We’re not sure how productive a conversation regarding the Juan de Oñate statue in Alcalde between Rio Arriba County commissioners and County Manager Thomas Campos with Native American activist Luis Peña would be. We doubt anything constructive would come from such a conversation but everyone should act as adults and hold that conversation.

    Peña told Campos via text in June that he had 4,000 signatures on a petition to remove the statue. Through Campos, Peña asked for an audience with County commissioners. One of those commissioners, Leo Jaramillo, represents Peña.

    Campos said he forwarded the request to the commission. Peña did not hear back.

    In the meantime, the statue was removed to much revelry and dancing by Peña and such groups as Red Nation. Some in the group(s) defaced the remaining pedestal by painting red hand prints.

    Peña again approached Campos Aug. 11 asking for an audience.

    Campos wrote back, “Who from your group will reimburse us for the removal of the red paint?”

    In a Sept. 3 interview Peña wandered off into racism, murdered indigenous women and how Campos is not getting the lesson of the vandalized County property.

    Campos responded that Peña was not answering the question about who will clean up the graffiti.

    The back and forth ended with Peña trying to go through Jaramillo to start a dialog.

    We’re not sure how these two sides will come to a middle, or reach a compromise as far as Oñate’s permanent home, the vandalism at the Oñate Center or even how to have any type of relationship moving forward.

    In the midst of all the peaceful protests, riots and vandalism, Peña was trying to use democracy to request that the Commission remove the statue. It seems no one at the highest County level was interested. That’s unfortunate but they probably pre-played the possible conversations at a table and deemed it a waste of everyone’s time.

    Campos made a call in June to remove the statue, rather than allowing it to be vandalized. We thought that was a good move, short term. Ideally, there should have been public input and discussions. With radical groups around the state and country threatening to remove statues, plaques and icons they find offensive, Campos’s action probably saved the County a lot of money to clean and repair the County’s property. Keep in mind that’s taxpayer property, everyone’s property.

    We can’t understand nor empathize with Peña’s emotions and pain that are centered on the Oñate statue.

    We do understand process and rights for all citizens and that the forced will of a small minority of radical people should not be thrust on the large majority of the remainder of the population. We all paid a lot of money for that statue. We all expect our County-owned property to be protected and if damaged, the person(s) who cause damage should be charged with a crime.

    Keeping those two opposing views in mind, just what will Peña and his group discuss with the County commission? The two groups have a wide chasm between them. They are ethnically different and because of that, religiously different and with widely differing history.

    One side represents County government and all people in the County, including Native Americans. The other side represents a group of people, maybe from Rio Arriba County, perhaps not.

    Unlike all things political, there seems to be a solid majority who seem a little tired of people defacing public statues. The Albuquerque Journal completed a survey of residents’ feelings on the statue issue. Throughout New Mexico 53 percent do not support removal of statues. While that’s a slim majority, the fact that only 27 percent favor their removal makes it a two-to-one against situation. Twenty percent are unsure, don’t care or don’t know.

    Surprisingly, in the 18 to 34 age group, from whence most protesters come, 49 percent do not support removal and 39 percent do. The less educated oppose removal 68 percent to 19 percent.

    Of course as with all things, when you split the question into party affiliation, Republicans are staunchly against removal, 78 to 10 percent. Surprisingly Democrats don’t fall equally hard in the opposite direction, as 41 percent support removal and 34 oppose it.

    The statistics make one thing clear: there’s no good answer and there’s no compromise to keep even half the population happy. Hence the County manager and County commission’s hesitancy to discuss the issue.

    But discuss it we must. We suggest the Commission give Peña the 15 minutes for which he asked. Listen to him. There is no harm in listening.

    Peña should come with an idea that moves toward the middle. He’s not going to get Oñate’s head melted on a slab that people can dance upon.

    He should also come with less arrogance on how he needs to educate Hispanics and more attitude of working together.

    He might bring some paint remover too.

(1) comment


Braiden, I have to admit your editorial gave me a good chuckle. So a few points of clarification, I am not a "Native American activist", I am a Chicano and a RA County constituent. Also, my communication with Campos was over formal email and not informal text. Leo Jaramillo does not represent me, I have met the man on one occasion and we have had no conversation outside of email. My request to be included on the agenda for the commission is a right and not a request. Also, I am not affiliate with The Red Nation although I consider them comrades in the struggle for liberation of Chicano and Native people of Norther NM. Jaramillo entered the conversation when my requested was forwarded off to the Commission as I understand he is the Commission Chairman. Also, the request to move the statue prior did not originate from the threat of vandalism but the threat of armed presence by militant white nationalist known as the NM Civil Guard. This was a strategic move on the County's part as this group ended up shooting a man in Albuquerque on the same day in an action around the Onate statue at the Albuquerque Museum. Unlike Albuquerque and Santa Fe, there have been no formal efforts to create a community dialogue around a permanent plan for the statue. They are not concerned with wasting time, the leadership at the County is stalling. The issues raised in my dialogue are not mere esoteric exercises in personal vendettas, but an example how truly broken our educational systems are. We do not even know our own history anymore. Looking back in history, many changes did not have the support of the majority (end to segregation, voting rights, labor rights, etc). These things were often fought for by a minority. I have a vested interest in promoting a true history of the Genizaro people of the Valley and in displays of public art that honor our complex heritage. I am willing to talk to you at length and you will find that I am anything but arrogant, but I am steadfast in my resolve. It appears that at the age of 43 I have fallen out of the demographic for activism, and I do not appear to be calming down as I near my middle age. In fact, as the world around me spins into dysfunction I am growing more radical. Monuments to violence do not lend to harmony, they create walls between the people, a people that have existed together in this place long before it was ever called the US or Espanola. You own a newspaper and I do not, but I am a citizen that votes and pays taxes and it engaged in all aspects of building a healthy communication for our children. That love has given my life purpose and strength and I hope it inspires others to hold our leaders accountable. Thank you.

Luis Pena

Espanola, NM

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