Musings, commentary, essays, etc.

How We Choose to Remember

How do we remember those who have come before us? How do we honor them? At this time every year, we think about this. In 2003, however, it seems a different answer as war is all around us -- from Iraq to Colombia.

Nov 4 Conquistador Alert
Friends have asked us to forward this, as the El Paso City Council is set to put up a 4-story statue to a blood-thirsty conquistador.

In a similar battle several years ago, we both returned our human rights awards as the City of Albuquerque also decided to honor the same conquistador with a massive statue that has yet to go up.

Something that normally goes unreported on this issue is the fact that Juan de Oñate received his wealth from silver mines that exploited Native and African peoples in Zacatecas, Mexico. This is the money he used for his expedition to New Mexico, and the same source of his wealth after he was banished from New Mexico.

If you're not sure how you feel about the idea of honoring conquistadores, just ask Native peoples anywhere. Also know that there is not one public statue in honor of Hernán Cortez in the entire country of Mexico. There's a reason for that.

That is not how we honor memory. This is not how we make good neighbors.

If a monument must be built, perhaps one should be built for the murdered women of Juarez, or to the hundreds of migrants that annually die in the desert.

Please tell the City of El Paso what you think.

Send comments online to the City of El Paso here.

Perhaps in El Paso, Texas, they remember differently. There, the city is contemplating placing a four-story statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate at its airport -- in recognition that he was the first European to colonize the U.S. Southwest.

That, and other European forays into the Americas, are not honorable chapters in human history. The city of Albuquerque, N.M., has been dogged by the same controversy in the past few years as it has also chosen to honor the same man who, like other conquistadors, left a long trail of blood.

Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro, de Alvarado, Coronado, Guzman, de Soto and de Oñate. What is it about genocide and conquest that those who choose to honor them don't understand? De Oñate in particular is closely linked not just to massacres and cruelties in the Southwest, but also to indigenous and African slavery (the source of his wealth in Zacatecas, Mexico, before and after his New Mexico escapades). This is not a new controversy, but those who choose to honor him continue to pour vinegar into open wounds. This is not the proper way to honor memory nor to make good neighbors.

It's unfortunate that we have to think about such matters at a time when we honor those who've recently moved on. Passing on to the next world is sad for those left behind, but traditions from the south allow us to mourn, poke fun at death and also celebrate life.

This summer, the Richard V. Cruz Memorial Foundation was created to promote educational opportunities in the legal profession. His friends gathered this year to honor the L.A. civil rights attorney who passed on 10 years ago. Presente. (He is with us.)

Ruby Olivas Cedillo, wife of California state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, passed on last year, but the senator chose to honor his wife this year by dedicating the struggle to treat the undocumented as full human beings (a bill to get driver's licenses) in her name. Presente.

We acknowledge these other great human beings:

-- Lorenzo "Toppy" Flores, poet and human rights warrior. As historian Rodolfo Acuna noted about his colleague at California State University at Northridge: "He was one of the good guys."

Digna Ochoa-- Digna Ochoa, a human rights lawyer who was assassinated, yet the government of Mexico recently declared her death a suicide.

-- Sam Little Owl, a spiritual healer from the Mandan nation. From Delia Casanova: "He never took himself so seriously."

-- Edward Said, a great intellectual who brought world attention to the Palestinian struggle for dignity and peace in the Middle East.

-- Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa.

-- Eulalio Gonzalez, aka "El Piporro," of Mexican cinema fame.


-- Felix T. Ramirez, Houston publisher of the bilingual newspaper The Compass and co-founder of the national Chicano Press Association in 1964.

-- Itzolin Garcia, a warrior and Stanford graduate student (son of the late Texas/New Mexico poet Cecilio Garcia Camarillo). "Remember me beautiful," he wrote.

-- Jeanne Gauna, cofounder and longtime director of New Mexico's South West Organizing Project.



We also acknowledge longtime friends and their relations:

-- Juan and Chelo Vega of Whittier, Calif., who passed last year and this year, respectively.

-- Jesus De La Torre. His son Luis wrote: "My father was born in Ezatlan, Jalisco in 1918 -- he died with much honor."

-- Rafael Luis Chabran, 23, student advocate at the University of Chicago law school. Angie Chabram, his aunt, writes: "He wanted so much to make a difference in this world and politics." Presente!

And we remember the murdered women of Juarez (Denver's procession will be in their honor) and the thousands of migrants who continue to die in the desert.

Also the many young folks who have taken their lives, especially indigenous youth, who have the highest rates of suicide. Lastly, prayers and support for those who daily battle and laugh at the calacas and calveras (bones and skulls) in our midst. And always to our ancestors who endured the bloodiest times of this continent, we remember you.


About the author
Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez have been writing the syndicated Column of the Americas, distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, since 1994. Their columns are reprinted here with the authors' permission.

Former residents of El Paso, Texas, and Albuquerque, N.M., they were inducted into El Paso's 1997 "Writers of the Pass Hall of Fame" and received the 1998 human rights award from the Albuquerque Human Rights office. In 1998, they served as University of California Regents lecturers at the University of California, San Diego. Also that year, they uncovered a series of maps that have located the "Ancient Homeland of the Aztecs" in what appears to be present-day Utah. This revelation is now the subject of two documentaries, "Going Back to Where We Came From" and "In Search of Aztlan," and three forthcoming books. A compilation of their columns, "Gonzales/Rodriguez: Uncut & Uncensored," was published by the Ethnic Studies Publication Unit at UC Berkeley in 1997.

More from the authors: Preserving Sacred Spaces »

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