Posted on December 19, 2018

Tucson’s Pancho Villa Statue Survives Another Push to Be Removed

Curt Prendergast, Arizona Daily Star, December 16, 2018

The Pancho Villa statue in downtown Tucson withstood another challenge last week after a dozen Tucsonans spoke in its defense.

The most recent challenge to the statue was framed as a 37-year-old procedural error. Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., said city of Tucson records indicated no public hearing was held to hear complaints about the statue before it was unveiled in 1981 and therefore the statue should be removed.

{snip} The 18 members of the committee unanimously rejected the request, saying it did not meet any of the 10 criteria used to consider removing public art, such as damage or a request from the artist.

The vote came after Tucson residents took turns saying the statue was beautiful and pointing to its role in celebrating local Mexican-American culture.

“We don’t want to forget that history, that history that is grounded in Mexican-ness,” said Lydia Otero, a professor of Mexican-American studies at the University of Arizona.

“Each person that walks up to the statue has to ask questions about why this statue is here, right downtown,” Otero said. “And they have to come up with their own answers. You know why? Because we are Tucson and it is complicated.”


The lone voice in support of Judicial Watch’s request was the man who made it, Mark Spencer, the Phoenix-based coordinator of Judicial Watch’s Southwest Projects.

Spencer said he was approached by three Tucsonans who wanted the statue removed, but needed help voicing their complaint.


In addition to the procedural question, Spencer said the statue “needs to go” because “Pancho Villa did great harm to people.”

Villa was a leader in the Mexican Revolution who was lionized in Mexico as a champion of oppressed peasants.

North of the U.S.-Mexico border, he was best known as a bandit who ordered the 1916 attack on Columbus, New Mexico, located a few miles north of the border, in which at least 17 residents were killed.

Villa’s clearest connection to Southern Arizona was a 1915 battle in Agua Prieta, Sonora, just across the border from Douglas.

In a historical essay handed out to the committee last Wednesday, Otero said no definitive history exists of Villa’s connection to Tucson, but some stores in Tucson sold arms to various factions in the revolution. In 1913, Villa was said to have spent four days in Tucson to buy weapons.


The Arizona Daily Star’s archives show the statue was a gift to Arizona from the Mexican government and a Mexican press group.

It originally was intended for Guadalupe, in Maricopa County, but ended up in Tucson. The statue was the work of Spanish-born sculptor Julian Martinez, who also made the Father Eusebio Francisco Kino statue on South Kino Parkway.


As Judicial Watch noted in its request to remove the statue, the city received more than a dozen public complaints about the statue. One was sent prior to the council’s study session in May 1981 and 12 were sent afterward.

Some of the complaints came from veterans groups saying the city should not celebrate someone who fought against the United States. Private citizens echoed that sentiment or said the statue was in “bad taste” or a “disgrace.” Others said “Tucson is Mexified enough” and, “This place gets so Mexicanified.”


A man who joined his suit, Bernardo Acedo, said the statue was an affront to families who suffered at the hands of Villa at a massacre in the Sonoran town of San Pedro de la Cueva.


In June 1983, Jack B. Frost, a Show Low resident and veteran, protested the statue, according to Star archives. Frost said his father was wounded in the Columbus raid and eventually died from lead poisoning from shrapnel.

“It destroyed our family,” he said. “I have suffered the pain of it all my life.”


In contrast with Confederate statues, the Villa statue was “not put there to scare people” nor was it erected under a racist legal system, Mari Herreras, who works for YWCA Southern Arizona, told the committee last Wednesday.

Spencer said after the meeting the only connection with the Confederate statue issue is how decisions are made about which statues should remain.