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.