Opinion: Why not Vin Scully or Huell Howser? Readers on replacing Junípero Serra statue
Think of two people who best represent, say, Wyoming. No one comes to my mind immediately, but I can imagine it's much easier for states with fewer than 800,000 residents to come up with two examples of the quintessential Alaskan or Vermonter than for 40 million-strong California to settle on a pair historical figures to represent them in the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall.
This might be among the reasons it's so hard to settle on a replacement for Father Junípero Serra, whose statue has remained in the U.S. Capitol since the 1930s despite the fact that, as The Times Editorial Board put it, "his image is a painful reminder to many Native Americans of Spanish colonization and conversion." Serra's statue needs to go (although some of our readers disagree with that), but whose likeness should represent a state of high alpine mountain ranges and barren deserts, of anti-tax revolts and progressive policy experimentation — in other words, a state of extremes and everything in between — is a more complicated matter.
Since the debate over replacing Serra's statue gained steam in the last few years, one of the more popular suggestions from letter writers has been to simply return Thomas Starr King, who was removed from the Capitol in 2009 to make way for Ronald Reagan. Now, readers are offering more suggestions, and in many ways they're just like California — all over the map.
To the editor: You never hint that the statue of Ronald Reagan should be replaced. This is in spite of the fact that Reagan was largely responsible for the toxic distrust of government that infects our current body politic.
Of the suggested replacements, virtually all had serious blemishes of their own. For example, as governor, Earl Warren was a forceful advocate of Japanese internment during World War II, and John Muir made racist remarks about African Americans and Native Americans. I don't know enough about "Biddy" Mason, Sally Ride or Jerry Garcia, but honoring a Grateful Dead member seems odd.
Especially promising was The Times' suggestion that our state take advantage of federal law to replace its official heroes every decade. If nothing else, it would generate widespread interest in our history.
Personally, I can think of lots of additional worthy candidates, including Govs. Pat Brown, Jerry Brown and Hiram Johnson — all somewhat flawed but highly influential historical figures. There's also longtime state Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, Steven Spielberg, Vin Scully and maybe even Chick Hearn. Doubtless there are others.
What also might be appropriate is for Congress to establish a separate showcase for demoted heroes, perhaps at the Smithsonian. If Serra is indeed replaced — with his statue removed to a suitable site — it might be appropriate to point out he was the overwhelming first choice back around 1930 to be one of California's two heroes.
If such a repository is made available, it would be more than appropriate to include explanations for both their original selection and subsequent removal. I've been to the National Statuary Hall more than once, and it's indeed impressive, but the statues are devoid of explanatory material.
John Pohlmann, Seal Beach
To the editor: Concerning the statue question, I propose Juan Bandini, a political figure of pre-Yankee California, who (as did his father) strove for many years to protect the interests of the territory's Native Americans.
For instance, he wrote in 1834, when the lands of the secularized missions — property of the Indians — were being snapped up by private citizens, "The indigenous people are waiting for the assets they're due — which have already ended up in the hands of private individuals."
He resolutely pushed for infrastructure improvements to optimize the state's commercial and social potential, and he finally backed the change of sovereignty when he saw that the irresolvable internal squabbling among Californios would bring California nothing but ruin.
The immigrant Mexican "colony" he backed in the 1830s, while failing as an entity, nevertheless brought progress and modernity to a very backward and out-of-date California.
Brent C. Dickerson, Los Alamitos
To the editor: The likeness of a great Californian was removed from Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol in 2009 and replaced by Reagan's. It should be returned to Washington, and the introduction on his Wikipedia entry shows why:
"Thomas Starr King was an American Universalist and Unitarian minister, influential in California politics during the American Civil War. Starr King spoke zealously in favor of the Union and was credited by Abraham Lincoln with preventing California from becoming a separate republic. He is sometimes referred to as ‘the orator who saved the nation.'"
King did more for this state than anyone before or since. It's because of him that we have this great state as a part of the Union.
It was a great dishonor to remove the statue of him. I submit that this error should be corrected. Let King replace Serra.
Sharon Meade Rasey, Camarillo
To the editor: I don't think Serra's statue should be removed. Like him or not, he is a great figure in our state's history.
My vote goes to Cesar Chavez to replace Reagan.
In a blue state like California, Reagan's ideas are anathema to the the rich white liberal elites who rule our state and consider him a quasi-fascist. Chavez, on the other hand, represents the new ethnic plurality of the state in a most positive way.
Unlike the white liberal elites who rule our state and talk like plebeians but live like patricians, Chavez lived in his small family home until the day he died. I've always admired his lack of hypocrisy and his love for the farm workers he helped.
As much as I like President Reagan, it is time to recognize that California is a majority-minority state, and Chavez is the man who best represents us today.
Mark Walker, Yorba Linda
To the editor: I think Serra's statue should be replaced by our very own beloved Huell Howser. No one was a bigger promoter of our beautiful state.
Sandi Bell, West Hills
To the editor: I find all this hoopla regarding replacing Serra's statue in Washington to be quite ridiculous.
Serra and others did good and made mistakes. You need to look at the culture of the time. As mentioned, "Greatness doesn't have to mean perfection."
Better the statues stand in educating the rights and wrongs of history. Better we learn from the past and live in the present. Better we use our efforts, time, intelligence, money and energy on issues we can all benefit from today.
Linda Howe, Irvine
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.