Targeting Saint Serra: Is SLO's statue safe?

Checking in with Mission San Luis Obispo

Targeting Saint Serra Is SLOs statue...

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - The controversy over statues honoring Saint Junipero Serra is heating up.

On Monday, one statue at the Old Mission Santa Barbara was decapitated and splattered with red paint.

Another statue depicting the controversial figure is located in downtown Ventura, with a petition circulating to have the statue removed. 

Another resides at the mission in San Luis Obispo.

Officials from the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa say there are no special precautions being taken to protect the statue.

A docent for the mission says Saint Junipero Serra only spent one day in San Luis Obispo, but now there's a full time statue of him in Mission Plaza. 

The archdiocese of Monterey says despite the events in Santa Barbara, they haven't been given reason to worry about the statue's security.

The California school curriculum requires learning about missions like the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Now some educators argue sites like these should paint a better picture of what really happened to the Native Americans who lived here.

Brenda Helmbrecht is a professor at Cal Poly.

"At the time, I think he saw himself as a kind of liberator but now as time has moved and we're looking at things from today's context," Helmbrecht said. "He's often regarded more as an oppressor, someone who oppressed the native people who lived here and kind of asked them to adopt his religious thinkings and philosophies."

This treatment towards the Chumash Tribe may be the reason for the anger that lead to Saint Junipero Serra's statue's vandalism in Santa Barbara.

But docent Jay Salomon believes Saint Serra was a good person. He says he does try to provide both sides of the issue while leading tours.

"He was a positive influence on the growth of this area and the indigenous people did respect the fathers," Salomon said.

The archdiocese of Monterey says they aren't yet concerned about the statue outside of the Mission in San Luis Obispo. The only threats they've had towards statues depicting Serra were back in 2015 when Serra was canonized and those incidents were in Carmel and Santa Cruz.

"Part of the context that I think we have to consider is, by making Serra a saint, what does that say to the communities that struggle with the history of these sites?" Helmbrecht said.

Cal Poly sociology professor Robert Schaeffer says defacing statues hits on three different aspects in a social movement.

"Social movements emerge in part because there's an invitation to do. So people [feel] licensed when there's an opportunity to act in the political and media climate and a lot of people do so when they can do so under the cover of anonymity," Schaeffe said.

Both Helmbrecht and Schaeffer say any type of vandalism towards this statue would be sad for the community. 

The mission in San Luis Obispo does have security cameras rolling at all times to prevent an anonymous act, but similar precautions didn't stop the vandalism in in Santa Barbara. 

Police are still looking for those vandals. 

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