After Ventura moved to remove Junipero Serra statues, changes may be on the horizon locally
With Confederate statues and monuments being removed or taken down across the country, it appears that some changes could soon occur on a local level.
Just one day after the Ventura City Council voted 6-0 to remove a pair of statues of Father Junipero Serra in front of and inside City Hall, a similar petition has been circulating calling for the removal of the Father Serra statue from the Santa Ines Mission in Solvang.
Started by county resident Maurissa Vigil, the petition to Solvang Mayor Ryan Toussaint calls for the removal of the statue of “a man who spent the majority of his life kidnapping, enslaving and stripping away the culture of indigenous peoples,” the petition reads.
“Throughout his life he spread pain, misery and disease to the point where it has been discovered that more indigenous people died under him than were born,” it continues. “We as a community need to say we acknowledge this little known history and not pay homage to this man causing further confusion and pain. We want the statue removed as keeping it standing shows reverence and respect for someone who murdered and enslaved so many.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had garnered 603 signatures. Many who signed the petition were in agreement of the removal of the statue found just outside the 19th of 21 missions located throughout the state.
“I believe the time is now to get rid of that wrongful statue, as it is a sign of pain and misery for so many people,” one person wrote.
Another person called for “more diverse and inclusive role models” in the local community, while another person called the petition “unacceptable,” and said that Father Serra helped build California.
Father Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis in September 2015, established nine of the 21 missions in the state.
He is revered by Catholics for his missionary work and is known for introducing agriculture and irrigation systems. But many American Indians say he enslaved converts and played a role in wiping out indigenous populations.
During Wednesday’s meeting in Ventura, City Councilmember Sofia Rubalcava said that permanently removing the statue from city property to Mission San Buenaventura showed that the city was “stepping in solidarity” with the local Chumash community.
“When one group of people or when one person is suffering and has suffered a trauma, we all need to step up and we all need to do something to heal that,” said Ms. Rubalcava, according to a recent report in the Ventura County Star.
The council also voted to remove a wooden statue of Father Serra from inside City Hall and put it in storage until it’s decided where it will be moved.
When reached for comment on the local petition earlier this week, a spokesperson for Mr. Toussaint said the Solvang mayor “does not have a response” on this topic. The spokesperson did acknowledge that the city was aware of the petition.
The News-Press reached out to the Santa Ines Mission, which directed any comments on the matter to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The archdiocese did not return a request for comment.
In a letter published June 29 by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the archbishop wrote that he understood the pain expressed by native peoples, though he said Father Serra was “a saint for our times.”
“What we remember about our past and how we remember it defines our national identity — the kind of people we want to be, the values and principles we want to live by,” he wrote. “But history is complicated. The facts matter, distinctions need to be made, and the truth counts. We cannot learn history’s lessons or heal old wounds unless we understand what really happened, how it happened, and why.”
The Father Serra statue that sat out front of the Santa Barbara Mission was also controversial in recent years. In September 2017, the statue was beheaded and covered in red paint.
The statue is no longer there.
Several other changes could be on the horizon, specifically within Santa Barbara. In recent days, there has been a call to remove a pair of plaques that sit outside the Santa Barbara County Courthouse that honor “the first white men” and “first white women” who marched through the state before arriving in Santa Barbara in the 1700s.
The plaques, which are on a rock that sits near the corner of Anacapa and Figueroa streets, were dedicated in 1927 and 1938, respectively.
“The wording is not appropriate for today, and I think they should be removed,” Gregg Hart, chairman of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, told the News-Press.
Mr. Hart explained that county counsel was researching “the best path” to accomplish removing the plaques, which could occur as soon as today.
Though the courthouse and grounds are within county jurisdiction, Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo told the News-Press that she would support the county government removing the monuments.
“These plaques were dedicated almost 100 years ago, reflecting values that our community is questioning and rejecting today,” Ms. Murillo said in an email. “These words commemorate a narrow and incomplete view of history that disrespects the people who were and are indigenous to this area.”
In addition, there have been calls to rename at least two city streets.
Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez, who represents the city’s Westside, recently shared a post on Nextdoor about a movement to rename San Andres Street, the main thoroughfare of the Westside, to Calle Dolores Huerta.
The sign states that San Andres is named after Andre Pico, who fought during the Mexican-American War, and “was neither a saint nor a resident of Santa Barbara.”
Dolores Huerta is an American labor and civil rights activist who worked alongside Cesar Chavez. She is a co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers.
Earlier this year, Ms. Huerta, 89, was in Santa Barbara and received the Fielding Graduate University’s Marie Fielder Medal for Social Transformation.
The award honors an individual who has made significant contributions to society in social advocacy and activism, research, leadership, education and public service. She was the first Latina inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and is the originator of the popular protest cry, “Si, se puede.”
Also, the Barbareno Chumash Tribal Council filed an application with the city to change the name of Indio Muerto Street, which translates to “Dead Indian.” The group has requested the city change the street name to Hutash Street, which translates to “Mother Earth.”