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Protesters Renew Call for Removal of Santa Monica City Hall Mural


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September 11, 2017 -- (Updated) A mural in Santa Monica’s City Hall depicting indigenous people kneeling before Spanish Conquistadors is back in the spotlight in the wake of President Trump's decision to end a federal program shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Activists in the city’s Hispanic community view it as an example of racism and had already called for removal of the 75-year-old City Hall mural, likening it to “the Santa Monica Confederate Flag” ("Activist Calls City Hall Mural of Kneeling Native Americans Santa Monica's Confederate Flag," June 25, 2015).

On Monday afternoon, a march against racism and anti-Semitism is planned from the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC) to City Hall.

Mural at Santa Monica City Hall
Mural at Santa Monica City Hall (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

Marchers will again protest the mural “as a blatant symbol of colonialism and white supremacy, akin to Confederate monuments across the United States,” said Oscar de la Torre, PYFC’s executive director and founder.

"We are one people united against all forms of oppression and hate,” said de la Torre, who is also a School Board member. “More than ever we need to build a movement for peace, unity and social justice.”

Santa Monica Conservancy officials have said de la Torre is misinterpreting the nearly 80-year-old mural that depicts an often-repeated legend about the founding of Santa Monica ("Historian Says Activist Misinterpreting Santa Monica City Hall Mural as Racist," June 30, 2015).

The planned march is also meant to call attention to the Trump’s decision last week to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly called DACA.

The Obama-era immigration policy, which was signed as an executive order, provided protection against deportation against young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by parents.

Trump has given Congress, which failed to pass legislation during Obaama's tenure, six months to act. DACA now covers about 800,000 young immigrants, or “Dreamers,” across the country. About half of them are in California.

It is unclear how many young immigrants in the local public education system would be affected, although the number is likely to be more than 1,000 ( "More than 1,000 Santa Monica Students Could be Affected by Decision to End DACA," September 6, 2017).

Monday's protest also follows a string of disruptive surprise appearances this summer by protesters linked to White Nationalism at meetings of liberal organizations in Santa Monica ("Organizers of Anti-Racism Panel in Santa Monica Worry About Disruption by White Nationalists," August 23, 2017).

"On 9/11 we want to challenge President's Trump depiction of Nazis and White Supremacists as ‘good people,’” de la Torre said.

The demonstration comes four days after DACA students and supporters rallied in front of the Santa Monica College library Thursday to protest Trump’s decision.

Speakers also addressed other issues, including what they said is a low transfer rate at SMC for minority students, and a lack of provisions of food and shelter for homeless students.

After the march from the SMC library to City Hall, de la Torre and others again called for the mural in the foyer to be removed.

Created by Santa Monica-born artist Stanton Macdonald-Wright, the mural has been a part of the City Hall foyer since the structure’s completion in 1938-39.

According to a City guide, Santa Monica City Hall’s mural depicts two Native Americans “kneeling and sitting at a stream, drinking water with their hands.”

Standing before the two figures is a Spanish Conquistador and a Franciscan priest holding a walking stick. In the background is another figure that looks like a Conquistador and two horses drinking from the stream, the guide said.

“A timeline accompanying the mural indicates dates of historic significance for both the city and the state,” the guide said.

It morphed into a symbol of racism in June of 2015 as the City Council was about to slash PYFC’s funding by $190,000.

The center and its outspoken founder, de la Torre, have had an increasingly tense relationship. The City’s current $1.57-billion budget does not include any funding for PYFC.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the Santa Monica Conservancy's view of the mural.


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