A controversial issue in my hometown of Espanola, New Mexico, has been the dark side of New Mexican history, specifically the Spanish conquest of the Indigenous communities that were long established. The man who led it was a Spanish conquistador named Juan De Onate. He began settlement along the Rio Grande during the Spring of 1598 and named the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh, formerly San Juan Pueblo, the first capital of New Mexico. While creating the Spanish community in the area of the Rio Grande, he pillaged, enslaved hundreds, and genocided thousands of natives.
During 1680, a holy man and community leader named Po’Pay led a war against the Spanish that was a collective of all the Pueblo taking a stand to oppose their oppressors. Po’Pay was from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and believed in helping free his people, much like historical figures of color such as Martin Luther King Jr or Joan of the Arc. The war was later known as the Pueblo Revolt, which freed the Indigenous communities from Spanish rule for 12 years.
The controversy of our history is which individual or side of history is glorified. Though history is essential, as it is a lesson we can learn from, arguing over why celebrating a particular history is ridiculous as it only carries on the pain experienced. On September 28th, 2023, a peaceful protest occurred over the reinstallation of a statue that celebrates Juan De Onate- the Spanish conquistador who cut off Natives’ feet. At this protest, an Indigenous man from Hopi named Jacob Johns was shot by a terrorist known as Ryan Martinez of Albuquerque, 23. Sadly, our community is so torn that something like gun violence from an outside community member is allowed, and being responsible for that kind of hate is shameful.
Before brave Jacob Johns took a life-threatening bullet for his community, Ryan Martinez was seen speaking with Hispanic elders supporting the reinstallation of the Onate statue. I’ve never been one to voice my opinions on this controversial topic because I see a solution to moving our people forward. In contrast, everyone around me is ready to continue the war. After the protest, I was inspired to go into my state legislature to possibly create a law that will protect those who oppose our old oppressors and allow others to understand our side of it. This idea is fresh, but I’m confident in accomplishing my dreams of being a healing community leader.
-Elmirah, I Am Why Consultant, Embrace Creative Freedom Co-Lead
Sun Bird (Dezmund Marcus), celebrating the removal of the Juan De Onate statue in Alcalde, NM, in 2020 while the BLM was taking place.