Visitors to Taos Plaza Friday morning (Sept. 8) were greeted by the work of vandals, who had marked the Bataan Death March memorial and the statue of the late Padre Antonio José Martínez in the central square.
A stream of dried red paint over Martínez's shoe and a banner that covered the war memorial with the message, "Remember 1680," bordered by drops of red paint, served as timely reminders that, while much of the United States has been focused on this summer's pitched cultural violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, old ethnic resentments and violent ideations continue to simmer here in Taos and elsewhere in New Mexico.
The vandalizations fell on the annual dramatized re-enactment of Don Diego DeVargas' reentry into Santa Fe in the late 1600s, following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which drove out many Spanish settlers. While a large police presence was drawn to Santa Fe Friday afternoon to control loud protests, Taos has remained silent, save for the markers in Taos Plaza, which seem to at least attempt to say something.
Phillip Clark, 69, was among the visitors making their way around Taos Plaza Friday morning. He and a friend were inspecting the paint that had been poured over the statue of Martínez, a controversial figure to some in Northern New Mexico. The statue was sculpted by artist Huberto Maestas, of San Luis, Colorado, and erected in 2006. The war memorial was unveiled 57 years ago.
"I'm guessing this was done by people who aren't local," Clark said, noting that neither monument bears a strong connection to the 1692 Entrada. "They take umbrage with something that happened to somebody else, without even knowing what happened."
Adding weight to Clark's assumption is the fact that the war memorial honors veterans of many ethnicities – Anglo, Hispanic and Pueblo Indian, among others – who endured the more than 60-mile march and subsequent imprisonment by the Imperial Japanese Army on the Bataan Peninsula in the Phillipines during World War II.
Like many New Mexicans, Clark carries blood from the three major ethnic groups in the state: Spanish, Anglo and Native American. Growing up, he heard the stories about swaths of land throughout New Mexico that were once claimed by one group, then taken back by another and so on – a cycle, he said, which many ethnic groups in the state have participated in throughout the region's history. "Do you know that the New Mexico state constitution is the only constitution written in three languages?" he asked.
Clark said his Spanish ancestors "settled" a 40,000-acre land grant near Albuquerque in the 1760s. Following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Mexican-American War, he said, the original 40,000 acreage was reduced to 4,000. The century-old documents his family held were no longer recognized, he said. Fast-forward another century to the 1940s, and the federal government claimed another 3,000 acres, though offered to pay for it. Today, the family holds about 900.
"There is resentment here," he said. "If you've been told you should be resentful, you will be resentful sooner or later."
Police officers arrived on Taos Plaza early in the morning and removed the banner, but were unable to immedietely remove the paint on the statue.
While New Mexico natives like Clark stopped and reflected on the complexity behind the defacing of such monuments, regardless of the vandal or vandals' somewhat erroneous selections, others walked idly past and hardly took notice.
Late in the morning, a woman sat down, cross-legged on a bench in front of the statue and scrolled through her cellphone. Behind her stood a reminder of a social fabric that has been torn and tattered time and again, but still somehow remains strung together.