Vandals struck the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library & Photo Archives early Tuesday morning, tagging an exterior wall and sculpture of the downtown building with a reference to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
A message painted in large red numbers and letters said “1680 Land Back,” and red paint streamed down the front of the bronze statue of Chávez.
Crews with the New Mexico History Museum, which oversees the library, were able to remove the paint from the statue by Tuesday afternoon but were less successful restoring the wall.
“We got a good first start,” history museum Director Billy Garrett said. “Some of the surfaces were easier to clean than others.”
The museum had consulted with the New Mexico Department of Culture Affairs’ Museum Resources Division, which is the custodian of the statue, on how to safely remove the paint.
Greg Gurulé, a spokesman for the Santa Fe Police Department, said the agency had no report of the incident. He referred questions to New Mexico State Police.
Officer Dusty Francisco, a state police spokesman, said the case is under investigation and anyone with information on the crime can call the New Mexico State Police at (505) 841-9256, Ext. 1.
Garrett said he believes it was a case of mistaken identity: The vandals seem to have interpreted the statue as a representation of brutality associated with late 16th-century and 17th-century Spanish colonialism.
In fact, Fray Angélico Chávez lived from 1910-96. He served as a major in the U.S. Army in World War II and the Korean War and was a priest, poet, historian, archivist, artist, author, biographer and genealogist.
“I suspect what happened was someone saw a statue of a priest,” Garrett said. “The symbolism overwhelmed the sense of what that statue represents. It’s hard to see that there is any connection.”
Cultural tensions have erupted in New Mexico amid the wave of protests against racism since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis police custody. While demonstrations nationwide have targeted symbols of slavery and the Confederacy, protests in New Mexico, including in Santa Fe, have centered on Spanish colonial and Anglo figures who perpetrated violence against Native Americans.
Ahead of a planned demonstration on the Plaza in June, organized by Native American advocacy groups, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber removed a statue of Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Vargas from Cathedral Park and attempted to remove the Plaza obelisk. He also called for removal of a Kit Carson monument, also an obelisk, in front of the downtown federal courthouse.
De Vargas reclaimed Santa Fe for the Spanish crown a dozen years after the Pueblo Revolt.
Both monuments have been vandalized.
But state museums “have not had any incidents of a similar nature in recent history,” the Department of Cultural Affairs said in a statement.
“We at the history museum do understand there are disagreements in history,” Garrett said. “We would like to be a place where people can come together and discuss history.
“The way I feel about it: The history museum exists as a public institution where we can talk about everybody’s history,” he said.