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‘Early Days’ and California history

November 9, 2017
Richard Morasci
San Francisco

“Where does the statue controversy end?” (Oct. 26):

There are two issues here as I see it. On the one hand, there is the history of the Spanish missions in California. For anyone who went to a Catholic school in the 1950s, that history was seen through rose-colored glasses. How many of us carved mission churches out of bars of Ivory soap? We were only taught the “positive” side of that history. One could argue that the plaque added in the 1990s addresses that history somewhat.

But the other issue is the depiction of this part of California history. If the figures had been set up in a more neutral way, I doubt it would be the center of attention. However, that is not the case. The Native American man is placed on the ground in a very submissive position. He seems helpless and defeated. The “vaquero” or cowboy is standing up straight with his back to the friar and not looking at either figure. But it is the Franciscan missionary who is most controversial. He is standing over the Native American with his arm raised, finger in the air, making an ambiguous yet aggressive gesture. Is he threatening the man? Is he preaching to the man? It is not clear what the missionary is doing, but it is not a gesture of kindness.

I think that the Franciscan order would want the removal of the statue for depicting them in such a way. We also should ask ourselves the question, “Do we still see the history of the missions in the way it is shown with this tableau?” If not, then the statues should be moved to the Oakland Museum of California so that we can remember how we used to view that period of time in the past.

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