Tuesday, October 06, 2015

"The Last Conquistador" and Epistemological Racism

I showed this video titled, The Last Conquistador, in my class this evening in tandem with Jim Scheurich and Michelle Young's classic piece titled, Coloring Epistemologies: Are Our Research Epistemologies Racially Biased? Educational Researcher Vol. 26, No. 4 (May, 1997), pp. 4-16, that together allowed me to explicate the concept of "civilizational racism."  This is the most profound, unconscious racism that comes out of what we think reality to be (ontology), ways of knowing that reality (epistemology), and deep-seated beliefs about that which we determine to be right or wrong (axiology).

Hats off to filmmakers, John J. Valadez and Cristina Ibarra,  who did an extraordinary job in capturing the moment.  It tells an important story from El Paso, Texas, of renowned sculptor, John Houser, whose dream it was to build this massive—indeed, the world's tallest—bronze equestrian statue with colonizer, Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar, a Spanish Conquistador atop.  Oñate was a brutal, genocidal, colonial governor of the Santa Fe de Nuevo México province to which he was granted dominion by the Viceroyalty of New Spain on April 30, 1598.

As conveyed vividly and poignantly in the film, this action reignited the pain and trauma of Oñate's assertion of power and fought the Pueblo of Acoma in a war that began in January 1599 that not only nearly decimated them, but that also resulted in the enslavement of hundreds of men, women, and children.  The cruelty of this now forever memorialized, albeit ignominious, "hero," knew no limits.  He amputated one foot of the remaining men that survived the battle, literally crippling the Acoma and subjugating the Pueblo and other Indians of New Mexico with indelible consequences unto the present—and that this video brings to light.

Oñate was eventually called to Mexico where he was heard and found guilty for cruelty toward native people.  He had to resign from his post as governor of Santa Fé, but as what could probably have been predicted, was ultimately cleared, on appeal, of all charges.

Thought this might be helpful to others and so I am happy to share.  (Also consider viewing this PBS, animated counter-story to "The Last Conquistador," titled"Frontera! Revolt and Rebellion on the Rio Grande.")  Brace yourself for the Valadez film though for an emotional journey through time that I anticipate will make you both angry and sad.  It illuminates and unmasks a part of our nation's genocidal history of conquest and colonization, and their enduring effects.

Angela Valenzuela


  1. I have used the film before,but not in combination with that article (great idea). That is a great lesson and it's always a shameful reminder to fly into El Paso (home) and see such a colonizing and oppressive figure. Which, in the end as it stands at the airport is only an expensive tourism ploy, given the actual marker where Juan De Oñate passed through El Paso is a trash ridden ignored small park, next to a confederate marker later placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy, that can be seen right next to where the Rio Grande bends across I-10 from UTEP. Even more shameful are the high schools in El Paso and New Mexico with similar symbols of oppression as mascots, like a conquistador as a mascot (my h.s.), or with the Texas Rangers found right off the Rio Grande, or the Juan De Oñate H.S. in Las Cruces, that teach Chicano youth that one only acknowledges their "Spanish" ancestry and White conformity and that our indigenous identities and mestizaje is denied and oppressed. So the current treatment of Tribal communities in New Mexico and El Paso continues down a path of colonization and oppression today.

  2. By the way, that would be a great study or dissertation on school names and mascots in the Borderlands...