Racist, Brutal Past or Hispanic History? Latinos Clash over Spanish Colonial StatuesHistorians in the News
tags: colonialism, Latino history, New Mexico, Native American history, southwest
Yolanda Leyva's protests 13 years ago against the erection of a statue of Juan de Oñate, a Spanish conquistador, cost her relationships and added to heightening division in her community. And in the end, it all seemed for naught: After months of having rallied with others, she learned that the statue would be installed in front of El Paso International Airport in Texas anyway.
"We were a coalition of Native Americans and Mexican Americans protesting the statue because we believed it represented cruelty, brutality and the horrors of colonization," said Leyva, an activist who is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Oñate, a divisive historical figure known for settling what is now known as the Southwest region of the U.S., ordered the destruction of the Native American Acoma Pueblo in 1599 in what is known as the Acoma Massacre. He ordered the amputation of Acoma men's feet and later their hands as punishment for having fought the Spanish; he was later convicted of using excessive force and banished from New Mexico.
"But some other Mexican Americans said that the statue represented Mexican history, not Spanish history, since Oñate was born in Mexico, and that we shouldn't be protesting it, because it was about time 'our history' was represented in El Paso," Leyva said.
The decades-long debate over the Oñate statue connects with current widespread protests calling for racial justice and the removal of statues of Confederate leaders. It has led many to ask: What should be done with statues honoring Spanish conquistadors and missionaries, and what do these statues represent for Latinos — whose ancestry includes this Spanish legacy?