Return of Oñate’s Foot

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

[DC PROTESTORS CHANTING AND CHEERING]

Roman Mars:
From Birmingham Alabama to Washington DC… all across the country, old Confederate monuments are coming down.

[MANY MONUMENTS TO CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS AND SLAVEHOLDERS ARE BEING TAKEN DOWN EITHER BY PROTESTERS OR BY LOCAL OFFICIALS.]

Roman Mars:
In Raleigh, North Carolina Juneteenth demonstrators tore down two statues from a monument outside the Capitol building.

[RALEIGH PROTESTERS CHEERING]

Roman Mars:
In Richmond, Virginia, protestors toppled statues of confederate leaders William Carter Wickham and Jefferson Davis.

[RICHMOND PROTESTERS CHEERING]

Roman Mars:
And Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

[NORTHAM: YES THAT STATUE HAS BEEN THERE A LONG TIME, BUT IT WAS WRONG THEN AND IT IS WRONG NOW….]

Roman Mars:
And it isn’t just monuments to the confederacy. Over 20 statues of Christopher Columbus have come down across the country. In cities like Providence, Rhode Island, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and even… Columbus, Ohio.

[THE CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS STATUE AT THE STATE CAPITOL IT IS DOWN. IT’S THE LATEST FORM OF PROTEST AGAINST RACIAL INJUSTICE…]

Roman Mars:
These monuments have been falling in the middle of historic protests against police brutality. Sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, these demonstrations have spread to communities, big and small, across the country, and the world. And as they’ve grown, the protests have become about much more than police violence. This national uprising has inspired a massive reckoning with our country’s past. Suddenly, decades of inertia and foot-dragging have given way to decisive action.

Roman Mars:
A few years back, we did a story about a couple of controversial monuments in New Mexico. They honored a Spanish conquistador named Juan de Oñate who was an early settler in the region. And, yes, those statues have been back in the news recently too, so we wanted to check in with Stan Alcorn, the reporter who did that original story for us.

Roman Mars:
Hey Stan.

Stan Alcorn:
Hey Roman.

Roman Mars:
So tell us about the protest that happened a couple of weeks ago in Albuquerque.

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah so on Monday, June 15th, I was sitting at my desk, following this all just through videos on twitter and live streams and it was this scene much like we’ve seen play out through the country with confederate generals and with Christopher Columbus of activists actively trying to pull down this statue of Oñate, really just with a rope around it, with a pickaxe. And at the same time, people trying to prevent them from doing it, people who were heavily armed, people who looked like members of a militia in camouflage. So it was this really tense scene that I was seeing. And pretty quickly the thing you might be afraid would happen in that scene occurred. There were gunshots.

[GUNSHOTS FOLLOWED BY CROWD YELLING]

Stan Alcorn:
And it was clear that somebody had been shot and suddenly it became a very different kind of story.

Roman Mars:
And what was it like for you, watching this unfold?

Stan Alcorn:
You know, it was a really strange experience. These are statues that I have known my entire life basically. I grew up in Albuquerque, I was following as this statue was put up and now I’m seeing people try to pull them down. And not only that, as an investigative reporter at Reveal, one of the things that I cover often is right-wing extremism, and I was actually finishing up a story about right-wing extremists and it was if with these militia members — with the kind of things that they believe, with the threatened use of violence — it was if the people from my Reveal extremism story had suddenly walked into my childhood public art story. So it was really this strange kind of collision of worlds.

Roman Mars:
It seems like a lot of our history is all colliding at this very moment where we’re reconciling these huge stories of our past and present. It’s really something to witness.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
So we’re going to get back to that protest and the shooting and everything that happened in the last couple weeks, but first, we want to re-play Stan’s original story, which looks at the history of Oñate’s arrival in New Mexico and the enormous battle over these monuments which started back in the 90s. Check it out.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
On January 7th, 1998, an envelope landed on the desk of Larry Calloway. He was a columnist with the Albuquerque Journal.

Larry Calloway:
It was sort of a combination of a press release and a ransom note and a photo. The photo was a Polaroid of a cut off riding boot with a huge Spanish spur all in bronze. And I read the note.

Roman Mars:
The note hinted that the bronze foot came from a statue of a man named Juan de Oñate, seated on a horse. It was part of a monument on the side of a rural highway near where Oñate founded the first Spanish colony in New Mexico, back in 1598.

Stan Alcorn:
Larry figured this was probably a hoax.

Roman Mars:
This is Stan Alcorn, a reporter with the investigative podcast “Reveal.” They’re our collaborators on the story today.

Stan Alcorn:
So he handed the tip off to the newsroom. And a reporter called up the visitor center at the Oñate monument-

Larry Calloway:
And asked, “Is your statue missing a right foot?” And the guy said “What?” He went out and checked, came back and he was in shock. He said, “It’s gone.”

Stan Alcorn:
Oñate is one of the world’s lesser-known conquistadors, but his name is all over New Mexico. There are Oñate streets, Oñate schools, for decades there was an annual fiesta where one lucky guy would get to be Oñate, complete with a cape and helmet. There’s even a song.

VIVA OÑATE! (VIVA!)
VIVA OÑATE! (VIVA!)
VIVA LA HISTORIA DE ESTE GRAN SEÑOR!

Stan Alcorn:
In parts of New Mexico, he’s treated as a kind of founding father.

Roman Mars:
But history is not all song and dance and wearing capes. He was a conquistador, after all.

Stan Alcorn:
The envelope Larry got also included an excerpt from a history book on Oñate’s treatment of New Mexico’s native people. It described an incident that ended with Oñate sentencing a group of men from Acoma Pueblo to each have one foot chopped off.

Roman Mars:
If the symbolism of removing the statue’s foot was unclear, the note made it explicit.

Larry Calloway:
It said, “We took the liberty of removing Oñate’s right foot on behalf of our brothers and sisters at Acoma Pueblo. We will be melting this foot down and casting small medallions to be sold to those who are historically ignorant.”

Roman Mars:
The statue’s sculptor cast a new right foot and reattached it. The medallions never turned up. But the story stuck. It got picked up by “NPR” and “The New York Times.”

Stan Alcorn:
I was a 7th grader in Albuquerque at the time and what I remember is how the subject I found most boring, history, was suddenly this exciting mystery that remains unsolved to this day — who stole Oñate’s foot? And then there was the timing.

Roman Mars:
1998 was the 400th anniversary of Oñate’s arrival. There were “Cuarto Centenario” celebrations planned all over the state. There would be theater, parades, a commemorative stamp. In a second note to the paper, the so-called “Friends of Acoma” wrote, “We see no glory in celebrating Oñate’s fourth centennial and we do not want our faces rubbed in it.” In other words, the point of cutting off the statue’s foot was to spoil the party.

Stan Alcorn:
And the centerpiece of that party that got a mention in all the foot cutting stories was a Cuarto Centenario memorial being planned for Albuquerque’s historic center. The proposal? Another bronze statue of Juan de Oñate. This one right in the middle of New Mexico’s biggest city.

Roman Mars:
But with all this new attention on Oñate, the second statue wasn’t going to get built without a fight.

Conchita Lucero:
I still didn’t see the storm that was comin’. It was still in its infancy.

Roman Mars:
Conchita Lucero was one of the organizers of the 400th-anniversary celebrations in Albuquerque, and one of the most passionate advocates for a new Oñate statue.

Stan Alcorn:
A passion that goes back to her childhood growing up in 1950s New Mexico, knowing almost nothing about Oñate or the state’s two centuries as a Spanish colony.

Conchita Lucero:
When I was a child at 10 years of age, I asked my grandmother who was a schoolteacher… I was reading American history books. I said, “Didn’t our people do anything?” You know, that’s how I felt. She didn’t know New Mexico history.

Stan Alcorn:
All Conchita knew was that her Spanish ancestors had come to the state centuries before the Anglo classmates who called people like her “dirty Mexicans.” Or the Anglo teachers who kept her out of a leadership club. And she knew that racism and ignorance of history were somehow connected.

Conchita Lucero:
If we make you feel like the underdog, and we take away your history, and take away your knowledge, you’re starting from scratch. Conversations, you don’t even know how to participate. You just let the other guy put you down.

Roman Mars:
Conchita thought if she could just search out her own European roots, it would help her fight back.

Stan Alcorn:
None of this is uncommon in New Mexico, where people have been reaching back to their colonial roots and identifying as Spanish since the 1800s. After Conchita retired, she found a lot of like minds in local genealogical and historical societies. She learned how to use birth and death and baptism records to trace her family tree. There was the occasional Native American ancestor, but she was most excited to find branches like the one that extended back to a Spanish captain who brought his wife and kids through the Chihuahuan desert on Oñate’s 1598 expedition. She saw them as having transformed the region by bringing livestock and Catholicism and the Spanish language.

Conchita Lucero:
You’d start finding your family members and you’re going “Wow! I never knew they did all this!”

Stan Alcorn:
“Did it change how you saw yourself?”

Conchita Lucero:
“Yes. I never argued that one person wasn’t as good as the other. But sometimes you were made to feel inferior. And at that point, that inferiority left.”

Stan Alcorn:
And so it was that Conchita was on the Cuarto Centenario committee when they met with the Albuquerque Arts Board to discuss their request for a prominent new statue of Juan de Oñate, the man they called, ”the father of the Hispanic culture and our state.”

Roman Mars:
And who the “Friends of Acoma” accused of destroying native peoples’ way of life.

Stan Alcorn:
“Was what happened at Acoma brought up?”

Conchita Lucero:
“No.”

Stan Alcorn:
“And was it on your mind?”

Conchita Lucero:
“No.”

Stan Alcorn:
“Was it something that you knew about?”

Conchita Lucero:
“I wasn’t as versed in it as I have become.”

Stan Alcorn:
“For people who don’t know Acoma. What is…”

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
“What is Acoma?”

Stan Alcorn:
This is Aleta, or “Tweety” Suazo, an Acoma woman who would become an outspoken opponent of an Oñate statue in Albuquerque.

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
“Acoma is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. And it sits on a mesa 375 feet above the valley below.”

Roman Mars:
She actually carries a postcard of Acoma to show people when she travels. It’s a village built on top of a mesa, which if you’re not from the desert is like a huge rock pedestal. And that mesa just towers over the flat empty plain below. All of it a hundred shades of brown, from light tan to deep rust. It’s incredible.

Stan Alcorn:
“The tough thing with radio is you don’t have pictures. Like how to help people visualize it because it’s like no other place on Earth.”

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
“No, it’s not. It’s beautiful. It’s desert and rocks, and sandstone and, that’s where I come from, you know?”

Roman Mars:
And unlike the dozens of pueblos that disappeared after the arrival of the Spanish, Acoma is still here.

Stan Alcorn:
Each year, tens of thousands of tourists drive an hour west of Albuquerque and then take a tour bus up a steep road to the top of the mesa.

[TOUR GUIDE: IF YOU JUST WATCH YOURSELF, DON’T GET TOO CLOSE TO THE EDGE. IF YOU HAPPEN TO FALL OVER THE EDGE THIS IS THE END OF YOUR TOUR, AND NO REFUNDS WILL BE GIVEN SO JUST KEEP THAT IN MIND.]

Stan Alcorn:
On top, you can see buildings made of mud and sandstone, the tour guides say date back to the 1100s.

[TOUR GUIDE: SO IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, THESE HOUSES HAVE BEEN PASSED DOWN THROUGH THE SAME FAMILY FOR ALMOST A THOUSAND YEARS NOW. SO NOW WE’RE GOING TO BE WALKING BY SOME OF THE OLDER HOUSES RIGHT UP HERE FOLKS.]

Stan Alcorn:
All along the tour, there are tables where Acoma artists sell their wares, mostly pottery.

[POTTERY ARTIST: THESE POTS ARE MADE FROM THE CLAY FROM THE AREA HERE.]

Stan Alcorn:
But it’s not just a tourist attraction. There are 15 families that live up top year-round, and hundreds more like Tweety’s who go there for special occasions.

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
Funerals, deaths, religious fiestas…. We were always there.

Stan Alcorn:
“What did you know about the history of your people and that place?”

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
“That we came from the underworld, on the back of grandmother spider. We wandered the Earth, and when we got to where Acoma was, we were told this is where we’re supposed to be. That’s what I knew, you know? That we’ve been there forever.

Stan Alcorn:
Tweety also knew that when the Spanish arrived, they did terrible things to her ancestors, but she didn’t know the details.

Roman Mars:
Historians know many of those details today because they were written down by the Spanish in letters and legal documents. These documents, to quote Oñate’s best-known biographer, “skim the surface of events” and sometimes present Oñate “as he wished to be seen, not as things actually were.”

Stan Alcorn:
Which makes their description of what happened at Acoma all the more shocking. After 13 of Oñate’s men came looking for food and were killed, Oñate declared a “war of blood and fire.” In the most brutal account of the battle that followed, Oñate’s soldiers killed hundreds of men, women, and children, stabbed prisoners and threw them off the mesa and set fires that suffocated women and children who’d taken shelter in sacred rooms known as kivas.

Roman Mars:
They then rounded up five hundred prisoners and put them on trial. Oñate sentenced those over 12 years old to twenty years of slavery. Those under 12, he separated from their families, giving the girls to the church, and the boys to the captain who just destroyed their village.

Stan Alcorn:
And then, there’s the most infamous detail. In a document signed by Oñate himself, it says, “The males who are over 25 years of age, I sentence to have one foot cut off.”

Roman Mars:
His cruelty to the innocent of Acoma was one of 12 crimes for which Oñate himself would later be tried and convicted by the Spanish crown. As punishment, he would be banished, permanently, from the territories of New Mexico.

Stan Alcorn:
This is the history that Tweety and I, and many other New Mexicans were learning for the first time, as news of the stolen foot ricocheted around the state.

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
That was the beginning of it. That was everybody’s first awareness.

Stan Alcorn:
And at the same time, we were also learning that the city of Albuquerque was planning to build this new, much more prominent statue of Oñate.

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
He had been cast out of New Mexico forever. And now you want to bring him back and put him on a statue? It’s still mind-boggling.

Stan Alcorn:
How Oñate went from a banished conquistador to a “Father of New Mexico” that people wanted to put on a statue is a story for another podcast. But the simple answer is he was first. The first to build a European colony in the region, even if that colony was soon abandoned. He was among the first to bring wheat and sheep and Catholicism. And because every people needs a founding figure, Spanish New Mexico made Juan de Oñate its George Washington. Even if he had been cast out forever.

Roman Mars:
But it did not take long for Albuquerque Arts Board to realize that Juan de Oñate was not everyone’s idea of a founding father. They could see that another triumphant statue of him on a horse would be a bad look for the city. So by the time the foot was cut off the old statue on the side of the highway they’d made a few changes to the plan.

Stan Alcorn:
The memorial would need to depict not just Oñate, but also the peaceful settlers who came with him, and the Native Americans who preceded and survived him. And the exact form the memorial would take would be up to a team of artists.

Roman Mars:
They had a team of two, but right before the newspapers got wind of the missing foot, they decided to add a third.

Stan Alcorn:
When Nora Naranjo-Morse got the call, she was in the place where she’s most comfortable – her studio.

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
“I mean who wouldn’t want to be here right? In this studio with the fireplace and the rain.”

Stan Alcorn:
On the phone was the Director of Public Art for the city of Albuquerque asking if she wanted to be part of a “tricultural collaboration.” It would be the Hispanic artist who had built the statue that had its foot stolen, an Anglo artist, and her, a Tewa Indian artist from the Santa Clara Pueblo.

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
“The call was so out of the blue. This was a public art project. I’d never done public art really. This was with other people. I had been working solo, so I didn’t really know. I was listening…”

Stan Alcorn:
“And did you say yes right then, or do you remember how the phone call…?”

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
“I said yes. I said yes right away because um, I opened my mouth and I said yes. And then afterward I thought, ‘Oh. I wonder what this is going to be like.’”

Roman Mars:
She’d find out when she showed up for the first meeting. In an institutional room with fluorescent lighting and a chalkboard, the other artists wheeled in a model of a statue they’d already put together. It was another triumphant statue of Juan de Oñate on a horse.

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
“And that’s when they began to talk about the granite pedestal and how I could use it…”

Stan Alcorn:
“The pedestal beneath Oñate’s horse’s feet?”

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
“Right. I felt insulted, I felt hurt, I felt marginalized. I didn’t think I could do that. Although in myself I was thinking that there was a solution. That art could tell a story that was truthful.”

Roman Mars:
Nora, quite literally, refused to put Oñate on a pedestal, and the artists went back to the drawing board.

Stan Alcorn:
But now Nora was in the public eye and soon she started getting calls from other Pueblo people who wanted her to leave the project entirely in protest.

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
“I didn’t do that. And when I refused, I got some… um, I think people were disappointed.
But I realized that by me staying in the game, I would at least be able to fight for that voice that I think was so important. Not just my artistic voice, but the voice of these people that had gone through this incredible experience that changed their culture completely. And I kept going back to those things.”

Roman Mars:
The year of the 400th anniversary 1998 came and went. And there was still no plan for the memorial.

Stan Alcorn:
But the city would not give up. All the attention had made the memorial a very public test of whether the state was the land of tricultural harmony that it claimed to be. And so every time the process hit an impasse, the city just threw more time and money at it, hiring mediators and forming committees.

Roman Mars:
At one point, one of those committees came up with a plan that would have restarted the whole artistic process. A plan Conchita’s side couldn’t tolerate. It called for a memorial without Oñate.

Stan Alcorn:
“It would focus on the coexistence of Hispanics and the indigenous.”

Conchita Lucero:
“Well then we said it wasn’t our celebration. You know, it’s your celebration now, it’s not ours. You know? You don’t get invited to a wedding, you don’t start telling the bride and the groom you shoulda had it this way or that way or… and that’s what it was. It was our celebration.”

Stan Alcorn:
“But it was your celebration with public money, in a public space, that’s in a city that has people of all different backgrounds.”

Conchita Lucero:
“The grant was for our celebration. Not for the Acoma celebration or for anybody else’s.”

Roman Mars:
As far as Conchita’s group was concerned, the presence of Oñate was non-negotiable. Which made it hard to negotiate. In the end, there simply was no single design that everyone could agree on. In fact, eventually, the artists stopped talking to each other.

Stan Alcorn:
Instead, they proposed a memorial made up of two separate artworks. A series of bronze statues of Spanish settlers, including Oñate in full armor. And Nora’s response, an abstract land art installation made out of the desert itself.

Roman Mars:
It had gone from a small bronze statue to a memorial that would take up most of a city block and cost over half a million dollars requiring the city to issue special bonds. Now the question was, would the city approve it?

Stan Alcorn:
Conchita and the pro-Oñate forces lobbied the city council, while Oñate opponents like Tweety, took their case to the people.

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
“You know, finding out, well who’s for us and who isn’t, and how do we target the people in that area for them to call their councilmen. That’s the first time I’d ever done that, you know?”

Stan Alcorn:
“You were like becoming an activist for the first time?”

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
“Yeah! I was. I’d never done that.”

Stan Alcorn:
The statue, and also a highway the city was trying to build through a national monument of ancient petroglyphs was making first-time activists out of a lot of Pueblo people.

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
It’s the first time that we really rallied around something.

Stan Alcorn:
Activists, artists, citizens, and city councilors were headed for a final showdown.

[THIS IS GOV 14. AND NOW FROM GOVERNMENT CENTER IN DOWNTOWN ALBUQUERQUE, THE ALBUQUERQUE CITY COUNCIL.]

Roman Mars:
In a series of meetings, the city council auditorium was divided, like a pep rally or Congress. On one side was the pro-Oñate crowd, mostly Hispanic people around Conchita’s age. On the other side was the anti-Oñate group. They tended to be younger and more diverse — native Americans, but also Anglos and African-Americans, and a lot of people who identified as Chicano or Mestizo, explicitly embracing their indigenous as well as European ancestry.

Stan Alcorn:
The city council tried to give the two sides equal time to speak and in hour after hour of public comment, they went back and forth but not over the design of the memorial, really. They were fighting over something much bigger and much more personal – their place in American history.

[MILLIE SANTILLANES: OUR COLONY WAS THE FIRST IN WHAT IS TODAY THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. YOU CAN’T PRETEND THAT WE DIDN’T COME HERE 400 YEARS AGO.

[RUBEN SALAZ: THIS IS REALLY A MATTER OF DENIGRATING THE HISPANIC PEOPLE OF NEW MEXICO. (BELL RINGS) DO I HAVE TO STOP? (YES!) NO, NO, NO HAVE SOME COURAGE AND LISTEN.]

[JUAN ABEYTA: FIRST OF ALL, SOY CHICANO. AND UNLIKE SOME HISPANICS THAT ARE HERE IN THE AUDIENCE, I DIDN’T JUST GET OFF THE PLANE FROM SPAIN.]

[ANNE CATON: OÑATE DOES NOT REPRESENT THE BEST OF MY CULTURE. YOU ARE NOT REPRESENTING ME, AND I JUST WANT TO SAY THAT I’M SORRY THAT YOU AND A SMALL GROUP OF HISPANICS IN THIS ROOM FEEL LIKE THEY HAVE TO SLAM ANOTHER PEOPLE’S CULTURE IN ORDER TO FEEL PRIDE. (CROWD CHEERS)]

Roman Mars:
There were dozens of speakers, but the leaders were women from Acoma. Like Tweety.

[ALETA “TWEETY” SUAZO: I DIDN’T KNOW THAT THE AWFUL THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO MY PEOPLE, HAPPENED TO MY PEOPLE UNTIL THIS STATUE BECAME AN ISSUE. I’M REALLY TIRED OF BEING USED AS TOURIST AND OUR WARES ARE THE ONLY THINGS THAT MATTER IN THIS COMMUNITY. I’M BEGGING YOU, DON’T DO THIS TO MY PEOPLE. I’M BEGGING YOU DON’T DO THIS TO MY PEOPLE. DON’T HURT THEM THIS WAY. IT’S NOT RIGHT.]

[COUNCILOR BRASHER: THANK YOU VERY MUCH.]

[CLERK: LAST SPEAKER, EYAL SANCHEZ DAVIS.]

Stan Alcorn:
It seemed like most people were on Tweety’s side. But if the city voted against the memorial, it wouldn’t just be saying no to this statue of Oñate and the settlers and to Nora’s landscape art. It would be admitting that this whole very public process that had dragged on for more than two years had been a failure. The committees, the design iterations, the debate, all for nothing. So when it finally came time to vote…

[COUNCILOR BRASHER: ALL THOSE IN FAVOR PLEASE SIGNIFY BY SAYING ‘AYE.’]

[COUNCIL: AYE.]

[COUNCILOR BRASHER: THOSE OPPOSED.]

[YNTEMA AND PAYNE: NO.]

Stan Alcorn:
They voted 7 to 2 to build the memorial.

[COUNCILOR BRASHER: THAT MOTION PASSES.]

Stan Alcorn:
After the vote, Conchita Lucero told a reporter, “I think our kids will finally learn about their ancestors.” Tweety Suazo and other anti-Oñate activists formed a prayer circle in the City Council chambers and wept.

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
“We worked so hard. And it just, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what we said. It didn’t matter what we do. It didn’t matter that we educated. It just didn’t matter.”

Stan Alcorn:
“If it all happened again today, do you think it would happen the same way or….”

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
“No.”

Stan Alcorn:
“What would be different?”

Aleta “Tweety” Suazo:
“I think Indians, I think Pueblos are just a little bit more politically astute now.”

Stan Alcorn:
Tweety thinks what they learned was the right arguments aren’t enough, you need the right decision-makers. She’s one of several anti-Oñate activists who went on to get involved in electoral politics. She’s now the chair of the Native American Democratic Caucus of New Mexico and this last cycle, she helped raise money and get out the vote for Deb Haaland, one of two Native American women who just became the first-ever to be elected to Congress.

Roman Mars:
Today, if you go and visit the finished memorial, what you see isn’t Oñate on a horse. It’s a compromise. It’s really two memorials crammed into one.

Stan Alcorn:
The first, you can grasp without getting out of your car. It’s more than two-dozen life-sized bronze figures. Men and women, oxen and sheep, trudging up a hill. Juan de Oñate is in front, on foot, no plaque with his name and under the watchful eye of a security camera that may or may not be pointed at his feet.

Roman Mars:
The second memorial, right next to it, looks from above like a huge dirt spiral. But from ground level, you really just have to experience it.

Stan Alcorn:
It’s a striking contrast to the kind of art that’s really in your face and didactic and says this is what I mean…

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
I think that reflects Pueblo thinking. It’s much more subtle. It doesn’t articulate in the way we’ve become used to as, you know, civilized people, colonized people.

Stan Alcorn:
When I met Nora Naranjo-Morse to get a tour, she’d just been picking up trash left inside her part of the memorial. She was holding a donut wrapper as we walked down a dirt path that spirals slowly downhill, into the ground. The street disappears behind the berms of chamisas and junipers on our right and left. Then the buildings, then Oñate himself. Until finally, at the center of the spiral, all you can see is the land and water trickling across a rock.

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
And I like that very much. Because I think that’s what it was like a long time ago. That’s how I interpret the past.

Stan Alcorn:
If you sit low to the ground you can almost get a glimpse of a world before Oñate arrived. It’s an escape, but it’s also intended as a confrontation between two totally different worldviews. Because as you walk back out of the spiral…

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
This is what you see. The telephone lines, the sculpture of Oñate coming here, looking North, the stoplight. It’s all there. And so you see that in some ways, when they came, they brought us great opportunity but at such a high cost. The brutal colonization was forever affecting to us and I think we should never forget that.

Stan Alcorn:
She hopes her piece of the memorial will remind people of that, but honestly, not that many people come here. The memorial doesn’t attract nearly as much attention as the conflict over the memorial did.

Nora Naranjo-Morse:
I think that’s why it’s important stewardship. Not only to pick up the trash, but also to keep that story alive. Because there are going to be a lot more generations of people coming, wondering, “What is this?”

Roman Mars:
And that’s where our story was going to end. Until last year, when an old mystery reemerged. Remember that old statue we told you about? The one that got it’s foot stolen? Well, for almost two decades, the foot thieves had remained in the shadows, their identities unknown.
And then one day, Chris Eyre, the director of “Smoke Signals and Skins,” possibly the best-known Native American filmmaker was at La Choza, this great little New Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe.

Chris Eyre:
I was sitting there eating a taco with my business partner and someone came up to me and said, “I have a story to tell you,” as I’m eating my taco, and I said, “Oh shit, not another story.” [laughs] And you know, I heard a few key words but I wasn’t listening intently. And all of a sudden it dawned on me I said, “Wait a minute.” And I turned and I said, “Are you talking about what I think you’re talking about?”

Stan Alcorn:
It was the guy who cut the foot off the first Oñate statue.

Roman Mars:
Or at least, he claimed to be a spokesman for the group that did the deed.

Chris Eyre:
And the truth of the matter is, that I could never verify it. Other than I believed it in the end.

Roman Mars:
Chris believed the guy, in part, because he was presented with a very solid piece of evidence.

Stan Alcorn:
When Chris met him for a second time, in a forest of piñon trees, he unwrapped a piece of black velvet to reveal something no one had seen for 20 years.

Chris Eyre:
Lo and behold there appeared probably a 28-inch long bronze patinaed boot of a Spanish conquistador. And I said to myself, “Wow.” Um, then I looked around and I said to myself, “Where the hell am I? and what the hell am I doing here?”

Stan Alcorn:
A few chunks of the foot had been shaved off, where they’d made a half-hearted attempt to follow through on those “medallions for the historically ignorant.” But otherwise, it was still intact and still had the power to grab people’s attention.

Roman Mars:
If Chris knows the identity of the foot thieves, he is not revealing it. But he did talk about their motivations.

Chris Eyre:
You know, the party involved is not speaking from an activist position and doesn’t feel like an activist. This person feels like a historian.

Stan Alcorn:
He wasn’t trying to start a movement or affect policy, just to write what Oñate did to Acoma men in 1599 into the history of the colonization of New Mexico.

Roman Mars:
That story still doesn’t have a statue. And maybe it never will. But in the meantime, the “Friends of Acoma” are holding on to Oñate’s foot.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
Coming up after the break, we talk with Stan Alcorn about everything that’s happened with the Oñate statues over the past couple of weeks… and it’s been a lot. So stay with us.

[BREAK]

Roman Mars:
Okay, so we’re back with reporter Stan Alcorn to talk more about what’s been happening in New Mexico just in the past couple weeks. So Stan, like you said in the beginning of the show here, that it was a really strange feeling to have spent so much time exploring the history of these monuments and then see them come up in the news again. So when did you start hearing that there might be some new conflict around the statues?

Stan Alcorn:
So the weekend before the protest that we talked about initially is when my phone started ringing. Tweety Suazo, who had been one of the people vocally opposing the statue in Albuquerque, called me up and told me I needed to look at the front page of the Albuquerque Journal because there was Oñate on the front page. There was a new effort basically to have it removed. And there were people who were saying they were going to oppose it in the courts. And so she was emailing all the same people who opposed it back in the 90s, kind of getting geared up for yet another kind of, like, long bureaucratic fight to now finally remove Oñate.

Roman Mars:
Right. Where you go to city council meetings and you, you know, you talk and talk to historians and you bring all that stuff up. But that’s not what happened. What happened next?

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah. So instead of this really long slog, everything started to happen really quickly. So to backup, and there are two statues, right? There is the original older Oñate, on a horse up on the side of the road.

Roman Mars:
With the foot cut off.

Stan Alcorn:
Exactly. They had the foot cut off.

Roman Mars:
Right.

Stan Alcorn:
And then there’s the Albuquerque compromise where Oñate is walking with all the settlers. And both of these statues, there’s going to be significant protests on Monday. But I started hearing from activists earlier in the day that the county up in northern New Mexico might be actually removing the equestrian Oñate that had its foot cut off.

Roman Mars:
Before people even got there. To stop them from tearing it down, they were going to take it down first. Is that the idea?

Stan Alcorn:
That does seem to be the idea. There also was already this presence of this right-wing militia, the New Mexico Civil Guard, that has been showing up at Black Lives Matter protests in New Mexico, heavily armed. And so I think there was fear, both of the activists attempting to pull the statue down, but also of some kind of violent confrontation.

Roman Mars:
Right. They were trying to make it a safer situation by not having this controversial figure at this moment. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So did you actually see the northern New Mexico Oñate get hauled away? Like, what was it like?

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah, first it was just like rumors – maybe county workers are doing something, there are trucks there. And then I got texted a live stream, a Facebook live stream, by an activist.

[FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM: HERE IT COMES, HERE IT COMES]

Stan Alcorn:
And I went to it.

[FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM: SHARE THE VIDEO, SEE SOMETHING HISTORIC RIGHT NOW.]

Stan Alcorn:
There is a bulldozer driving around and eventually, there’s a moment where the bulldozer or whatever this heavy equipment is called, gets its big shovel underneath and just lifts it up and drives it away.

[FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM: COMING DOWN IN CHAINS.]

Roman Mars:
And did it seem like this was a joyous event? Like, what was the tone of the people that were there?

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah. So the tone was, it was pretty joyful, I would say, from the people who are watching on the side of the road. But there weren’t that many of them. You really got a better sense of the way people felt about this at the planned protest because it still occurred. Now, it was no longer really a protest, though, because there was no statue on a pedestal.

Roman Mars:
Right, it was like a party.

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah, it was like a celebration and kind of, like, ritual where it was largely organized by these activists, the Red Nation. And there were speeches and then protesters pushed through the gate and actually climbed up on the pedestal where the statue had been before. And there was dancing and drumming and singing.

[ACTIVISTS DRUMMING AND SINGING]

Stan Alcorn:
Activists dipping their hands in red paint and putting those handprints all over the pedestal that had held that horse and Oñate until our morning.

[THIS IS AN ACT OF DECOLONIZATION! AND THIS IS AN ACT OF LIBERATION!]

Roman Mars:
So that brings us to the other Oñate monument in Albuquerque. So the same day that Oñate statue came down in Alcalde, there was this protest at the statue in Albuquerque. And we heard a little bit about the protests at the beginning of the show, but I want to hear more about what actually unfolded there. So it sounds like a lot of people we heard from your original story, like Tweety Suazo, were actually at that protest. So tell me about that.

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah, it was a lot of the same people who opposed it in the 90s, had planned this peaceful prayer vigil to happen in the park across the street from the statues. And so that’s the way the protest starts out. It’s that early evening. People are sitting on the grass. People are making speeches. Tweety makes a long speech where she’s trying to inform people, telling them about the history of this statue and the history of Oñate. And there’s a few hecklers at one point, but it’s primarily like speeches, quiet, peaceful affair. But at the same time and really picking up after the prayer vigil ends, there is a kind of second protest. Mostly younger people, activists who want to clearly take more of a direct action that’s happening over at the statue itself.

Roman Mars:
Did you get a sense from Tweety about how she felt about this transition in the protest style and what that felt like for her, even just what it felt like just to be there back again after all this time, really.

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a certain amount of like, okay, we have to inform people again, but still a kind of like stubborn faith and hope that if people just understand, then they’ll be able to call their city counselors. They will use the levers of democracy the way it’s supposed to work and we can do something about this. But as the prayer vigil ends and she’s driving away, she sees that people are now climbing up on the statue. She sees that there are these members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, these mostly white dudes in camo with machine guns. And she was really worried.

[TWEETY SUARO: I’M SITTING THERE THINKING, “OH, THIS DOESN’T LOOK GOOD.” AND I’M LIKE, “WELL, I’M GLAD I’M LEAVING BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE. IT WAS JUST “NO, THAT’S NOT WHAT WE WANTED. THAT’S NOT EVER WHAT WE WANTED.”

Stan Alcorn:
In some ways, she recognizes they have the same goal. She wanted to see that statue taken down, but not the way that they were doing it.

Roman Mars:
Mm-hmm. So this sort of transition happens and then a kind of chaos unfolds. Can you explain a little bit about what happened in terms of the escalation that led to this shooting?

Stan Alcorn:
So basically, it starts out with people who are climbing on the statue. There’s chanting, there’s some defacing. There’s tying a sign around it. But things seem to escalate when somebody takes a pickaxe and starts chipping at the, I guess, it’s concrete around Oñate’s feet with the idea to actually start removing the statue with physical force. And it’s a chaotic scene. And I’m reconstructing this from a lot of videos from different angles. But it turns out what happened is there’s a guy who was pushing protesters down. He gets kind of pushed out of the crowd. He allegedly maces some people. He’s chased away. And in these fragments of video, what you see at the very end is he’s being chased away from the protest, essentially. And in the chaos, he pulls out a gun and he fired several shots, shooting a protester.

Roman Mars:
So what do we know about the shooter and the person who got shot? After all this smoke cleared in a few days later, what was the story?

Stan Alcorn:
So the man who’s been charged with the shooting is actually a former city council candidate. He’s named Steven Baca. And much as he was carrying a handgun that day, he’s been a very outspoken proponent of open carry. I actually found a post on Facebook where he was showing up at a city council meeting to talk about a plastic bag ordinance with his handgun in the city council chambers. And the man who he shot was an artist and a protester named Scott Williams.

Autumn Chacon:
So Scott Williams is a white guy. I’m a native American.

Stan Alcorn:
I spoke with a close friend of his, Autumn Chacon, and they were part of the same community of activists and artists. The two of them had gone to standing rock together.

Autumn Chacon:
We don’t always see eye to eye. As far as our backgrounds, our levels of privilege, our access to certain institutions. But fundamentally, we know what’s right and wrong. And we’ve become very close friends.

Stan Alcorn:
So he’s someone who absolutely, in her words, who was a person who was very intentionally recognizing that, like as a white person, he could put his body on the line in a way that other people maybe couldn’t. And in her view, that’s what he did that day.

Roman Mars:
So there’s this awful incident. And just to be clear, Scott Williams, who was shot, he seems to be okay. He’s recovering. But meanwhile, what is happening with the statue?

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah. So they did not have a lot of success with that pickaxe and rope. The statue was still there at the end of the night, but the next morning, kind of similar to what happened in Alcalde, the government decided that in order to avoid further conflict, they would just take it down themselves. So now you’ve got all the settlers and a couple Spanish soldiers and then just a little divot in the concrete where Oñate used to be.

Roman Mars:
Right. And so in the middle of this, one of things that I started to get tweeted about was the foot shows up!

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah.

Roman Mars:
So if you recall from the story, the original Oñate statue from up north had its foot cut off and there’s some activists that had and would keep it hidden. And it shows up. So what was that like?

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah, this was a moment that, you know, I did not see in the live streams and the videos that night. I only realized this later. I think when I saw the photograph taken by Simon Romero, New York Times reporter, there was this kind of amazing image where in front of Tiguex Park you saw this black man holding the stolen foot above his head as, yeah, just kind of like an incredible gesture, which I would come to realize that that guy was Brian Hardgroove, member of Public Enemy.

Brian Hardgroove:
Brian Hardgroove, New Yorker, musician. People like to call me an activist. Most people know me from my time with Public Enemy.

Roman Mars:
That’s amazing. And what is his connection?

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah, so it turns out that Brian Hardgroove moved to Santa Fe and his wife and daughter are directly connected to the Pueblos in New Mexico. His wife’s father’s from the Tesuque Pueblo. But he kind of just got brought into this fairly recently. He was approached by some activists. He didn’t want to give a lot of specifics which probably won’t be a surprise. But the people who are sort of caretakers of the foot asked him if he’d be willing to be part of this protest.

Brian Hardgroove:
I jumped right on it. And all I was asked to do is come down to the park in Old Town to support that rally. And to me, it was a perfect opportunity to show a unity between black Americans and native Americans that we can’t afford to not see, that we have to see that unity. And, you know, black people in America have been getting the focus since this murder of George Floyd. But there are other groups that need the Black Lives Matter movement to succeed because they’re not being heard from. And they need our movement to succeed to give them a better shot, too.

Roman Mars:
So he and a bunch of other activists are making this explicit connection between the protests happening across the country, the Black Lives Matter protest. And then also what’s happening locally in New Mexico. That’s really remarkable, to see that union.

Stan Alcorn:
Yeah. And I would say everyone I talked to sees this. They saw these protests as an extension of the Black Lives Matter protests. Brian definitely saw them as deeply connected, as focusing on the same basic underlying issues.

Brian Hardgroove:
They’re the same issue of an oppressed people being forced to accept a continued oppression.

Stan Alcorn:
And so, Brian, he talked about how he showed up at the protest, kind of quietly scoping things out when it was still just a prayer vigil. And then at some point at the right moment, someone gets the foot out of the car and sort of orchestrates this moment for him where he can, you know, take it up and just hold it over his head in front of, not the whole crowd, but at least a few significant onlookers and someone who could snap a photo. And Brian described just what it was like to hold that foot above his head in that moment.

Brian Hardgroove:
What I felt… I was protesting at 20 years old. Now my daughter is doing it at 19. And this is absurd. That’s what I felt. That she has to do this now. And I realized what my parents felt when I had to do it. So that crossed my mind as I was holding it. It’s like when is this going to end.

Stan Alcorn:
That’s the question, right, for all of these protests, is when’s it going to end? And is this same fight going to keep being handed down from one generation to the next.

Brian Hardgroove:
And this country has never done things the easy way? It’s always done things a difficult way. And so now he’s got to deal with multiple issues at once when we could have dealt with each one of them when the time was right. Although they all existed at the same time because this country has built on blood of the people there that are now protesting. But we’ve had a couple of centuries to deal with and we’ve never dealt with it effectively, only to the degree of the nation’s comfort. Now the country’s forced to reckon.

Stan Alcorn:
And in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I mean, that reckoning is really just beginning. Not only as far as statues, though, that too. They’ve already brought down the Diego de Vargas statue in Santa Fe. There’s talk of other monuments that might come down. But for the activists that – particularly that kind of younger group of activists – they see this as so much bigger than statues. When I was talking to Autumn Chacon, you know, I asked if taking down the statue was a success. And that’s not what she’s after there. She wants to, like, force the institutions, the Albuquerque Museum, the city of Albuquerque, Albuquerque Police Department, to really deeply question and root out their own systemic racism.

Autumn Chacon:
So we would like all civic institutions in the city of Albuquerque. I mean, throughout the nation, throughout the world. For a start, within the city, to look at how they have structural flaws that directly cause economic health disparities within people of color, that there are institutional flaws that make it hard for people of color to get a job there, to be treated as equal and to be paid fairly. I mean, this is complex. And we’re seeking actual accountability rather than Band-Aid solutions.

Stan Alcorn:
So Oñate may be gone, but from the perspective of these activists, they have not won the battle, this is just the tiniest first step.

Roman Mars:
Speaking of first steps, does Brian still have the foot?

Stan Alcorn:
So, Brian, he does not still have the foot. In fact, he says he does not even know where it is.

Brian Hardgroove:
I have no idea. It’s not in my possession. And I don’t even know the person who has it. So I have no idea. That’s the best answer I can give you. I have no idea. Maybe they’ll call me to show up with it somewhere else. I don’t know. But if that happens, I’ll call you. (chuckles)

———

Roman Mars:
99% Invisible was produced this week by Stan Alcorn and edited by Delaney Hall. Mix and tech production by Bryson Barnes and Sharif Youssef. Music by Sean Real. Katie Mingle is our Senior Producer. Kurt Kohlstedt is the Digital Director. The rest of the team is Vivian Le, Emmett FitzGerald, Joe Rosenberg, Chris Berube, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars.

The investigative podcast that Stan works with, Reveal, is out with an ambitious new project. It’s an 8-part series called American Rehab. The series traces the history of a widely-used form of drug rehab that claims to cure people by putting them to work for no pay, including at big corporations like Exxon and Walmart. Reveal traces the roots of this model to a dangerous cult called Synanon. In the midst of the country’s opioid crisis, American Rehab uncovers how tens of thousands of people are caught in the gears of this rehab machine. Listen to American Rehab now by subscribing to Reveal wherever you get your podcasts.

We are a project of 91.7 KALW in San Francisco and produced on Radio Row, which is now distributed in multiple locations around the East Bay, but our heart it will always be in beautiful downtown Oakland California

We are a proud member of radiotopia from PRX, a fiercely independent collective of the most innovative, listener-supported 100% artist-owned podcasts in the world. Find us and support us all at radiotopia.fm. Just like these fine people did — Nate from Seattle, Nicholas Head, Hugo Lodes, Kat Saville and Hai Ho, hi. Thank you, everyone.

You can tweet at me @romanmars and the show at @99piorg. We’re on Instagram and Reddit too… but our true home on the web is 99pi.org

Credits

Production

Reporter Stan Alcorn spoke with Larry Calloway of the Albuquerque Journal; Conchita Lucero; Aleta “Tweety” Suazo; Nora Naranjo-Morse, a New Mexico-based artist; film director Chris Eyre; Autumn Chacon, a Diné/Chicana artist and activist; and Brian Hardgroove, music producer, activist and bass player for Public Enemy.

A version of Stan’s original story appeared on the podcast Reveal from the Center of Investigative Reporting.

  1. Rhubarbjin

    Loved this episode when I first heard it two years ago. I’m happy that it’s making a comeback!

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