The Spanish conquistador is a picture found throughout New Mexico, the most Hispanic country in the USA.
Depictions of these men as 17th century explorers Don Juan de Oñate and Don Diego de Vargas have adorned murals and been respected at commemorations as a homage to the area’s Hispanic heritage.
In recent decades, however, the conquistador and the effigies connected to it have come under intense criticism. A new generation of Native American and Latino activists is demanding that conquistador vision and names be removed from seals, schools and roads. They say the figure’s link to colonialism and indigenous genocide creates the conquistador obsolete, highlighting the area’s changing attitudes about its colonial past.
Activists convinced organizers of this annual Santa Fe Fiesta to depart “the Entrada” — a diversion of p Vargas recapturing Santa Fe for the Spanish from Pueblo tribes. Under stress, Santa Fe’s public school district announced it would restrict when conquistador reenactors visit. This month, the University of New Mexico said it is looking a new layout for its own official seal after protests from Native Americans two decades ago over concerns regarding the present seal using a conquistador.
Elena Ortiz, president of the Santa Fe chapter of Red Nation, a Native American advocacy group, said the improvements come after years of activism and public campaigns trying to change perceptions about the conquistador.
Activists feel more needs to be done, ” she said.
“We still have Don Diego parading around,” Ortiz said. “This symbol of genocide should not be allowed in public schools.”
The demonstrations and protests have enflamed racial tensions between some New Mexico Latinos — who call themselves Hispanos — and Native American tribes, who say the battle is on how to inform the area’s history.
Ralph Arellanes, seat of the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, said he understands the need for the nation’s many Native American tribes to tell their tales. But he called the attempts to eliminate the conquistador efforts to erase history.
“It’s a complicated history that needs to be celebrated. If it weren’t for Hispanos, who came to New Mexico first, most Native American tribes would have been wiped out,” Arellanes said. “The conquistador brought people together.”
Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to set foot in the present-day American Southwest, including Texas, California, Arizona and Colorado.
While every state has a couple of monuments, cities and streets named after Spanish conquistadors, in New Mexico that the conquistador has played a special role in the celebration of Hispanic culture in the country as many continue to identify as Spanish, or descendants of the Spanish explorers. Latinos in other southwestern states often identify as Mexican American or mestizo, a combination of Spanish and Native American ancestry.
The Spanish individuality has made New Mexico unique in how some Hispanic residents have celebrated the conquistador for decades.
The conquistador picture has appeared on college emblems, moving truck companies and after was the mascot of Albuquerque’s minor league baseball team. In an annual festival in Santa Fe, some dress up as conquistadors and ride through town on horses while other conquistador reenactors visit local colleges and dance with kids.
All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres, who’s a part of Isleta Pueblo, said he knows that some Hispanics revere their Spanish colonial past and pictures of the conquistador.
“I’m not offended by it, but I know some (Native Americans) who are,” Torres said. “I’m for us getting together to have a better understanding of each other.”
While Torres said he and other Pueblo tribal leaders were happy Santa Fe Fiesta organizers changed the Entrada, he does not agree with activists that wish to erase the conquistador all together.
“It doesn’t bother me,” former Isleta Tribal councilman Diego Lujan said. “We all need to work and live together.”
Nick Estes, an American Studies professor at the University of New Mexico and a member of Red Nation, said activists want state leaders to quit lionizing the area’s violent colonial past and recognize the history of Native Americans.
The struggle is worse than the conflict over U.S. Civil War-era Confederate monuments from the American South, he said.
“At least there’s an acknowledgment of this country’s legacy with slavery,” Estes said. “This country has not acknowledged its legacy with indigenous genocide.”
Russell Contreras is a part of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/russcontreras