By Ken Stone
The 8-foot statue of Christopher Columbus fronting a Chula Vista park is akin to having a Hitler statue in a Jewish community — “if not worse.”
They’re demanding the statue be removed.
“That is what it represents to us, and that is why it must come down,” Prado said at a morning ceremony in front of the spyglass-holding figure.
Standing on a 10-foot granite pedestal near the entrance to Discovery Park, the bronze likeness of the Italian explorer represents “an affront to all native nations and all native peoples,” the indigenous peoples advocate said on a quiet day in the upscale Rancho del Rey neighborhood.
“We remember the horrendous genocide inflicted on our nation by this criminal. We remember the butchering and killing brought upon our shores,” said Prado, a San Diego resident, two days before Columbus Day, which some cities are renaming Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
In fact, the 40 Indian allies ages 2 to 74 standing Saturday with flags, signs and banners also want the park renamed.
Discovery Park, the letter says, is an “ahistorical name at best and at worst a slanderous attempt to erase the original peoples’ existence.”
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Local leaders of the American Indian Movement and the 12-tribe Kumeyaay group also demanded that, “out of respect,” the park’s new name must be assigned by the “elders and leaders of the Kumeyaay Nation on whose land we live.”
Kenny Meza, the 73-year-old retired chairman of Jamul Indian Village, said afterward that the Kumeyaay have been meeting on the name change and “thrown some around.”
“We haven’t gotten down to the one that we want,” he said. But a Kumeyaay version of “Beautiful scenery” was one idea, because they can see the ocean from there.
One of the last three or four fluent Kumeyaay speakers (“Went to grammar school not knowing a word of English. It was very difficult for me.”), Meza began the event with a 75-second blessing in his first language.
He said the prayer invited the Creator to “come down and bless us and make sure we have a good day. Help us do what we need to have done here.”
Meza said his ancestors lived in the region over 10,000 years, “and we were all free here” before being moved to reservations after the Spanish arrived 250 years ago.
Eight months ago, someone poured red paint over the Columbus statue and wrote “GENOCIDE” on its base. A bronze plaque was stolen (and not yet replaced).
Remnants of the dark-red paint remain, spattering the pavers and concrete near the statue and specking Columbus’ head.
Dedicated on a windy, chilly day in May 1990, the 1,200-pound statue was the work of Mario Zamora Alcantara, a native of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, but resident of Mexico.
Zamora — who died at 97 in 2017 — spoke at the dedication along with Corky McMillin, the community developer behind the park.
That day, according to the Chula Vista Star-News, Mayor Greg Cox said: “Just as Christopher Columbus was kind of the bridge connecting the east with the west, the McMillin development will be the bridge between the west, the older area of Chula Vista, and the east, the newer.”
Three years later, a name was sought for the new Chula Vista Elementary School District campus a half-mile away.
The Star-News reported in June 1993 that among 50-plus ideas was naming the school after a “little-known but dedicated Navajo advocate of education: Jacob Cashmere Morgan.” (It actually was Jacob Casimera Morgan.)
The nominator wrote: “There has yet to be … any office or building, locally and statewide, that has been dedicated to a Native American. San Diego has always been the leader in innovation and style and its seems only fitting that the first dedication of school to a Native American should come from San Diego.”
Another person suggested the school be named Discovery as a “complement [to] nearby park and instill the thirst of knowledge.”
“I consider it an appropriate choice, easy to remember, and musical to say,” the letter said. Two weeks later, it became official. It soon became Discovery Charter School.
Meza was Jamul Indian Village’s first chairman, with a tenure lasting four decades. He isn’t confident park changes will come immediately, though.
“I see we have support, but it actually takes a long time,” he said after what the group called a kickoff event, with sage being burnt.
“For 40 years, I dealt with the governor, congressmen, senators, presidents (including George W. Bush and Barack Obama),” he said. “They tell you want you want to hear. …. Just to get us out of the way.”
“Just because [they] say ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” he said. “It is rough. It is tough.”
If he and others had their way, the Point Loma statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo also would come down.
“There’s not enough recognition for the Kumeyaays — never has. Mainly because we always stay in the back and we never really said anything,” Meza said.
“But as time goes on, people change,” he said. “Our kids are getting smarter. They’re able to … bring it to the table. And most of us kind of support them and hope they can get something done.
“It’s all up to the youth now.”
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