During the weekend, two statues of Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish priest who established several missions in California in the 1770’s and helped lead to the settlement of the state, were removed by protesters in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
2 statues removed, one more in works
The removals, which were influenced by the George Floyd protests, were carried out by Native American activists. Protesters contend that Father Serra had enslaved, beaten,incarcerated, and tried to remove the culture and beliefs of natives in the 1700′s, as well as convert them to Christianity. While the Catholic Church and others contend that Serra had treated Natives fairly and had protected them, the statues were nonetheless removed. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles officials have yet to charge anyone in the acts of destruction.
“These people enforced racist policies and enslaved others,” said San Francisco protester Paul Garland, who saw the statues of Serra, former President Ulysses S. Grant, and Francis Scott Key be torn down. “We are not erasing history, we’re just removing these honors they have. Of them not being remembered for what they had done.”
A statue of Father Serra outside the Ventura City Hall was also announced to be moved soon by the city due to fears that protesters would also destroy that statue.
Other statues of Father Serra had previously been destroyed and vandalized, including a statue in Monterey being decapitated following Serra’s canonization by the Catholic Church in 2015 and a statue of Serra in Santa Barbara being covered in red paint in 2017. The removals also follow the removals of monuments and statues of John Sutter and Christopher Columbus last week in Sacramento, as well as statues and monuments for Confederate leaders and other controversial figures since late May.
Confederate, Columbus, other statues have varying degrees of removability
“We’ve reached a strange point here,” noted historian Diana Greene, who has consulted about monument removal in Nevada, Texas, and Utah. “Confederate statues and memorials have been going away for some time, and many have found it hard to defend. They suffer from a double threat of being pro-slavery and supporting people who committed treason, some actively killing Americans. It’s getting amazingly hard to defend, and even old arguments of ‘erasing history’ aren’t holding up anymore. It also helps that cities and states, even NASCAR, have mostly been voluntarily doing this.”
“Christopher Columbus removals aren’t also new, as there have been calls for removals for decades. It just got a jump with the protests. They are still being defended as it’s a source of Italian-American pride and honoring someone who brought in Europeans to the continent. They’re still going down, but unlike Confederate monuments, there are still arguments to be made.”
“For Serra and other conquistadors it gets harder to argue for, especially with Serra. He’s a saint in the Catholic church. He did undeniable wrongs, but he also spurred the growth of California, helped settle much of the state, and really kicked off the growth of California. That’s why his statue is not in talks to be removed from Congress in D.C., and that’s why things like the San Diego Padres name isn’t being changed. Unlike the Confederacy, it’s much more nuanced.”
Historian Diana Greene continued: “The same goes for other statues that fell, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson up in Portland. Yes, they owned slaves, but they had so many other accomplishments such as starting the country, winning the Revolution, and forming a represented democracy. That doesn’t mean we should let them off for that, but their accomplishments were so undeniably good and beneficial that it’s an impossible case to make to ask for removal legally.”
“The bottom line is that none of these people or groups are purely good or purely bad. It’s different shades of grey. Some, like the Confederate monuments, are very hard to defend as we progress. But others, like Father Serra, need to be analyzed more and be given thought to.”
“We also can’t just destroy public or private property like that – there are more legal means to remove things honoring a person.”
As of Monday, while there have been calls to remove more statues in California of Father Serra, none have been acted on so far.
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