that and different feelings. And again, my hope is that over time people will realize that the history museum is a place where people can come together not just to hear one side of the story so-to-speak, but to actually engage in discussion about the past and how they feel about the past and what it means to them and spray-painting the museum didn’t help that dialogue.”
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is also speaking out about the vandalism. In an emailed statement:
It is unfortunate some individuals express their emotions in the form of vandalism. Our continued concern is for the safety and health of our greater community, particularly those who feel hurt by the Church.
As of Wednesday afternoon, New Mexico State Police had not identified any suspects. Anyone with information on the vandalism is encouraged to call the New Mexico State Police at 505-841-9256 Ext. 1.
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