Should the Pancho Villa statue in Tucson be removed?

CLOSE

Opinion: If we’re going to remove Confederate monuments, this is a discussion worth having.

The Pancho Villa statue stands in the Veinte de Agosto Park, 123 West Congress Street, on December 14, 2018. Pancho Villa was a Mexican revolutionary general in the early 1900’s. (Photo: Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star)

Back in 1981, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt accepted a gift sent “in friendship” from Mexico, a 14-foot, 5-ton bronze statue of Mexican guerrilla leader Pancho Villa.

When it was erected in Veinte de Agosto Park in Tucson, Babbitt called it a “beautiful symbol of our special friendship.”

There was some controversy at the time. A few politicians in Tucson boycotted the unveiling ceremony.

Over the ensuing decades a number of different individuals have tried to get the statue removed. They expressed some of the same concerns, the same arguments, we’ve heard recently for the removal of statues and memorials to Confederate generals and politicians, or to explorers like Christopher Columbus.

Pancho Villa was no friend to America

The critics point out – correctly – that Pancho Villa was not a friend of the United States.

He attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916, killing 17 residents.

His band stopped a train in Mexico’s Chihuahua state that same year and shot and killed 18 mining engineers from the American Smelting and Refining Company.

There is also the 1915 massacre in the Mexican town of San Pedro de la Cueva.

At one point the United States sent an expeditionary force of several brigades into Mexico trying to hunt down Villa. There were skirmishes but they never captured him.

Looking for the other side of the story?Subscribe today for access to even more opinions.

I’ve heard over the past month or so from readers bringing up this history and wondering if the same people who have called for the removal of Confederate monuments in Arizona will demand that Villa’s statue be taken down.

One of those correspondents wrote, “I’m guessing that snowflakes like you are fine with insulting people who live in places like Alabama and Georgia but would NEVER risk offending anyone south of the border.”

Behind the somewhat cynical and somewhat more caustic tone of the message is a legitimate question.

We should have a discussion about Pancho.

Create a process for this debate

Gov. Doug Ducey successfully skated around the issue of the Confederate monuments, saying he wanted a public process to decide what should happen but that such a thing couldn’t happen with the Legislature not in session.

And he got lucky when the United Daughters of the Confederacy removed from the Capitol grounds the monument they presented to the state in the early 1960s.

But if Ducey believes in a “process” for evaluating monuments in the state then he should establish one, because the issue isn’t going away. There is always going to be some controversy over some statue or memorial. Times change. Sensibilities change. Opinions change.

Like most people, I appreciate some statues and memorials and I am wary of others.

There’s a quote I like that’s attributed to an ancient Roman soldier and statesman called Cato the Elder.

He said, “I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue, than why I have one.”

Reach Montini at ed.montini@arizonarepublic.com.

Read or Share this story: https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/ej-montini/2020/08/02/should-pancho-villa-statue-tucson-removed/5552822002/