When we think of monuments unfit for our current era, we draw our minds to the Confederate statues. While controversial conversations surrounding these statues are not exclusive to the East Coast, California has been largely kept out of the picture. Yet, we have a history of our own, just as painful as that of Southern slavery, that must be grappled with.
For those uninformed, the Indigenous people of California endured three separate periods of violent and destructive colonization. The most deadly was the Spanish period when Spanish missionaries and soldiers established the California mission system. The story of forced assimilation in the missions is much more violent and brutal than what we learned in school. It is clear that those priests were doing anything but following God’s teachings.
The “El Camino Real” mission bell markers romanticize Spanish colonization and the California mission system in which Indigenous people suffered. Just like how we understand Confederate statues as whitewashing black history, these bell markers whitewash Indigenous history. When we see the iconic cliffs and pose by the bells for our family photograph, we seldom recognize the suffering that Indigenous people endured or the bones that lay under our feet. That does not mean everyone has forgotten.
Tribes in California have been fighting for the removal of these El Camino Real bells for years. Tribal leaders have spoken of how these symbols are a reminder of how the bells marked the daily regimes of hard labor and erasure of Native American spiritual practices. By authorizing the placement of a new El Camino Real bell marker in downtown Gilroy between Fifth and Sixth streets, the city is at risk of stepping on the wrong side of history.
Indigenous people are members of our own community. Just as we would be remiss to authorize Confederate statues in our town, these bells are the same way. I encourage the council to immediately reverse the approval of the new bell marker and to recognize the effect that this would have on our community members. I hope that the Gilroy City Council can understand that erecting one of these monuments to slavery and brutality in our hometown amid Indigenous peoples’ calls for their removal would be a grave mistake and an affront to racial progress.
Naka Elelleh is an aspiring writer from Gavilan College. Comments? Please feel free to email [email protected].