By Mary Rubio, El Paso Metro
Oñate is a dirty word to many people. Yet, it is undeniable that the curiosity of exploration has opened many avenues to cultural assimilation all over the world. Marco Polo, Columbus, Lewis & Clark are just a few of the adventurous people that opened up trade routes and connected people of different language and culture. The sculpture by John Houser is a work of art not a political statement according to its supporters. Yet, I fully understand those opposed to glorifying what is undeniably a loathsome person. But, the fact is that Oñate was an explorer, and as such, deserves to be recognized for this fact alone.
I suggest that the statue be renamed “The Explorer”. Let’s recognize why he had an impact in the area not that he had an historical impact. The temporal impact he had was fairly atrocious and led to the Pueblo revolt when Apache and Dine people pushed out the Spanish Friars from northern New Mexico. Yet, his participation in the process of exploration and connecting diverse peoples for good or for ill is undeniable. By renaming the statue one can recognize the hurt of native families who feel horribly insulted by the symbol. At the same time, you recognize the historical and artistic importance of the sculpture.
It will have long-term divisive consequences if the project moves forward without some recognition of the atrocities committed by this man. The sculpture would be incomplete if the entire story isn’t told. When someone suggested that a statue of Hitler or one of Usama be built, it was immediately dismissed as improbable and ridiculous on its face. When questioned why, the respondents stated that building such monuments would be inconceivably insensitive to Jews as a people, on the one hand, and Americans as a whole, on the other. Then why is the sculpture of Oñate acceptable on the grounds of art and debate surrounding the choice as “reasonable” when there are Native Peoples deeply hurt by the history he wrought to this area.
The answer is simple, we as Americans, do not identify with the native peoples. They are as alien as Afghanistanis. But, we identify with Europe and European history. The Spanish are part of that history and there is a kinship between the English, French and Spanish despite numerous wars between them.
Natives are as deeply offended by Oñate as Jews are offended with Nazism. Let’s recognize that. Change the name to “Explorer” and make the contribution the willingness of some men, mercenaries or not, to engage new territories and new peoples in the proud tradition of natives themselves who had trade routes from the tip of South America to Alaska. Even today, Aztec artifacts are found in Alaskan native communities. They were excellent explorers as were the Maya and Tolteks before them.
Let us recognize our common humanity, as well as our inhumanity, and exhalt those things that have improved our global consciousness and let us dispense with scoring historical or petty political points by adding insult to injury and planting an offensive symbol in El Paso. Can we not rise above our own mediocrity and begin to think in global terms?