Things That Matter

California Will Replace Statue Of Conquistador Junipero Serra, Here’s Why That’s A Good Idea

In the wake of growing social awareness, much of the conversation in the media and from politicians was centered on “senseless” property destruction. But several of the damaged sites have a perfectly sensible and very visceral connection to the protester’s chief issue: racial justice.

Many statues have been torn down and defaced by activists, including those of Junipero Serra, as they stood as blatant reminders of the country’s history of exploitation, violence, and oppression. But now one of the most prominent statues of Spanish colonialism in California is set to be replaced with one honoring Indigenous people from across the state.

Junipero Serra statue in Sacramento set to be replaced with memorial to Native tribes.

Last summer, following the murder of George Floyd, a growing movement of protests over racial injustice swept the nation. Protesters toppled statues of Junipero Serra – long symbols of colonialism and white supremacy – in Sacramento, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

But on Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that will replace the toppled statue with a memorial honoring California’s Native Americans.

California Assemblyman James Ramos, a Democrat and member of the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe, helped author the bill that Newsom signed. According to the bill, the plan and construction of the monument will be left to the tribes but it could be a while before the monument is built.

The law says that the Joint Rules Committee must sign off on any plan before construction can begin and that committee has imposed an unofficial ban on new memorials until there is a master plan for the entire capitol park.

“Today’s action sends a powerful message from the grounds of Capitol Park across California underscoring the state’s commitment to reckoning with our past and working to advance a California for All built on our values of inclusion and equity,” Newsom said in a news release announcing the signing.

So who exactly was Junipero Serra and why is it good policy to remove his statue permanently?

JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images

Serra was active in the Spanish Inquisition and later led the first team of Spanish missionaries to California in 1769, which contributed to the killing and enslavement of thousands of native people and stripped many more of their cultural identity.

Part of dealing with current issues of systemic racism, many advocates have said, must include confronting the country’s colonial legacy of slavery and genocide. And it begins with symbols.

Symbols of Spanish colonialism can be found throughout California, the largest among them the state’s 21 missions and the many statues dedicated to those who founded them.

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