The monuments we build and the ones we tear down

A reporter’s thoughts on statues, extremism and misinformation harken back to 2020

December 27, 2023 5:05 am

Organizers and supporters including Jacob Johns celebrate Rio Arriba County’s postponement of putting back a statue of the war criminal and Spanish colonizer Juan de Oñate that officials removed in 2020. (Photo by Anna Padilla for Source NM)

I spent a lot of time in 2023 thinking and writing publicly about events that either happened in 2020, or that I believe were influenced by events that year.

High up on the list of echoing recollections is the shooting at the monument depicting Juan de Oñate in Albuquerque on June 15, 2020. I’ve written that date so many times, I no longer need to double-check it for accuracy.

I wasn’t there when it happened, but I had been covering a protest at a different monument to Oñate that day, and heard those four shots ring out over a livestream.

I had the same feeling in Oct. 2023 as I paced back and forth outside a courthouse in Lovington, crying on the phone while my colleagues and friends were stuck at the scene of a different shooting, again at a space intended for a monument to that same Spanish conquistador.

My body regularly returns to various points in time in 2020; I think it also has to do with the trauma and loss I experienced personally. 

As many did, I lost a lot that year. A job that once I had loved and really defined who I am. More significantly, friends who died, both because of mental health conditions, one because of homelessness — severe problems that this state continues to experience and that our government systems come up short in addressing.

This isn’t an entirely original thought, but it bears repeating: 2020 was a crucial turning point in history here in New Mexico, across the United States and the world. We saw the ongoing pandemic kick off, along with the largest protest movement in this country’s recent history.

But loss isn’t always bad. It can be clarifying. It can be liberating. I leave behind a lot of things in 2020 and carry others forward.

What follows is a list of stories, by me and my colleagues here at Source NM, about the literal and figurative monuments we build, the ones we tear down, and what we remember and forget about those cycles of creation and destruction.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.