An artist’s rendering of the proposed mining memorial, created by New Mexico sculptor Sonny Rivera.
Courtesy photos

A memorial to honor mine workers is one step closer to creation after the New Mexico legislature allocated $350,000 to build the sculpture in Socorro on the New Mexico Tech campus. If the funding is approved by the governor, another $70,000 will still need to be raised through donations.

“It’s important for the America miner,” said Michael Pino, an organizer behind the project. “It’s the only national memorial in the United States. There are other memorials, but it’s usually dedicated to tragedies.”

The American Mine Worker Memorial is a project that Pino has been working on for six years. Twice before he’s been close to securing funding from the legislature, with the help of Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, who has sponsored the memorial all three times.

Former miners, retired miners brought the idea to us and they made a compelling case,” said Ortiz y Pino.

He points out that mining for resources like gold, uranium and copper has played a big role in New Mexico’s history.

It really impressed me that they wanted to have a memorial for the men, many of whom spent their lives in that field, and for their families who supported them in that field,” said Ortiz y Pino.

The first time, $420,000 was allocated four years ago. But that funding couldn’t be correctly funneled through New Mexico Tech and went back to the state’s general fund, said Michael Pino. The second time was just last year, when the legislature allocated $150,000 to build the memorial. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed the item, and funding for the memorial again slipped away.

Pino took the veto well, especially for someone so passionate about a project.

“If she vetoed it last year, it was probably for a darn good reason. I have nothing but respect for the governor and her staff.”

Still, he wasn’t ready to give up on the dream of honoring American miners with a memorial that he believes could boost local tourism and encourage visitors to historic mines in the area, including places like Magdalena, Silver City and Carlsbad. The memorial would be located on the New Mexico Tech campus near the Mineral Museum, adding to a spot that is already a draw for those interested in mining history and geology.

“We decided to go back and try one more time because of the importance of the sculpture itself, and we were able to get $350,000, but we are waiting for approval from the governor.”

The Miners

The memorial would honor miners from different backgrounds and commemorate the contributions the American mine worker has made to society.

The sculpture would be formed from museum-quality bronze and include eight figures to represent the progress of mining history. The figures, a mule and seven people, would be based on real miners.

Alan Noris, a local mining engineer and manager, would be one of the miners represented.

“Alan died from COVID a year and a half ago,” said Pino. “Alan was alongside me when we first started this, and I promised him that I would put him on that sculpture, and I’m not going to go back on my word. He has three children also that are following the project.”

Benny Zamora from Magdalena will serve as inspiration for a figure in the memorial.

Another figure would be based on New Mexico mine owner Benny Zamora from Magdalena, who has also been a supporter of the project from the beginning, and unfortunately also passed away last year.

“We have one woman on there with a child, representing the women who fought for their husbands in mining, and so she’s going to represent those women.

West Virginia miner Gregory “Action Jackson, who was an active Mine Workers of America Union member in Logan County, West Virginia, will be used as a model to represent the Black miners of West Virginia. Pino said a striking photo of Jackson that was taken some years ago had been found to base the figure on, but first the miner in the image needed to be identified.

When he was finally located, Jackson was excited to be part of the project.

“We let him know about what was going on, and he said that he was over the moon over it,” Pino said.

Silver City miner Fidel Hinojosa will also be represented.

Kelly miner Richard Michael McAlexander will represent miners with a Scottish and Irish background. McAlexander was a federal mine inspector and Pino’s uncle. Pino’s grandfather was also a miner at the Kelly Mine.

Pino still needs to find a Native American miner who can be used as a model for the memorial to represent Native American miners.

A piece of smithsonite would be embedded into the sculpture. Magdalena is well-known for the smithsonite mined there. The memorial would be lit 24/7 with green energy.

If the funding is secured, New Mexico’s Office of Cultural Affairs will oversee a bidding process to pick the artist who will create the memorial.

A renowned New Mexico bronze sculptor is already interested in the project and has created the artist’s rendering used to promote the memorial: Reynaldo Sonny Rivera. The Albuquerque sculptor’s work has been featured in museums and galleries and can be found in public spaces. He’s created statues that commemorate school desegregation and Rudolfo Anaya’s “Bless Me Ultima,” and sculptures of Juan de Onate that sparked controversies in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

If the memorial can move forward, Rivera will have to bid for the project just like any other interested New Mexico artist, but Pino is hopeful that Rivera will be chosen.

“It’s all coming together, and I believe it should make a difference for the Socorro economy and for the entire county of Socorro.”

That is if the funding isn’t vetoed once again.

“Six or seven of us set aside some of our allocation for this project and it would be a shame for the governor to veto it again,” said Ortiz y Pino. “I just hope that it goes through this time.”

“It would be advantageous for everyone who wants the sculpture to call the governor’s office and tell her that they support it,” said Pino.