10 November 2003
Not just a guy on a horse
He was called Don Juan de Oñate, and he was the first of the conquistadors who decided to stay.
In 1993, sculptor John Houser was commissioned to create a statue of Don Juan, three stories tall, for the center of El Paso, Texas. "Without Oñate," says Mary Davis of the El Paso Mission Trail Association, "we would have no missions, no El Paso or Juárez, no beautiful Hispanic culture, no New Mexico."
Just the same, the El Paso City Council has decided that Oñate doesn't deserve a memorial after all; Houser's sculpture, when it's finished, will carry no references to Don Juan, and will be stuck out at the airport.
What happened? In 1599, at Acoma Pueblo near present-day Gallup, New Mexico, seventy Spaniards under Oñate, having picked up a story that the native Acoma planned to wipe out the Spanish colony, stormed the Acoma fortress. They were outnumbered roughly twenty to one, but Oñate's men prevailed, inflicting heavy casualties and, say some historians, visiting cruelty upon the survivors.
John Kessell, professor emeritus of history at the University of New Mexico, finds the controversy curious:
There are probably still Confederate sympathizers who would applaud if we renamed the tall man seated in the Lincoln Memorial simply 'The President'. And if we eliminated from the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol (in which each state is allowed two representatives) every one who had offended, killed or maimed someone else's ancestors, there would be hardly anyone left. New Mexico's recent choice, Popé, a Pueblo Indian responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Hispanic men, women and children, would surely have to go.
But "sensitivity" carried the day, and Don Juan de Oñate, now just "The Equestrian", will be exiled to some point out of sight and out of mind.
(Via Tongue Tied)
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