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October 15, 2021

Guest View: A stimulating discussion

You may hear there was a lot of conflict at the Sept. 20 City Council meeting, but I suggest a different perspective.

The focus was on a time capsule, part of the Covid-postponed celebration of Gilroy’s 150th anniversary as an incorporated city. The committee that created plans for the celebration is an all-volunteer group that operated without any compensation. Though endorsed by the Council, its work was ad hoc (created for a specific purpose). A volunteer built the time capsule and Carol Peters was asked to paint it, also as a volunteer.

Carol is a retired art teacher who has donated time and talent to many projects in the community, including the design of the official 150th Anniversary logo. She attended the Sept. 13 Council meeting when the time capsule was presented, and that’s when controversy crept in. Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz thanked the committee for its work, but said she was concerned the faces on the capsule (John Gilroy, Don Christopher, Val Filice and Casey Tibbs—whose horse and figure decorated Hall’s Clothing for decades) showed a “lack of diversity.”

If you check the online video of that meeting, as I did, you will see Ms. Armendariz’s remark was politely delivered in a calm tone—as an activist and an advocate for Mexican-Americans, it is perfectly understandable and appropriate for her to point out the lack of brown faces. Carol Peters herself acknowledges the remark was not delivered in anger, but as there were no follow-up questions or comments to balance the call for diversity with questions about why these faces were chosen or statements to praise the artist, Carol said the overall effect was like a punch in the gut.

Several of Carol’s friends, hearing how sad she was during the following week, came to the Sept. 20 meeting to voice their support for the artist. Simultaneously, many people came to voice their concern about a lack of diversity in the painting. Twenty-four people delivered comments. Several speakers praised the artist and explained there were no guidelines for the painting, that Carol had considered portraits of a full spectrum of people but decided too many portraits would make the capsule look like a yearbook, so she focused on the Garlic Festival as what brought Gilroyans together, and that the committee approved sketches she submitted before she picked up a brush. 

Many comments were heard from advocates for Native Americans, Mexican-Americans, Blacks and Asians. Their speeches were heartfelt and eloquent, there were young people and seniors who came to the microphone. As time went on, the mayor announced time limits on public remarks, but a chorus protested that Whites weren’t limited, and one speaker waved off her statements that he was over his allotted time, continuing till he was satisfied.

But, lest you think there was an atmosphere of hostility, many who spoke about the issue of diversity said nice things about and to Carol, and no one spoke against the need for diversity—Ron Kirkish even pointed out there are three Hispanics on the Council.    

My impulse, as a former high school Social Studies teacher, is to celebrate the meeting as a sign our society is facing up to a history of white privilege.

I was mentored by the wonderful Bob Caredio of Live Oak High to avoid “pouring information into their head,” but rather to engage students in discussing a wide range of views—I found nothing was as exciting and effective in stimulating thought as a lively discussion where students had strong views yet strove to find the meaning in the views of others. I rejoice in the fact Gilroyans were freely expressing viewpoints in a public forum. I don’t doubt the Council will share expectations for diversity in future projects, we are all learning valuable lessons about contributing to democracy.

To see video of the Sept. 20 meeting, visit Under “Downloads,” click on “Video” and when it opens, click on the arrow to start viewing. You can click on the ball on the timeline and drag it to the 22-minute mark where the discussion begins.

Phill Laursen is a resident of Gilroy.

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