Opinion » Letters

We must do better


I read with interest the letter "An apology is in order" (July 16) regarding the removal of the statue of Junipero Serra from the SLO Mission. The author presents Serra as a defender of California's indigenous people and calls into question the foundation for SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon's comment that it was a relief to see the monument no longer in our open space.

It doesn't take much more than a Google search to find the violent history of the Spanish conquest of Alta California and Serra's contribution to it. Serra directly led the founding of the first nine missions, which served the political, economic, and religious goals of his monarch. Indigenous people were coerced to convert and then barred from returning to their families. Entire communities were decimated by the disease and abuse they brought.

Violet Sage Walker, vice chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, has been asking for the statue's removal for more than three decades, and is in complete agreement with the permanent removal of the statue. "There are no memorials to our people. There are no markers to the hundreds of our people who died building the mission and are buried in and around the grounds. We only find them when someone wants to bulldoze the area to put in a road."

I was raised up to romanticize the padres and the missions. I studied and taught about them in school. The thing is, I now know that what I learned was a story—a way to justify the subjugation of a vibrant civilization. The discomfort I feel facing the truth cannot begin to approach the pain and disrespect Indigenous Californians feel walking past a memorial to a person who was responsible for the devastation of their culture. The removal of this statue is long overdue.

In the words of Maya Angelou, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." We know better now. It's time we do better.

Rosemary Wrenn

San Luis Obispo

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