Pictured: The bronze statue of St. Junipero Serra lays in a truck for transport to storage on July 23, 2020. Photo by Ben Leaños.
by Kimberly Rivers
Bare concrete is all that remains at the spot where a statue of St. Junipero Serra has stood since 1936. Crews started work before dawn on Thursday, July 23, to hoist the statue from its long-held perch in front of Ventura City Hall.
The statue will be placed into storage until details regarding its new placement, potentially at the San Buenaventura Mission, can be arranged.
“I feel great, this is definitely a big win, but I’m cognizant that it’s just a symbolic win. The fight is far from over,” said Ben Leaños, one of the organizers of recent protests calling for the statue’s removal. He was in front of city hall Thursday morning as the statue was being removed. “It is a symbol of white supremacy. It’s a great day today, marginalized people are coming to the front, we are no longer being pushed aside.”
A city spokesperson said the statue will be safely secured and stored until it can be placed at the mission. The statue weighed in at just under 2,000 pounds.
The removal comes after over a month of protests, public meetings and written statements with input from hundreds of community members both in support of removing the statue and leaving it in place.
Leaños said that when he arrived at about 4:20 a.m., the statue already had ropes around it. The area was lit with bright flood lights. Poli Street and the streets on either side of the triangle-shaped park area were blocked off to traffic. “There were a ton of workers.”
A group of about 10 people were there watching, some supporting the removal and others wishing it to remain. “They were upset, some were crying,” said Leaños.
The black marble from the statue’s pedestal was also removed, leaving a square, bare concrete base. The city put chain link fencing around the concrete block.
Leaños said the process went “pretty quickly.” The statue was hanging in the air and crews wrapped it with padding and plastic and then laid it on its side on the grass and then lifted it into a truck, still on its side.
In addition, Ventura County has begun the process of removing Serra from the county seal.
Calls for the removal primarily stem from the voices of local Chumash and other indigenous people pointing to the now-known history of how the mission era decimated the culture and people who were here before the Spaniards arrived. While some Spanish missionaries viewed bringing Catholicism to the native people as a positive and caring act, in fact the experiences of those being forced to accept a foreign faith, leave their lands and live in and build the mission was vastly different than the stated intention of the church.
To this day, that history is disputed by many Catholics who declare Serra a “defender of the Chumash.” Several such groups gathered at the statue, demanding that the city leave it in place, or put a measure on the ballot. Some have threatened legal action due to what they view as flaws in the process the city used to determine that the bronze statue was not a historical landmark.