Regarding Vallejo Monument
It is a question frequently asked of me lately, “What do you think about removing the Vallejo statue?”
I deplore the behavior of the police in the killings of George Floyd and so many others, and recognize the historic context of unjustified police actions and responses, and I support the Black Lives Matter movement, because, of course, they do! Black lives matter! But I have also saved some outrage for the historic malevolent treatment of Native American people. I have heard the punditocracy decrying slavery as America’s “original sin”. And it is sinful. But it could be that the genocide of Native Americans was the true American Original Sin, beginning a pattern of devastation which continues to this day.
I believe that those suggesting the removal of the Vallejo Monument are raising objections about his role in subjugating the native populations. But at the California Constitutional Convention in 1849, where he was a delegate helping to write the Constitution, he proposed voting rights for Native Americans, prohibiting slavery in California, and giving women the right to own their own property. These are not the kinds of proposals one would expect from a ruthless exploiter.
If removing the monument would mean the end of systemic, institutionalized racism and all of its deleterious effects, I would fetch my tools and make very quick work of it. Wouldn’t it be nice if such a simple act could swiftly wash away the taint of bigotry and ignorance?
But I don’t see the Vallejo monument as a symbol of oppression. It does not glorify racial inequity or elevate a myth of racial superiority. It’s not about domination, it’s about dialog. I can’t imagine that its removal would bend the moral arc of the universe toward greater justice.
The monuments erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, however, are symbols of oppression and intimidation and were always intended as such. Public Art has power and in the case of the Confederate monuments that power has been abused. Removing them as aspirational symbols for baby bigots is at least a small gesture toward creating a more just future.
I think we still need public art, even monuments. We need to encourage our better selves, to aspire, to imagine a different, better world and then take action.
Read the article on the General Vallejo Monument in Valley of the Moon Magazine
View a segment of PBS video about General Vallejo
Visit the website of Jim Callahan, the Sonoma bronze sculptor who is creating the General Vallejo Monument