When we first saw the statue of Juan de Oñate, it seemed to be calling us home to face our roots, making us think back to what it was like growing up Mexican American. In retrospect, we were cultural contortionists straddling the literal and psychological borders all around us. In the process we saw that many Mexican Americans were embracing their Indian roots and were calling themselves Chicanos. Others were struggling to disassociate themselves from that aspect of our heritage and were calling themselves Hispanics. It is a joy to be Mexican American, and we love who we are. But it can also be confounding.
When we saw how seductive and intoxicating the Oñate monument is, we were both inspired and heartbroken. Inspired by its majesty and its raw power, awestruck by the extraordinary talent of its sculptor, John Houser. But we were also saddened because it was clear to us that the statue does not seem to capture an important part of our legacy: the madness and horror of what we have done to one another and how that trauma continues to affect our lives today. Why so many from our community can’t respectfully acknowledge the dark edifice of our past and extend a somber embrace to our Indian brothers and sisters is perplexing to us. After all, as Mexican Americans we do share in their history, their culture — and it is their blood that runs through our veins.
We can easily imagine that for the next thousand years as people look upon this statue, they may believe that it depicts a great man whose deeds, values and exploits represent the best of who we are; that our culture and our civilization believed he was worthy of being enshrined and idolized for all time in magnificent bronze. They may conclude that his values, his actions, his determination, and his vision are worthy of their aspiration. They may come to see him as a hero, a founding father to be emulated, and his world-view to be propagated. We think there are many in El Paso, in the American Southwest, and across our great land who already believe this deep in their hearts. This has given us pause, and cause for sober reflection.
We hope The Last Conquistador contributes to awareness, not only of the triumphs of history, but also of the failures, the tragedies and the humiliation. We believe that viewers must be trusted to examine historical and contemporary questions in all their complexity, including legacies of prejudice and discrimination, resilience and courage. This trust encourages people to develop a voice in ongoing civic conversations in their community and across the nation.
Lastly, we hope The Last Conquistador promotes an understanding of different perspectives, competing truths and the need to comprehend one’s own motives and assumptions as well as those of others. The film asks difficult questions about the role and responsibility of the artist. It examines issues of memory and judgment with an eye toward moral and perceptual complexity and the ways in which the deep divides of difference resonate from history into the present along class, racial, ethnic and cultural lines. With Juan de Oñate’s stunning resurrection in exquisite bronze comes the painful knowledge that his anguished legacy still haunts the land.
— John J. Valadez and Cristina Ibarra
(Courtesy of P.O.V.)
John J. Valadez, Producer/Director
John Valadez has been producing and directing award-winning documentaries for PBS and CNN for the past 14 years. His credits include the critically acclaimed Passin' It On, which aired on P.O.V. in 1994 and The Last Conquistador, which aired on P.O.V. in 2008. He also was a producer for three PBS series: Making Peace; Matters of Race; and Visiones: Latino Arts & Culture. He was a producer of Beyond Brown for PBS, and he produced "High Stakes Testing" for CNN Presents. He wrote, directed, and produced The Chicano Wave segment of Latin Music USA, which will be rebroadcast by PBS in September 2010.
Valadez is a founding member of the New York City chapter of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP). He is a Rockefeller Fellow and a PBS/CPB Producers Academy Fellow. He has twice been a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow and is a graduate of the film program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Valadez lives in Warwick, New York.
Cristina Ibarra, Producer/Director
For the past seven years, Cristina Ibarra has been making short fiction and non-fiction films that have been seen on public television, in galleries, museums, schools and film festivals across the United States including: the Guggenheim, Exit Art Gallery, the Queens Museum, Stanford and Brown Universities. Her award-winning directorial debut, Dirty Laundry: A Homemade Telenovela aired on the PBS series ColorVision. Her other films include: Grandma’s Hip-Hop, Lupe from the Block and Amnezac. She is currently developing her first feature film, Love & Monster Trucks.