Opinion

Symbols Matter

There is much discussion across the nation about whether Confederate statues and symbolism belong in America. Those opposed to the Confederate iconography argue that they represent slavery in America and thus have no place in American society. They argue that the Confederate symbols glorify slavery. Supporters of the Confederate symbols, on the other hand, argue that the Confederacy is an important part of the history of the nation.

It cannot be debated that slavery and the Confederacy are an important part of the history of the country. The Civil War was fought because part of the country rebelled to keep slaves. The Civil War ended slavery – at least legally – and made clear that states do not have the unilateral right to leave the union.

As such, the Confederacy is an important part of the history of the nation.

But do Confederate statues belong in public places?

Symbols matter.

There are several museums and statues across the nation remembering the Holocaust. They are there to remind Americans of the horror of the Nazi regime. But what is not found in public places are statues of Nazis or paraphernalia commemorating the Nazi regime.

The Nazi symbols are correctly displayed in museums. Museums are teaching places to remind visitors about history. Public statues are meant to commemorate heroes of the country. The Confederacy was a rebellion. Its members were traitors because they rebelled.

Commemorating people of the Confederacy is not only inappropriate, but it ignores the fact that the Confederacy represents a history of the United States that most want to forget. To argue that Confederate statues belong in public is like arguing that Hitler deserves a public statue because of the impact he had in the history of the country.

In El Paso, the debate over the symbology of the Confederacy is being debated over the Robert E. Lee road. Appropriately so. El Paso City Council is expected to vote on renaming it on Tuesday.

The County Courthouse has Confederate symbology in parts of the mural that adorns the building.

Are these appropriate for El Paso? Do they represent the values of El Paso?

I argue not.

The Equestrian Statue

But more important is The Equestrian Statue by the airport.

The Equestrian Statue was originally named the Don Juan de Oñate statue when the city first unveiled it. After much controversy, it was decided to rename it The Equestrian Statue.

It is easy to argue that the Juan de Oñate was like any other Conquistador, even like Cristobal Colon, or Columbus. Like those who argue about the Confederate symbology equating it to history, supporters of the Oñate statue argue that Oñate was a product of the times and should not be judged by today’s standards.

The problem with that argument is that even by Oñate’s standards, he was banished from New Mexico for life by the people of his time. His conduct was judged by the standards of his day. Oñate was also exiled from Mexico City in 1611. He died in Spain in 1626.

Arguing that Juan de Oñate must be glorified in El Paso ignores the fact that his own peers found his conduct so reprehensible that they exiled from their communities.

If El Pasoans really care about offensive street names and symbology they must look at the Confederate symbology at the County Court House and especially what the Oñate statue says to visitor arriving in El Paso.

If El Pasoans are serious about eradicating offensive symbols then the Juan de Oñate statue needs to go as well.

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