Onate Statue El Paso

Conquistadors remembered as a past injustice or pioneers?

Many citizens will see the statue as a reminder of a past injustice suffered by Native Americans while others will view the statue as a tribute to conquistadors who discovered and explored the great south plains of North America.

When visiting the great southwest, tourist will hear local population conversing both in Spanish and English while wearing light clothing that covers their tan skin and dark brown hair. Most of the locals will say that they are of Mexican ancestry with a mixture of Spanish and Native American descendant. However, if you travel deep into New Mexico, most of the population will more than likely say that they are Spanish and not Mexican. The Southwest local population has mix feelings toward the Spanish conquistadors that arrived more than four hundred years ago.

Downtown El Paso

Perhaps if a local has more Spanish ancestry, their view may be more favorable toward the Spaniards compared to a local with Native American ancestry. Let’s look at what Spanish conquistadors brought to the great Southwest plains.

 

CONQUISTADOR’S INTENTIONS

Spanish explorers arrived in the southwest with a purpose of seeking wealth and riches and not to set-up permanent settlements. Conquistadors brought disease, force assimilation; enslaved indigenous people of the Southwest and missionaries subjugated indigenous people. For the Spaniard conquistador, gold and silver were their reason for exploration.

Early Conquistadors
Early Conquistadors

Native Americans, centered for the most part, on the belief in many gods, who focused on nature’s spirit. Since Native American religious belief was based on “animism,” which caused much alarm to the Spaniards. The Spaniards set their sights to convert, even with force conversion, of the Native Americans religious belief to Spanish Catholicism to ease the control of the Native Americans. Spaniards were known to use physical abuse, torture, dismembering and executions of Native Americans who resisted acculturation. Such devastations cause Native Americans to revolt from approximately 1640 onward.

 

THE START OF EXPLORATIONS

Don Juan de Oñate by artist José Cisneros.
Don Juan de Oñate by artist José Cisneros.

Between 1540 and 1542 Francisco Vasquez de Coronado traveled the Southwest in search of cities aligned with gold and treasures. He eventually returned to Mexico to report that the Southwest region did not possess sufficient wealth. By 1580s, Spanish friars return to the southern plains of the North American continent to lay the groundwork for Catholicism.

Juan de Onate is a Spaniard that divides the feelings of El Paso citizens. He was a conquistador that crossed the point of El Paso del Norte around 1598 to spread Catholicism in New Mexico and hoped to find a silver strike. Like with previous conquistadors, Onate experienced Native American problems when riches were not instantly found. He was ordered to return to Mexico City where he had to defend the charges of using excessive force in New Mexico. He was banished to Spain where he died on June 3, 1626.

 

WHAT YOU WILL FIND TODAY

Onate Statue El Paso International Airport
Onate Statue El Paso International Airport

In El Paso, Texas, city leaders voted in spending a $650,000 Onate statue that is to be the largest bronze equestrian statue in the nation. It is now located in front of the El Paso’s international airport. The 36-foot statue of the infamous (to some locals) Spanish conquistador was made possible in part by local mainstream Mexican American and Hispanic American organizations.

The statue is a marvelous work of art that is an inoffensive “Equestrian” that can be admired by locals as well as tourist. Many citizens will see the statue as a reminder of a past injustice suffered by Native Americans while others will view the statue as a tribute to conquistadors who discovered and explored the great south plains of North America. Great conquistador history came and past us by, and as Abraham Lincoln said,

“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.”

Perhaps we should just see history as a story that cannot be changed.

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