Work of art portrays Zapotec Indian child’s rise to highest office in his land thanks to education
EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – When a French army invaded his country, Mexican President Benito Pablo Juarez Garcia fled north to a border town called Villa Paso del Norte. He found refuge in a house on 16th of September Avenue which is now an abandoned movie theater. He ran his government in exile for several months in 1865 from the post office building a block away, according to Juarez historians.
Juarez, whose city across the border from El Paso, Texas, bears his name since 1888, is one of the iconic characters honored by the 12 Travelers Memorial of the Southwest with a bronze statue. His likeness “Benito Juarez: Child to Man,” is to be unveiled at a 1 p.m. ceremony on Sept. 25 at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso.
The statue – depicting a young Zapotec Indian shepherd sitting next to the mature statesman he would become, both reading a book symbolizing the power of education – will stand by the Chamizal National Memorial Theater, facing south toward Mexico. The statue was crafted by Ethan Taliesin Houser.
“The 12 Travelers mission is to celebrate the region’s history with monumental bronze statues of women and men that traveled through the Pass of the North,” said 12 Travelers Memorial President Kenna Ramirez. “This is about remembering our history, honoring the past, celebrating the present.”
The nonprofit so far has funded four of the intended 12 sculptures. They include “The Equestrian” (a Spanish conquistador on a horse) at El Paso International Airport, the Susan Shelby Magoffin statue in Downtown, and the Fray Garcia Monument on Pioneer Plaza.
12 Travelers advisory committee member Adair Margo said Juarez had an influence on El Paso as well, when he mediated a land dispute between ranchers on both sides of the border affected by the meandering Rio Grande. That land dispute was settled nearly a century later with the Treaty of El Chamizal, which gave Mexico back several hundred acres and reestablished northward the river channel, which is now surrounded by concrete.
She lauded Juarez’s courage in declining an offer of asylum offered by Fort Bliss during the French invasion of 1862-1867, and his rise from poverty to the highest political office in Mexico due to his commitment to education.
According to Mexico’s National Institute of Historical Studies, Juarez was born in the mountains of Oaxaca and did not learn Spanish (the official language of Mexico) until age 12. An orphan, the youth migrated to the capital of Oaxaca and worked in the home of Antonio Maza; he was taken in by a book publisher Antonio Salanueva, who sponsored his studies.
Juarez became a lawyer, married the daughter of his old boss, went to work for a law office and was elected to the Oaxaca city council, marking the start of his political career. Juarez himself penned a mini-biography called “Apuntes para mis hijos” (Notes for my children), of which excerpts can be found online at the National Autonomous University of Mexico website.
The El Paso County Commission this week proclaimed September 25 as “Benito Juarez child to man Chamizal Day.”