By: Cecelia Westman, CSVANW Advocate Coordinator
The Southwest region knows the names of Oñate and other Conquistadors well. The multitudes of narratives detailing the adventures of Spanish Explorers is often romanticized and memorialized with statues and monuments made from buildings and swaths of land, ignoring the actual translation of the Spanish noun, Conqueror. These depictions erase the exploits of violent men and instead examine them as heroes by giving them post hominis honors. This can leave the average undereducated onlooker with the impression that these are men worthy of praise and not of examination.
If people were given the opportunity to examine the exploits of these men, they would no longer be able to overlook the actual harm that was done to Indigenous People-paving the way for the violence that has continued in these spaces in the name of Manifest Destiny and Western Expansion.
Even today, Indigenous People are experiencing erasure that has turned into a norm and a tradition since the first explorer came into this region seeking fortune and infamy. In my experience, we don’t talk about the violence enough in ways that could be productive by inciting change in our communities. Doing so would require a common knowledge base, comfortability with the subject, and a lot of internal examination.
So, what is the benefit of omitting the full narratives of these exploits?
Perhaps we limit these conversations because it draws out pain that many of us are anxious to escape from? Perhaps it is easier to just look at certain types of violence; the kind that looks more like Cowboys and Indians and not that of Master and Slave, Rapist and Victim, or Trafficker and Cargo? All of this points to the sexual exploitation that has been used to pacify and silence populations through theft, threats, rape, and erasure since the first conquistador came across to the shores of this “new” world.
Not teaching students of all identities about the injustices that are experienced by Indigenous People, both historically and today, as a result of colonialism is a conscientious erasure of valid lived experience that is only benefitting traffickers due to people’s ignorance on the subject; creating a social stigma that doesn’t have the correct focus. If we are going to label ourselves as “Changemakers” we have a social responsibility to teach the truth from all perspectives and to give people information in their formative years that will benefit them throughout their lives. There are still “Conquistadores” out here, taking advantage of indigenous bodies and exploiting the land- and they too have names. Let’s teach our communities how to recognize them properly.