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Photo: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File
Photo: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

The statue debate: Is removing monuments enough?

As the call to take down controversial statues spreads across the nation, lawmakers grapple with the role education plays.

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Controversial statues and monuments have been coming down across the country as leaders rethink their significance.

In California, a statue of Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella will be removed from the State Capitol, officials announced on June 16. It depicts Columbus asking Queen Isabella to finance his 1492 voyage to the Americas, which proved to be a catastrophic mission for millions of Indigenous Americans.

In a statement, the California state legislature said the historical figures are out of touch with current views.

“Christopher Columbus is a deeply polarizing historical figure given the deadly impact his arrival in this hemisphere had on indigenous populations. The continued presence of this statue in California’s Capitol, where it has been since 1883, is completely out of place today. It will be removed,” the statement reads.

The announcement comes at a time of national debate over such symbols, including statues, school names, landmarks named after the confederacy, and racist politicians.

After years of having these symbols look down on the oppressed,  many declare this is the time for such action.

“It’s important that children today learn the difference between real heroes and fake ones,” tweeted Latina Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-CA).  

However, it can be argued that simply removing a statue is a superficial action, especially by the way states have tackled similar issues in recent years.

In California, Columbus Day hasn’t been observed as a state worker holiday since 2009, but it remains listed as a state holiday.

On the other hand, in 2019 when California Governor Gavin Newsom declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day, he did not make it a state holiday.

Another argument states such action only serves to “erase” history.

But a more striking argument coming from California’s first and only Native American lawmaker is that simply removing these landmarks is not enough. For Assemblymember James Ramos (D-San Bernardino), the issue runs much deeper than statues.

He believes that while the removal of these troubling historical figures are troubling, there is a “more destructive symbol of oppression” nearby.

In the Capitol garden, a statue of Junípero Serra represents the thousands of Native Californians who died resisting colonialism and imperialism during the Spanish occupation era.

“Junípero Serra and the missionary system came in and really annihilated California Indian tribes and there is a lot more history tied to that and the correct history that needs to be taught,” Ramos told CBS13.

Picking and choosing which oppressive symbols to take down, while not knowing the full extent of oppression and the historical figures involved, signals the larger issue of education and visibility.

Some California lawmakers are pushing education to be the way forward.

Today, June 18, a bill which would make ethnic studies a requirement in California State Universities passed the State Senate.

“Students of color need to know that their heritage has worth and… Black, Latina, API & indigenous women need to be visible in this history,” tweeted State Senator Lena A. Gonzalez.

“We can’t wait any longer,” she continued.

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