Mayor Heidi Harmon owes an apology to the parishioners of Mission of SLO. Her ill informed remark quoted by New Times that she was delighted to see Father Junipero Serra's statue removed from "our open space" displays her ignorance of Junipero's history, and the fact that the "open space" is sacred ground owned by the Monterey Diocese ("Church removes Serra statue from Mission Plaza—for its protection," June 25). Your readership deserves to know that Serra was an advocate for the indigenous people, dedicating himself to their rights. He traveled by foot 2,000 miles from Carmel to Mexico City and back to ask the Spanish monarchy to issue formal protection for them. He tried to protect the women from rape by Spanish soldiers. He taught the Indians agriculture and offered them the faith without any undue pressure.
Anger against injustice can be healthy and cleansing only if it is based on truth. Father Serra's record strikingly contrasts with the attitude of the first governor of the state of California, Peter Hardeman Burnett, who envisioned the extermination of Indians, 67 years after Serra had died. (He also promoted exclusion laws against blacks in Oregon and California.)
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa represents 1,800 families and a vibrant Hispanic congregation. Its pastor and priests are fluent in Spanish, and its museum gives witness to the indigenous people who helped to build it. Its gift shop supports the sale of indigenous people's products to this day. The mission has a centuries-old tradition of helping the needy locally and regionally, and participates in the overnight shelter program for the homeless, the rehabilitation of prisoners and family visitations to prisons, and participates in the interfaith program between the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities, all in the spirit of Junipero Serra.
Has Mayor Harmon visited the parish and its museum? Has she read the early history of the mission and Father Serra, who is not only an important founder of nine of the California missions, but an important figure in the early history of our country. Mayor Harmon has often spoken of the importance of words, and she would be well-advised to choose them more prudently. She congratulated the mission upon removing the statue, which was to her a "painful reminder." Presumably she sees Father Junipero as a representative of brutality against indigenous people—the exact opposite of what he really was. Indeed words are important. They should always be checked as to whether they agree with the facts.
Genevieve Mary Czech
San Luis Obispo