(Editor’s note: A petition has been presented to the Pacifica City Council to remove the statue honoring Don Gaspar de Portola for his “discovery” of San Francisco Bay. The petition has more than 2,500 signatures. You can find the petition at https://www.change.org/removepacificastatue Below is a Q&A interview with two of the organizers of the petition.)
Compiled by Sherman R. Frederick
Tribune: Please give our readers some background on yourselves.
Danielle Redlin Gustavson: First of all, I’d like to thank you for interviewing me and my colleague, Jonathan Cordero, on this important issue.
I am a Pacifica mother and wife, art educator, and also a bi-racial Native American woman.
Jonathan is the founder and chairperson of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone and is a Professor of Sociology at California Lutheran University. He is also a historian and one of the living descendants of Pacifica’s only original inhabitants, the Aramai.
Tribune: What is the goal?
Gustavson: In light of the hate crime inflicted upon George Floyd, it is our intention to address racial inequality through statuary in our own community, and in doing so, try to transform it. We cannot move forward and heal wounds of the past and present, if we as a community continue to choose to ignore and glorify a past built upon the oppression of marginalized peoples.
Tribune: What statues concern you?
Cordero: The Junipero Serra statue on I 280 and the Gaspar de Portola statue in Pacifica.
Gustavson: Statues that offend marginalized peoples are a concern, if that community also claims to believe, “All men are created equal.”
Tribune: Why Portola?
Cordero: Portola was a colonizer of Native peoples. The Portola Expedition began the process of Spanish colonization in California.
Pacifica honors Portola for “discovering” the San Francisco Bay, but why was that act worthy of honoring? For many the “discovery” was important for the later development of Spanish, Mexican, and finally American California; however, Native peoples had to be removed from their ancestral homelands to the missions in order for that development to occur, and the mission system destroyed Native peoples and cultures. As you can see, discovery is not the innocent act of seeing something for the first time. In the Spanish colonial context discovery was part of the process of the presumed right of Christian Europeans to take possession of lands from so-called pagan and savage peoples.
Gustavson: Portola was in Pacifica for a total of 4 days, while the Aramai inhabited Pacifica for over 3,000 years. Why aren’t they honored in the way Portola is in Pacifica?
Tribune: What would you like to see done with the statue?
Cordero: We would like to see the statues removed from contexts that convey honor and placed in a neutral context. In other words, a context that retains Portola as a historical figure but not as an honored figure. We hope that Pacifica would not want to define itself in part by the honoring of a colonizer.
Gustavson: Whether the City of Pacifica realizes it or not, the statue of Portola, as it stands now, is a political stance. I would like to see the statue of Portola taken down from its pedestal and moved to the Sanchez Adobe or the Pacifica Coastside Museum. The plaque also needs to be updated with unbiased facts. Contemporary historians now refer to Portola’s Expedition as ‘the first European sighting of the San Francisco Bay.’ To say Portola ‘discovered’ the San Francisco Bay, as the plaque states now, is to purposely ignore the fact that Native people had been living on this land for thousands of years. You cannot ‘discover’ a place that has already been inhabited for centuries, but you most definitely can visit or invade it. Shortly after Portola’s Expedition, Native Californians were forced into mission encampments where they were enslaved and also baptized against their will. These missions were built on Portola’s trail. Thousands of Natives died at these missions due to the poor conditions they were forced to live and work in. These are irrefutable facts and they should also go on Portola’s plaque. They give an appropriate historical context of understanding what his expedition certainly led to.
Tribune: What do you say about some statues being torn down?
Gustavson: I think a better question to ask is who put these statues up in the first place and why? Was it a community decision? Or was it a decision of a select few? And was that decision made with a racial bias?
People across the country are saying, “Enough is enough.” These people who are trying to remove statues from their communities are, for the most part, young people and people of color. They are tired of their voices not being heard or valued equally. These statues honoring colonizers and Confederate soldiers are not only a reminder of racial bias, they are a celebration of it. There is a lot of unconscious bias, and there is still a lot of racial, racist tolerances that one generation has passed on to the next. We are saying that stops here and now. We are your neighbors and we are experiencing racism. In just sharing this petition and using democracy in peaceful ways, I have received harassment from fellow Pacificans. I know many have passed the statue thousands of times and are unaware of who Portola really was and the damage he and other colonizers had on Native peoples in California. Taking a statue down that deeply offends Native people from a pedestal is an easy and simple gesture that can bring more positivity and empathy into our community. I hope we rise to the occasion and do what’s right. What’s popular and what’s right are almost always two wildly different things when it comes to civil and human rights.
Tribune: Thank you for sitting down with us. We appreciate it. We will keep readers informed on the disposition of the effort.