Official regrets voting for school conquistador name removal
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — A member of a New Mexico school board who made a key vote that ended up removing the name of a Spanish conquistador from a high school now regrets her decision.
Carol Cooper of the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education said she wishes she could go back in time and reverse her decisive July 14 vote to remove the name of Don Juan de Oñate from Oñate High School.
If she had voted against the name removal proposal, the vote would have been tied 2-2 with one absention, meaning the school's name wouldn't have been changed, the Las Cruces Sun-New reported Thursday.
The proposal to change the name of the school came amid a national conversation about monuments and names of institutions honoring historical figures linked to racism.
But after Cooper voted, she said she heard from many constituents who told her they wished she had kept the school's name. Officials have not come up with a new name for the school.
Critics have said figures like Oñate, who led early Spanish expeditions into present-day New Mexico, shouldn’t be celebrated.
They point to Oñate’s order to have the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors after his soldiers stormed Acoma Pueblo and say Oñate enslaved Native Americans and oversaw the brutal treatment of Indigenous populations in the American Southwest.
Oñate defenders have said he represents an important part of Hispanic history in the present-day U.S. as part of the first group of early Spanish settlers who braved tough conditions to settle the region.
Cooper says she has received countless from residents expressing their disappointment in the school board’s decision to change the name.
It's not clear whether the name of the high school might be taken up again at a future school board meeting.
Numerous Confederate statues and monuments to American slave owners in the South, as well as statues honoring Christopher Columbus, have been taken down by officials or torn down by protester in the months following the police killing George Floyd in May.
The vote by the school board came after a man in Albuquerque shot an activist who sought to take down a Spanish conquistador statue that resembles Oñate but is said to represent the many conquistadors who came to the region. The city removed the statue the next day.
The alleged shooter, Steven Ray Baca, 31, faces several battery charges. Baca’s attorney, Jason Bowles, has maintained that Baca acted in self defense after protesters attacked him with skateboards and knives.
New Mexico indigenous leaders convinced another New Mexico county to remove its statue of Oñate. Officials Rio Arriba County in northern New Mexico placed the statue in storage last month before a planned protest.