It’s clear we won’t look for any sort of reconciliation between Hispanic and Native American history buffs anytime soon. The explosive remarks made by local history teacher Roberto Valdez and San Elizario (Texas) Historical District Director Al Borrego July 13 at the Española Valley Fiesta will surely not go unchallenged by many Native Americans angry about celebrating Don Juan de Oñate.
San Elizario is a small community just southeast of El Paso. It has a historic district with shops and restaurants. We’re jealous, but we digress.
The long and tiring argument has each side claiming revisionist history by the opposing side. Hispanics want to celebrate and embrace their history as Spanish conquerors. Native Americans want the alleged atrocities acknowledged and (who knows) apologized for? Then let’s stop celebrating Oñate, who may or may not have done many different things claimed by both sides.
This politically correct argument simmered for a long time. It came to a boil a few years ago when Indians from several local pueblos demonstrated at Santa Fe’s annual fiesta. In that instance they were arguing about Don Diego de Vargas, who took Santa Fe back from the Indians in 1692. (or they welcomed him back?) Again, atrocities alleged, denied, argued repeatedly.
We don’t mean to make light of the actually history. It’s important. The continued fighting over it is not. The adage history is written by the victors goes a long way here.
Valdez and Borrego were basing their comments on transcripts written by Oñate’s soldiers and senior staff. In recounting the settling of the Española Valley, surely they’re going to go a little light on the rape and torture stories and keep to the diplomatic side of Spaniards mixing with Indians and cumbaya.
In Borrego’s case, he claimed Acoma Pueblo elders told him 8,000 Acoma people were killed in 1599 by Oñate. He probably rightly said there weren’t 8,000 people living there at the time. He then rehashed Oñate cutting off feet of some (still a soft number) Acoma men and a woman being raped.
Borrego minimizes the rape and torture with, “All they did was cut the foot off. They could have killed them.” Good news all around.
Valdez openly questioned the veracity of the Acoma elders’ statements. “I remain skeptical that today’s Acoma, who are antagonistic, are telling the truth,” he said.
Both sides claim to cite historic fact. The problem is it’s fairly simple to find transcripts, letters and journals to support either side’s argument.
Also both sides must acknowledge that fighting of any sort is brutal. Whether with knives, arrows, clubs and muskets or hand grenades, automatic weapons and tanks, the result is the same: death and destruction. War brings out the worst in everyone. If someone isn’t fighting for their life, they’ve watched friends die and maintain a razor sharp hatred for the group responsible.
The ridiculous marketing catch phrase, “Where Cultures Unite,” remains just as divisive today as in Oñate’s 1599 or DeVargas’s 1692. There’s no answer here. We have a group of people who insist on celebrating Oñate, or sugarcoat it by claiming they are celebrating the Spanish arrival. By celebrating them they rub it in local Indians' faces.
Opposing them are people whose ancestors lost land, lives and most of their rights. They can’t prosecute, try and punish Oñate or DeVargas, but 400 years later they can keep that grudge going and try to make life miserable for anyone who recognizes early Spanish conquerors.
We understand the anger to a degree but the hypocrisy must be recognized. The Spanish arrival here began a whole new way of life, beginning with acequias, new seeds, animals farming techniques, iron work, mapping, building, which took us into the industrial age and eventually where we are today.
You can't drive a car, shop at a grocery store or be glued to an iPhone and not appreciate where that technology began.
Valdez and Borrego did nothing to move things along in a healthy, open manner. They clearly took us back a decade or two.