Two statues are better than one.
After a long dispute, that’s the solution the National Hispanic Cultural Center reached Tuesday regarding the future of the Pete Padilla-Manuel Mora Memorial Park.
In addition to “Warriors Repose” by Santa Fe artists Cristina González and Jacob Sisneros, a piece selected by the center’s board, a second sculpture will be commissioned for $80,000 by New Mexico Arts, which is a state arts agency that provides financial support for arts services and programs and administers the 1% Public Art Program for the state.
The second piece, favored by the Padilla and Mora families, is a 7-foot bronze sculpture of Sgt. Pedro “Pete” Padilla and Pfc. Gregorio “Manuel” Mora, two young men who grew up in the Barelas area and who died in Vietnam.
The sculpture, by Albuquerque sculptor Reynaldo “Sonny” Rivera, will be on loan from the state to the NHCC. Both sculptures will be housed at the park, which is located on the NHCC campus.
“I knew getting to a resolution wasn’t going to be easy,” said Rebecca Avitia, NHCC executive director. “But there was a resolution somewhere and we had to find it.”
The Padilla and Mora families and the NHCC were at odds over the sculpture chosen for the park. The families preferred one that specifically showed the two young men for whom the park is named; the NHCC wanted one that honored all the servicemen and -women who fell in Vietnam.
Last year, the NHCC board sent out a request for proposals for a sculpture and narrowed the list to three artists.
In December, a committee gave its recommendation to award the bid to González and Sisneros. The bid for the sculpture was $125,000.
The Mora and Padilla families were upset that Rivera’s proposal did not get the commission and staged a rally in late March.
For two months, Avitia worked with Veronica Gonzales, state Department of Cultural Affairs secretary, to find a resolution.
“This is a process that New Mexico Arts deals with on all of its public art acquisitions,” Avitia said. “Because the NHCC followed all of the rules and regulations, it helped open the door to this option and the park having two sculptures.”
Avitia said having both sculptures will add more to the NHCC grounds. The NHCC will be responsible for the upkeep of the sculptures while major repairs will be footed by the DCA.
“One is a very modern approach while the other is more specific,” Avitia said. “I think that both serve a great purpose to the mission of the center. It was important to sit down and work with the families. They had been promised a lot over the years and I didn’t want to promise anything. I wanted action.”
David Padilla, a brother of Pete Padilla, said it’s been a 15-year wait for something to happen with the park. This news was a step in the right direction, he added.
“These two men meant a lot to the neighborhood and they inspired many during their lives,” Padilla said. “The bottom line was to get a memorial that would honor them and all that they did. It’s been a long journey for all of us and this is the beginning of seeing results.”
Desi Baca, who spoke on behalf of the Mora family, expressed his excitement for the project.
“Together we can accomplish the impossible and today we have made the Padilla and Mora sculptures possible,” Baca said.
Padilla and Mora grew up in Barelas, attended River View Elementary School – now the cultural center’s History and Literary Arts Building – graduated from Albuquerque High School and joined the Marine Corps. They died 39 months apart in Vietnam, Padilla in 1966 and Mora in 1969.
But when construction on the Hispanic Cultural Center began in February 1999, the park and recreation center named for them were unceremoniously razed, much to the chagrin of the families.
For years, the families and other supporters worked to replace the park and finally succeeded when ground was broken in July 2011 on the cultural center’s campus.
Work on both sculptures is expected to begin by the end of the year.
“The entire process was to listen to everyone,” Avitia said. “It was important to bring it down to the bottom line and work from there.”