Russell Contreras

Associated Press

BERNALILLO, N.M. — A Jemez Pueblo activist is seeking to start talks with a New Mexico town around a conquistador image on a water tank as protesters pressure local towns and cities to remove Spanish colonial references some Native Americans find offensive.

Roger Fragua, Jemez Pueblo, executive director of the nonprofit group Flower Hill Institute, recently sent a letter to Bernalillo asking the mayor to talk about the large depiction on a state highway that runs through many Pueblo lands.

The logo, which is the town's seal, shows a conquistador helmet resting on top of an ax used by invading Spanish soldiers in the 1500s.

"The logo has an axe that is clearly a weapon as opposed to a utilitarian axe for wood," Fragua wrote to Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres. "As a Pueblo Indian, I find the axe concerning and even offensive in knowing our shared histories."

Fragua asked Torres to convene a discussion around the logo and consider other icons that are "more celebratory of our shared and mutual cultures." Fragua vowed to bring a "few, mature, intelligent voices from the Pueblos" to meet with the mayor and others to discuss the logo's future.

Torres told The Associated Press he spoke to Fragua and remains open to talk about the logo on the water tank. "It's premature to talk about what will happen, but we are beginning the process," Torres said.

Fragua did not immediately return a phone message.

The move comes after officials in Albuquerque and Alcalde removed statues of Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate amid demands from protesters to have them toppled.

Protesters say figures such as 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. The killing of Onate's nephew precipitated that attack.

They say other Spanish figures oversaw the enslavement of Indigenous populations and tried to outlaw their cultural practices.

Last month, demonstrators tried to tear down an Oñate statue outside an Albuquerque museum using chains and a pickax. A fight that broke out resulted in gunfire that injured one man.

Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to set foot in the present-day American Southwest. It started with expeditions in the 1540s as the Spanish searched for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. Decades later, colonization ramped up and Santa Fe was established as a permanent capital in 1610.

Spanish rule over the New Mexico territory lasted for about two centuries until the area briefly became part of the Republic of Mexico before it was taken over by the U.S.

Some scholars say the phenomenon of conquistador commemoration is linked to efforts that originated more than a century ago as Hispanics tried to convince white members of Congress that New Mexico should become a state.

During the 19th Century, white people moved into the territory and held racist views toward the region's Native American and Mexican American population, according to John Nieto-Phillips, author of "The Language of Blood: The Making of Spanish-American Identity in New Mexico, 1880s-1930s."

As a result, Nieto-Phillips said some Hispanics in the region took on a solely Spanish American identity over their mixed heritage to embrace whiteness amid the racist eugenics movement.

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Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at