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Anson Stevens-Bollen

The Reign in Spain…

Those guys in metal suits are back!

July 22, 2015, 12:00 am

Many of you may have read that Texas has decided to do something outrageous in its new social studies textbooks.

Starting this fall, pupils going to school in the land of Rick Perry and Ted Cruz will be taught that slavery actually was pretty far down the list of reasons we fought the Civil War, right under “sectionalism,” “states’ rights” and “a surplus of gray fabric that turned out to be just dandy for Rebel uniforms.”

This all makes perfect sense, because after all, how much could the institutionalized buying and selling of human beings possibly have contributed to a devastating war that ripped the young country apart? Not much at all, Texas argues.

Texas is our next-door neighbor, so we need to be aware of any craziness that might spill over our border.

But maybe this is a bandwagon we should climb aboard. Whitewashing history is a proven way to neaten up pesky details of our past and make us feel great about ourselves.

We’ve all witnessed the recent debate over whether the Confederate flag is really a symbol of evil. I don’t know. Is the number 666 really a symbol of evil? Is the swastika?

Defenders of the flag say it just represents their “heritage.” I see. You started a shooting war against your own elected government, you lost big-time and most of your states have never recovered. How’s that heritage thing working out?

In light of the flag controversy, some folks have been asking whether it’s time for New Mexico to dial back on some characters in our own state’s history.

Let’s talk about Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate.

What do we remember about him? He shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die!

Oh, wait, that was Johnny Cash.

Oñate was the one who slaughtered hundreds of Indigenous people at Acoma Pueblo in 1599 and then cut the right foot off of many surviving men and enslaved many of the women.

I know, you’re saying, “Bob, that’s beyond hideous! Surely the memory of this Oñate monster has been eradicated from the state!”

That’s right. Unless you count a statue of Oñate in Rio Arriba County. Or the Paseo de Oñate, in Española. Or Oñate High School, in Las Cruces. Or Gallup’s Oñate Elementary School, “Home of the Conquistadors!”

You probably think I’m making that school slogan up. I am not.

Earlier this month, Heath Haussamen of suggested that these honors were misdirected and said, “Let’s put Oñate in a museum with the Confederate flag.”

Not so fast there, Heath! Maybe New Mexico can just rehabilitate these guys, like Texas is doing!

People who attend the annual Santa Fe Fiesta know that conquistadors are part of the pageantry, riding triumphantly into the Plaza. Yes, I do understand this represents Don Diego de Vargas’ 1692 “peaceful” reclaiming of Santa Fe following the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, but it still can’t sit well with many residents.

Maybe we should take a page from our nutty neighbors in Texas and rewrite the history books to tell future students that the conquistadors really came to Santa Fe:

  • To share recipes for flan and tapas with food-loving Indigenous people.
  • To demonstrate exciting uses of gunpowder.
  • To spend a fortune at the first-ever Indian Market.
  • To remove large quantities of an element called gold, which was threatening to contaminate the land.
  • To deliver a useful message: “If you think we’re total jerks, wait’ll you see the Anglos!”

You see, just like the history book says—or soon will say—it was all good! Which gave rise to the popular 1692 bumper sticker:

Let’s welcome back the Conquistadors! They weren’t THAT bad!

This column’s attempt at humor runs twice monthly in SFR. Email the author:


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