Near the Corner of 42nd Street, Bryant Park, Manhattan
This statue of Benito Juarez, who is basically the George Washington of Mexico, is on the Sixth Avenue side of Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan, between 41st and 42nd Streets. It’s overshadowed by the surrounding trees and, interestingly, the statue of the Brazilian revolutionary Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva, just a short walk to the south. But no matter how diminutive, the figure is of no small significance. It is, according to the Bryant Park Corporation, the first statue of a Mexican to be placed in New York City. It was dedicated on Oct. 9, 2004, not even three years ago and 132 years after Juarez died.
The statue was a gift of the Mexican state of Oaxaca to the City of New York, which I guess means that without the Oaxacans’ largesse, there would be no statues of Mexicans in New York.
The consul general of Mexico, Arturo Sarukhan; the governor of Oaxaca, José Murat; and the sculptor who made the statue, Moises Cabrera, were at the dedication.
Most of what was said at the ceremony was typical blah, blah, blah, beginning and ending with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. First, he said that thanks to “the hard work of the State of Oaxaca, the Mexican Trade Center, the Mexican Consulate, the Bryant Part Restoration Corporation, and Benito Juarez’s many admirers in New York City, we found him this spot on Avenue of Americas…” Benepe went on to compare Juarez to Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela, in terms of “international reverence.” (Lincoln has three monuments in New York, if you include the relief of him in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza; Mandela has none.)
The statue is set on a marble base, in a sort of alcove that interrupts the iron fence that lines the Sixth Avenue side. The statue faces the west, in an open stance with its left hand on an inscribed rectangular stone, that has the words:
ES LA PAZ
RESPECT FOR THE
RIGHTS OF OTHERS
The base of the statue also has an inscription:
Born of humble origins in Guelatao, Oaxaca, Juarez established the foundations of the Mexican Republic. In 1867, he defeated the French invasion, thus preserving the independence of Mexico.
Gift from the people and government of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, to the City of New York.
The figure of Juarez is one of six statues commemorating historical figures from the Americas along the avenue from SoHo to Central Park.
Juarez was born on March 21, 1806. He is a national hero in Mexico (most cities in Mexico have a statue of him somewhere) and was its first Indian (as in, not Spanish or French or whatever) president. He served five terms in office from 1858 until his death of a heart attack (at his desk, no less) on July 17, 1872. He is credited with, simply put, establishing the foundation for modern-day Mexico.
Updated November 2010