Plans were further finalized on Friday to rename a part of a Los Angeles Park honoring Father Junipero Serra to another name friendlier to Native Americans.
While there had been some measures to replace the statue of Father Serra in the park or remove the informal name of Father Serra Park from La Plaza Park in the past, the movement had failed to generate enough steam until last year. The 2020 George Floyd protests brought a renewed push toward removing monuments of historical figures who had killed or enslaved others in the past, with figures such as Confederate historical figures, Christopher Columbus, and Father Serra amongst them. Across California last year, statues of Father Serra were vandalized, toppled, or both due to Serra enslaving, arresting, and trying to remove the cultural beliefs of Natives while he set up missions across the California coast in the 1700’s. The statue in Los Angeles’ Father Serra Park was no exception, being toppled that June.
The fight for the statue and park name then ensued for the next 16 months. Meanwhile, across California, statues of Serra were being permanently removed, including a prominent one on the grounds of the Capitol Building in Sacramento last month by state law. These actions only bolstered LA’s case in La Plaza Park, announcing on Monday that not only would Serra’s name be removed from part of the park and be temporarily be renamed back to La Plaza Park, but an Indigenous Cultural Easement would be placed there, allowing local indigenous communities to perform tribal and traditional ceremonies there.
“Los Angeles is a city of belonging that takes responsibility for the mistakes we’ve made in the past,” said LA Mayor Eric Garcetti during a press conference at the park on Monday. “Our indigenous brothers and sisters deserve justice and today we take a step toward delivering both greater cultural sensitivity and spaces for Angelenos to gather and perform their traditional ceremonies.”
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who is also a Native American and a Wyandotte Nation tribe member, added that “All land is Indigenous. With the Indigenous Land Initiative, for the first time ever, we are putting Native American communities at the center of decision-making on issues related to our history and our future.”
The name changes away from Father Serra
On Friday, city officials confirmed the upcoming changes, finalizing one of the more visible Serra-related changes in the state as a result of the protests last year.
“You hate to see vandalization and destruction of public property rewarded like this,” noted Catherine Sandoval, a monument name and name change researcher who helps advise local groups on courses of action to take when faced with possible changes, to the Globe on Friday. “But it also came from a place of anger and frustration over seeing someone who did many unspeakable things to their people be put in a place of honor. One Native American told me during a meeting on replacing a statue of Serra elsewhere in California said that it was the same thing as wanting a statue of Michael Jackson gone from the children’s wing of a hospital or one of Oliver Cromwell gone from the center of an Irish community. The feeling and sentiment is that strong.”
“Los Angeles actually took a more low-key route, only changing part of the park name. La Plaza Park will have something in honor of Native Americans. And that includes poetic justice in a way because they now get to perform tribal ceremonies unhindered in front of the Serra part of the park, named for the man who tried to do away with their culture.”
“History isn’t being removed either. Serra still has other monuments up in California and Los Angeles. Just a lost part of it is coming back.”
The new name for the Native section of La Plaza Park is expected to be announced in the near future.
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