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We Must Face The Truth About Spanish Colonization

We Must Face The Truth About Spanish Colonization

With Santa Fe's Entrada coming up next month, it’s time to face the truth and find a way to respect our brutal history without glorifying it.

By Heath Haussamen

New Mexico’s deep wounds were exposed last year when protesters disrupted the annual re-enactment of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas’ retaking of Santa Fe in 1692.

“Slay! Slay! Slay like Po’Pay!” protesters chanted, according to The Santa Fe New Mexican. Ohkay Owingeh’s Po’Pay led the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, when Native Americans kicked the colonizing Spaniards out of New Mexico.

The Spanish returned from El Paso, Texas, 12 years later and seized Santa Fe. To this day, the annual Entrada celebration calls that event peaceful. That’s a lie.

Last year’s protest elicited dismissive responses from some. “You’re lucky that what happened back East didn’t happen here,” Leroy Vigil was quoted by The New Mexican as saying. “We took your gold, and we gave you religion, and we took your women. That’s why you’re Vigil and Martinez and Gonzales and Gallegos.”

Vigil’s adult daughter Jamie was quoted as saying Native Americans could change their names if they wanted.

The protest came from “outside people,” Gloria Mendoza alleged. She pointed to Natives selling jewelry nearby and said they weren’t protesting.

That image of Natives selling jewelry on the sidewalk, an attraction to draw tourists into others’ stores on the Santa Fe plaza is evidence that colonization still impacts Native people today.

My Montes ancestors were among the Spanish colonizers. They came from Zacatecas three years after de Vargas retook Santa Fe to help solidify Spanish presence in northern New Mexico.

I’m reminded of the words of James Baldwin, a prophet during the civil rights era, writing about racism against black people: “I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.”

“…If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves, they were never have become so dependent on what they call the ‘Negro problem,’ ” Baldwin wrote. “This problem, which they invented in order to safeguard their purity, has made of them criminals and monsters, and it is destroying them.” He blamed “the role of a guilty and constricted white imagination.”

The “emotional poverty” Baldwin described plagues our region today. Natives should be glad Spaniards got to them before Americans? They can change their names if they don’t like it? These deflections are symptoms of guilt that has been buried over generations so people can sleep at night.

It’s encouraging to see New Mexicans peacefully demonstrating in response to the recent racism and violence at the “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia, and to see the City of El Paso removing Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from landmarks. That helps address pain caused by America’s history of racism.

But our region’s pain predates America. What about statues celebrating Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate forcefully taking this land in 1598? There’s one at the El Paso International Airport and another in Rio Arriba County. Celebration of Spanish colonization surrounds us.

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, who portrayed de Vargas in the 1989 Entrada, says it’s time “to have an honest narrative of what happened in 1692.” He has not called for an end of the celebration.

Honesty isn’t enough. We, the descendants of colonizers, need to let ourselves feel Native Americans’ pain  and our own. With Santa Fe’s Entrada coming up next month, it’s time to face the truth and find a way to respect our brutal history without glorifying it.

Haussamen runs NMPolitics.net, a news organization devoted to hard-hitting, fair exploration of politics and government that seeks to inform, engage and build community. Reach him at heath@haussamen.com, on Facebook at /haussamen, or on twitter @haussamen.

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  • Jessica Aranda
    August 19, 2017, 9:04 am

    I appreciate this article and would love to see more dialogue as part of a larger process of healing. It’s important to really note that Hispano "guilt" around Spanish colonization is deeply burried by 1) lies perpetuated in events like the entrada and the various monuments celebrating Spanish heritage 2) our dismally inadequate public education system that does nothing to help students excavate our history and identities and 3) the immense shame that we subconsciously carry in our DNA that our Spanish forefathers enslaved, murdered, raped and sometimes married our Natve foremothers.

    American colonization also plays an additional role in preventing truth and healing, as most of our dialogue as a community is oriented toward white, Anglo discourse and the present day power structure. With this in mind, the identity of who is calling our community to task and in what setting really matters.

    REPLY
  • Madelyn
    August 19, 2017, 10:02 am

    My only problem with dialogues about things like this is they need to be done in the context of the era they happened in. In the history of man the benefit of wars was " to the victor belongs the spoils" until the next war. Every war ever fought I believe that was it’s purpose except for our own civil war. The past is the past and it can’t be changed. That can only happen in what we do in the present. New Mexico is special. It has combined three cultures living together enjoying each other through food, celebrations and economically. If Santa Fe is celebrating it’s winning back the town, it can memorialize what happened there and add a ceremony for those that died. Both the Indian population and the Spanish population can celebrate together what they have accomplished in the present

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  • Mahrinah LvS
    August 19, 2017, 10:09 am

    If this were an honest article it would discuss how the Spanish were Sefardim fleeing the Inquisition and ensuring their safe status as a conversion outpost by radically enforcing similar Inquisition actions. Montes is a well known Sephardic name. We can’t celebrate truth with our own half-truths. We need to fully unpack this. Zacatecas was a known Sefardi city, established as a silver mining town that traded silver to the international market and helped eventually break apart the hold of the Spanish Empire, of which they were also afraid. Juan de Oñate was from the Ha-Levi family. To have an open dialogue about colonization we also need to be open that these are well-documented Jewish families (who, while not originally from Spain, were an integral part of Spanish history, culture, and global legacy for almost 1000 years) who were fleeing annihilation and simultaneously committing atrocities while trying to build their own secure and safe status. The reasons for colonization and conversion don’t lessen what happened but aren’t as direct and necessary for our holistic understanding.

    M.
    Gonzales
    Martinez
    Vigil
    בת לביא

    REPLY
  • Sayrah Namaste
    August 19, 2017, 4:33 pm

    The Red Nation, who organized the protest of the Entrada last year and has organized a protest again this year, are not made up of outsiders. I wish the author would give space in this piece to the voices of Native activists who have brought attention to this issue instead of only quoting Hispanics.

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  • Lory Lucero smith
    August 20, 2017, 1:46 am

    There was no gold in New Mexico to take. When the Spanish colonized New Mexico, they came here with their own families from Spain & with their soldiers. Many Spanish families including women & children & entire families were murdered. In 1620. The rest fled to Mexico until 12 years later when some of those same Spanish families were able to return. That is why we still have our Spanish surnames. Also settling here in New Mexico were the Sephardic Spanish Jews who were fleeing from Spain & hiding their true culture & religion. I’m not trying to start a debate but please don’t compare the settling of New Meexico to what happened in the southern states. Or their civil war. Please look at our entire history before condemning our New Mexican Spanish history. The Spanish were not responsible for all the atrocities committed against the Cherokee nation, Navajo nation & the rest of the indegenous people in this country. That was the US Government.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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