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Official regrets voting for the removal of school’s name

LAS CRUCES – A member of a New Mexico school board who made a key vote that ended up removing the name of a Spanish conquistador from a high school now regrets her decision.

The Las Cruces Public Schools board voted July 14 to rename Oñate High School. (Nathan J. Fish/Las Cruces Sun-News Via Ap)

Carol Cooper of the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education said she wishes she could go back in time and reverse her decisive July 14 vote to remove the name of Don Juan de Oñate from Oñate High School.

If she had voted against the name removal proposal, the vote would have been tied 2-2 with one abstention, meaning the school’s name wouldn’t have been changed, the Las Cruces Sun-New reported.

The proposal to change the name of the school came amid a national conversation about monuments and names of institutions honoring historical figures linked to racism. But after Cooper voted, she said she heard from many constituents who told her they wished she had kept the school’s name. Officials have not come up with a new name for the school.

Critics have said figures like Oñate, who led early Spanish expeditions into present-day New Mexico, shouldn’t be celebrated.

They point to Oñate’s order to have the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors after his soldiers stormed Acoma Pueblo, and say Oñate enslaved Native Americans and oversaw the brutal treatment of Indigenous populations in the American Southwest.

Oñate defenders have said he represents an important part of Hispanic history in present-day U.S. as part of the first group of early Spanish settlers who braved tough conditions to settle the region.

Cooper says she has received countless calls from residents expressing their disappointment in the school board’s decision.

It’s unclear whether the name of the high school might be taken up again at a future school board meeting.

Numerous Confederate statues and monuments to American slave owners in the South, as well as statues honoring Christopher Columbus, have been taken down by officials or torn down by protesters in recent months.

The vote by the school board came after a man in Albuquerque shot an activist who was part of a protest of a Spanish conquistador’s statue. The city removed the statue the next day.

Rio Arriba County removed its statue of Oñate, placing it in storage last month before a planned protest.