The PBS series P.O.V had an excellent documentary on this evening called The Last Conquistador. It was the story of a sculpter who was commissioned by the city of El Paso to build a 34 foot tall sculpture of Don Juan de Onate, Spanish explorer and Governor of the New Mexico province when Spain still claimed a large chunk of the southwest. Onate founded both El Paso and Santa Fe.
The statue is a gorgeous piece of art. It has however caused controversy and old wounds to reveal themselves. Don Ornate was not only an explorer commisssioned by Spain to take Catholicism to the tribal indians he was also a purpetrator of genoside, wiping out 800 Acoma Indians at the Acoma Pueblo [see my post Acoma City in the Sky under the Ancient Cities column.]. He enslaved the survivors of the Acoma massacre, and had the left foot of all Acoman men over the age of 25 chopped off.
He was a brutal and stern Governor. He ruled over the local tribes, clerics and Spanish colonists with an iron fist. Eventually word got back to Mexico and he was recalled and tried for his treatment of the citizens of New Spain.
One has to wonder why on Earth the city of El Paso would want to erect a statue in his honor. The statue cost about $2 million dollars to which many citizens of El Paso would say could have been on the poor economic conditions in their city. In fact the documentary points out that many El Pasoans do not even know or care who he was.
The statue was eventually built and stands today. However, on a local show after the documentary aired, the sculptor was interviewed and said that since the controversy the name and story of the piece has been removed from the statue base by the city.
The Acoman indians were asked to come up with their own plaque telling the story from their side but they declined and simply want the sculpture torn down.
It would be interstng to see if there are any statues of the conquistadors in Mexico City itself considering its conquer by the Spanish.
I highly recommend the POV documentary should it show up on your local PBS station.
For a preivew, click here: www.pbs.org/pov/pov2008/lastconquistador/index.html