Years ago, in more simple and personal times, I decided to write a letter to then U.S. Congressman Manuel Lujan, regarding the first Oñate Statue that is currently on display in Alcade, NM. It was not an easy thing to do, as I had never taken part in any social activism and as people who know me, know I did not even take part in common everyday social interaction. I have always been much of hermit. I painted; I did my work as an artist and that was enough. Then reading the paper one day I learned that a statue to the Spanish conquistador Oñate, was set to go up in Alcade, a village just north of Espanola. Alcalde is where Oñate had a home.
An emotion that I can only describe as visceral rose up inside me. I wasn’t quite sure what to do; all I had was this helpless anger. I talked to other people about it and overwhelmingly it was agreed that this statue was a travesty and a slap in the face to the Mothers and Fathers who sacrificed for our continuance. I say continuance and not “survival”, because we are continuing as strong people, we are not merely “surviving”.
Even though many people expressed outrage over this conquistador monument, no one was doing anything about it. I was looking for others to do something and getting angry when nothing was being done.
I wrote a letter to Mr. Lujan and expressed my disgust with the Oñate statue. I got an answer in a form letter that there was nothing that could be done to change the monument, because it was mandated by Congress. More accurately I say it was mandated by Manuel Lujan.
I could not see how such a racist and offensive statue created by government funds, could be so easily installed in a public place and presented as romantic and heroic history.
What about the people who were murdered and even butchered? What about the Land that was stolen? Whoever mentions the women who were raped, and the children stolen never to return or know their people again?
And It was through this small and seemingly insignificant letter writing event that my life direction changed. I became an activist when I realized that if we desire social change, sometimes we can’t wait for others to move first.
Some people may think there isn’t any big deal with the way indigenous history is being portrayed the way it is, that is; from the victors point of view. We lost, so why don’t we just deal with it? (As I have heard some people say.) And what is wrong with a bronze statue anyway? But the cold dismal fact is that a bronze will stand for thousands of years. In a thousand years people will remember the Spanish conquistador as romantic and heroic.
In El Paso, Texas, the largest equestrian bronze monument in the history of man is currently being installed at the El Paso Airport. 4-stories high it portrays Oñate on horseback holding high a document referred to as “la toma” in which the Spanish formally claimed all Lands and natural resources north of the Rio Grande, and held all peoples in subjugation to the Spanish crown.
Do you think any description of this obscene statue will describe the horrific events that were to come? Beloved Ak’u, Acoma; was destined to be destroyed and the people butchered. Under Spanish rule from 1531 to 1638, fully two thirds of the Indigenous population perished. You have to read history to learn that, but these racists supporters of these monuments make it easy to know only the lies and half truths.
The City of Albuquerque Arts Board has come up with a plan for commemorative art works along 4th St., which is part of what the Spanish call the El Camino Real, and what the arts board co-named “The Road of Life”. Ironically their so-called “road of life” brought instead death.
How many people realize that this so-called road “El Camino Real” was in truth an ancient and holy road? It was used for thousands of years by the Indigenous Peoples of North, Central and even South America. What is happening to that memory?
And what will our memory be of the Middle East? Latin America? That we brought violence and destruction to thousands of innocent people in the name of Holy Oil? Maybe. Maybe not. More likely, what the memory will be is our heroic efforts to take Christianity, freedom and democracy to godless people. The point is, what we may know only is what is presented to us. In time lies and half truths do become the truth; if we let it.
Many of you know Bob Anderson, a longtime anti-war activist and many of you know too of his peaceful nature. Bob in an anti war protest at the University of New Mexico was arrested and thrown in jail for battery on a police officer. Presently, he is banned from the University of New Mexico. He has not even been convicted of the charges of battery, yet he is banned. This is the political atmosphere we live in today and why it is important to change it. Oppression affects all people.
We take risks, nothing of worth comes easy. If we wish to change this world we must take risks. It means commitment; it means a decision to change our lives and the society we live in. It doesn’t matter how small that action is. It is through action that we may make this a better place. We all live here and if the voices of all the people are not heard, we continue to live in an oppressive state.
As Indigenous People we are not begging to be heard. We are not begging for inclusion in this society.
We are demanding our place in History. We are demanding that our history as indigenous people be recounted and be remembered fairly. We are demanding our voices be heard.
For any people to exist as second rate citizens is unacceptable. As Indian People we will not accept it. For as long as we continue in this society of racism and divisiveness in the State New Mexico, and the City of Albuquerque, we will continue to raise our voices.
It is not by simple happenstance, that we have leaders, revolutionaries, activists, simple and ordinary citizens, who act against the system. If the system is oppressive it produces people who resist.
Consider our speakers today. What social conditions brought forth their decisions to resist oppression? If there is a need for change the people will step forward. Look at the world over, look at Bosnia, Africa, Sudan, Latin America and now Iraq, it goes on and on.
Oppression produces resistance and the need for change. It begins with one small decision. It begins within ourselves and no matter how seemingly insignificant it may be, it effects other people. We can change our environment.
As you know everything travels in a circle. Your contribution here, even by your presence will return back to you in all the beautiful ways and all the blessings.
Dawa’e Hauba. Ba Dru’uwishaatsi.
Thank you Everyone. May You Farewell.
MAURUS CHINO is a member of the Acoma tribe in New Mexico. This talk was delivered as the closing remarks of the Humanity in Resistance Symposium held in Albuquerque on October 21. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org