Protesters rally against return of controversial Oñate statue

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ESPAÑOLA, N.M. — The fight over an infamous conquistador statue is reigniting in northern New Mexico. Juan de Oñate is set for a return in Española, despite protestors working to keep the statue in the past.

Three years after the statue was taken down, a group of about two dozen people gathered outside the Rio Arriba County building Monday. They want county commissioners to reverse course and keep the statue out of public view.

The group says Oñate should not be celebrated, especially after the statue was already taken down in Alcade in the summer of 2020.

“They want to glorify our trauma,” said Christina Castro, a protestor. “So I’m here to say, we’re standing up. This is a new era – we’re not going to allow for this.”

The group pointed to Rio Arriba County Commissioner Alex Naranjo, in particular. Naranjo has been outspoken about bringing back the Oñate statue. He says because it’s National Hispanic Heritage Month, now is the right time to bring back the monument.

“What really irks me and bothers me, is that we’re listening to a few radicals that are trying to change our system that we’ve lived with for 400 years,” Naranjo said. “And for me, that’s very personal.”

The protestors say this is about undoing the damage of colonialism, not a Native vs. Hispanic issue.

The statue is still set to have a re-dedication ceremony in front of the county building at 10 a.m. Thursday.