Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The controversial obelisk in the center of the historic Santa Fe Plaza was heavily damaged early Monday, with vandals spray-painting it and using tools to chip away at the facade.
Santa Fe police officers at the scene said the damage occurred in the early morning, although exactly when remains unclear.
The entire Plaza was closed to pedestrian traffic with yellow crime scene tape for several hours Monday as city workers attempted to clean up the damaged monument.
“I’m very disappointed and saddened by that,” Mayor Alan Webber said of the vandalism. “I think it’s unfortunate that we’ve seen people vandalize any monument or statue, and we’re going to try to move forward to try to protect that object and others.”
The obelisk, known as the Soldiers’ Monument and Civil War Monument, but listed on one city document as the American Indian War Memorial, has been divisive since its construction in 1868.
It was originally dedicated to Union soldiers who fought in Civil War battles in New Mexico. But on one side is inscribed, “To the heroes who have fallen in various battles with savage Indians in the Territory of New Mexico.” The word “savage” was chiseled off by a man in 1974.
However, that message – which critics say is racist against indigenous New Mexicans – was largely destroyed early Monday, as big chunks of the marble were smashed out of the side of the monument, leaving a gaping hole in the middle. Graffiti also covered the 152-year-old monument, with statements such as “racist” and “end the genocide” strewn about the stone.
City work crews used pressure washers to clean off the paint, and some people watching the cleanup were visibly upset by the vandalism.
“I believe it’s just disrespectful,” said Cruz Moya, a Santa Fe resident. “It’s defacing the culture of New Mexico.”
Elena Ortiz, an Ohkay Owingeh tribal member and chair of the Santa Fe-Red Nation Freedom Council, said she neither condones nor condemns the damage to the obelisk, but was upset with the public’s reaction to the vandalism.
“I think it’s appalling that people are more upset about this than they would be upset over women and children being sold into slavery and people having their foot cut off by conquistadors,” Ortiz said.
The obelisk is one of multiple monuments in Santa Fe that Webber said he supports removing. So far, only the statue of Don Diego de Vargas, a 17th century conquistador criticized for his brutal treatment of Native Americans, was removed from Cathedral Park last Thursday morning. The statue was moved to an undisclosed location until a commission appointed by the mayor makes a recommendation about its future.
Another obelisk dedicated to Kit Carson, in front of the U.S. District Courthouse, has had plywood placed around it to protect it from damage.
Webber said during a virtual news conference Monday that while he supports the removal of the monuments, he understands the connection many New Mexicans feel to them.
“I believe, frankly, there’s more than one version of history,” he said. “What we want to do is use the different versions of history, and recognizing that everybody’s history deserves respect.”
Ortiz said she disagrees with that perspective.
“It is indisputable that this country was built on stolen land,” she said. “The fact that Mayor Webber thinks there are multiple versions of history strikes me as a little bit ignorant, if not completely uneducated.”
Monuments of another conquistador, Juan de Oñate, have been removed in Alcalde and Albuquerque.
Statues and memorials of racist figures around the country have come under scrutiny, especially since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police May 25. Floyd’s death has sparked protests and discussions about racism in the United States.