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Mérida’s monument to the Montejo, an icon of history or bigotry?

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
The Montejos are regarded as ruthless mercenaries and murderers by some, and virtuous explorers and evangelizers by others. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

A statue of Christopher Columbus that stood in México City’s bustling Paseo de Reforma since 1877 is there no more. 

For now, only a pedestal remains, but not for long. 

Columbus is both criticized for his alleged brutality and initiating the depopulation of the indigenous Americans, whether by disease or intentional genocide. Photo: Courtesy

“In place of the statue of Columbus, the city will be installing a monument to honor the indigenous women of the Americas,” said Mexico City’s head of government, Claudia Sheinbaum during a press conference observing the International Day of Indigenous women, celebrated on Sept. 5.

The removal of the statue of the Genovese explorer echoes similar moves by other city and state governments, including the removal of other effigies of Columbus himself, as well as controversial confederate civil war figures in the United States.

Just over a decade ago, a statue of Francisco de Montejo, known as El Adelantado (the one that came first) and his son, Francisco de Montejo, el Mozo were erected on Mérida’s Remate, the starting point of Avenida Paseo de Montejo.

In 1939, then Gov. of Yucatán Humberto Canto Echeverrìa atemmpted to rename Mérida’s Paseo de Montejo to Paseo de Nachi Cocom, in honor of Mayan rebel fighter  — but the name change never managed to stick. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

As soon as the statues of the two Conquistadors went up, demands for them to be toppled began. 

Those defending the statues argued that the Montejos are part of Yucatán’s history. But given that the statues only went up in 2010, it is difficult for many to parse through the logic of further honoring these Conquistadors when so many homages to their name already exist in the city and their legacy is increasingly scrutinized. This is especially true in the current context of a growing awareness of the evils of colonialism and racism. 

“It is not true that the Montejos are our founders. What they did do was show up cross in hand to destroy Ichcanzihó and butcher its men, women, and children in the name of civilization,” said activist Artemio Kaamal Hernández back in 2010.

At the time several groups threatened to remove the statues themselves if the city government did not do so before. Though the statue of the pair still remains, it has been vandalized on several occasions, most recently this year during a protest held on international women’s day. 

Among the messages spray-painted onto the monument was the phrase “Mérida no es blanca,” calling on the double meaning of Mérida’s nickname, the white city. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Given its location, the statue of the Montejo is Mérida’s most controversial monument, but many others depicting persons or events of dubious moral character are spread throughout the city.

Monument dedicated to the “Heros of the Caste War” erected in 1883 in Eulogio Rosado park, named after one of the most celebrated generals of said war.  Only time will tell if these monuments will remain, but it is certain that debates about the legacy of colonialism and the Conquista will outlive us all. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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