The City of Albuquerque and Rio Arriba County have removed their publicly displayed statues of Oñate, the Spanish colonist governor of 1500s New Mexico, who murdered, enslaved and stole land from Pueblo people. Around the nation, the push to remove all slavery and colonist statues from public spaces, which honor America’s immoral past, is occurring.
Racism has existed in New Mexico since Oñate. It’s a unique racism, not based in skin color, but 100% in colonialism. The elitism the Spanish brought to New Mexico, pushing Catholicism on Native people, has caused misery and brokenness for hundreds of years.
That’s what colonialism does: It is slow-motion genocide which lasts generations. The alcoholism and drug use, the poverty and the health crisis of the pueblo and Navajo people are direct reflections of the colonialism they’ve endured, and the generational trauma they live.
Since the colonization of New Mexico by America, Hispanic communities of New Mexico are suffering the same plight. From well before 1912, Hispanics have been losing their lands to National Forests and the Bureau of Land Management. They’ve had to stop farming. They’re experiencing housing gentrification, forced out of their historic neighborhoods, and must sell their generational homes. Alcoholism, drug use and crime inundated their communities.
They are justifiably angry and experiencing colonialist trauma.
Unlike white Americans’ denial of their families’ slavery legacies, Hispanic communities have been aware of their colonial impacts on pueblo people, and have proactively tried, for generations, to make amends for the sins of their fathers.
They’ve intermarried with pueblo people, they’ve historically had towns next to Native communities (Alcalde, La Bajada, Cañada, etc.) allowing for open trade and education, and they’ve attended and celebrated their Catholic ceremonies together, adopting and honoring each culture’s traditions. It hasn’t always gone well, and elitism reappears through generations, but efforts for reconciliation are conscious and practiced to this day.
With the current removal of Spanish conquistador statues, anger and upset is reemerging within both cultures. Some Hispanics are angry and hurt, voicing the same reasonings of Southern white Americans on the removal of their historic statues. “It’s our history” is being heard. The pueblo people are justifiably correct in wanting these public figures removed. Some New Mexicans don’t care either way. (“Just tell us, when is marijuana going to be legalized?”)
Public spaces, and the statues they display, have one major purpose: to reiterate the values of the greater society. They reflect and honor individuals who sacrificed for the values of their communities, people honored through gardens, statues, or memorials. These are places to gather, celebrate, and debate. Public spaces reflect governments, communities and the future directions of the people.
In New Mexico, public spaces have always been on plaza grounds in front of churches or village centers. Statues of historic figures didn’t exist in New Mexico until colonization by America.
The Oñate statues need to go. They don’t represent the values of the majority of Hispanics or pueblo people. Oñate is well documented in history books and museums. There is no need to publicly display any statue of any figure who has hurt any New Mexicans, then or now.
The pueblo people are the first and original people of this state, and their voices take precedence. In fact, generational pain from colonialism will be healed in New Mexico, and everywhere, if we can reverse colonialist hierarchical order, and give voice to the first peoples hurt.
The entire planet is suffering the effects of colonialism, from slavery to genocide to forced migration, which continue to this day. New Mexico’s pain is colonialism.
Let the birthplace of the ultimate weaponry for humanity’s demise (the atom bomb) be the birthplace of peace and healing for the world. Let’s make New Mexico a healing example, so we can further heal the nation. After all, we’ve got experience.
Lena Hakim lives in Santa Fe.