It’s finally over. The bronze of Don Juan de Oñate astride his horse is gone. Native Americans, antifa, Black Lives Matter and everyone associated with the various and sundry movements can rejoice. Racism is over.
Much like the questions of pro or anti-abortion, gun control, gay marriage and love/hate the cops, the pro and anti-Oñate folks will never find middle ground. Both sides have their collective heels dug in deep, ready for the long haul.
The statue was unveiled Oct. 12, 1992. The $108,000 price tag was insignificant to the millions wasted on a visitor center with no vision or proper management. Jefe Emilio Naranjo once prognosticated the center’s attendance would eclipse that of Carlsbad Cavern’s.
The online petition to remove Don Juan’s likeness from the former visitor center in Alcalde fed right into the current atmosphere of racism, bigotry and each group’s firm belief they have the answer to what the country needs. None of them have all the answers but can’t listen to the other side (and hear) long enough to have an erudite discussion.
The local petition was clearly driven by the animus we’re experiencing as everyone jumps on the George Floyd bandwagon, using the poor guy’s death as their own personal calling card. Protesters and posers used his death and afterlife for their own devices. It was pitiful. Have we not seen enough Al Sharpton speeches over a coffin in our lifetimes?
We will give the petition folks the benefit of the doubt that they’re just trying to address what they see as social injustice. However, their petition comes with interesting timing.
This will undoubtedly reignite the embers of discontent by local Indian pueblo dwellers and kick-start the old favorite argument of why we hate/love Oñate. We could sure save a lot of time if each side would put forward their favorite arguments, which everyone has heard, each side can say the other is dead wrong, then we can get back to perhaps addressing issues that matter. Does anyone care about the failed education system, our drug and alcohol abuse pandemic, our homeless/vagrant/panhandling problem and the fact local governments will not be able to pay the bills much longer with their current revenue stream and projections?
The fact historic statues are coming down all over the country also feeds Oñate’s removal. The national movement gained traction to remove historical figures, if they offend enough people and those people get vocal.
The argument can certainly be made many are offended by Jefferson Davis’s statue, just as locally some people are offended by Oñate’s bronze likeness. It doesn’t help that El Jefe placed Don Juan across the highway from Ohkay Owingeh, almost daring any denizen to approach.
The crowd at Monday’s deconstruction drove home the point with Native Americans on one side of the highway denouncing Oñate and Hispanics on the other crying, “Que Viva, Oñate.”
Rio Arriba County Manager Tomas Campos handled the statue being taken down with aplomb. Being in the first amendment business we would have preferred public discussion, paired with County resident input. We don’t know if it was a last minute decision or planned but Campos said it was made to keep the statue safe from rumored groups coming to tear it down Monday evening. That makes sense: better to take it down and store it at a double secret safe storage facility than let looters and violent protesters damage it.
But now we need to have the public discussion. A press release from Ron Lovato, Ohkay Owingeh, also suggests a conversation should have taken place. Apparently that government would like to be part of the discussion.
A Commission vote regarding the statue’s re-erection has been threatened. It would be correct to let the citizens of the County decide what to do with a statue paid for with tax dollars, housed on County land in front of a County building.
Bowing to the vocal minority won’t solve the race problem, but make the few happy. It will make the majority more angry and right now they feel they haven’t been heard.
Many were threatening to take care of business in November. But this is Rio Arriba County, where memories are short, energy for action is low and political races get decided in June. Don’t look for Don Juan to come out of storage.