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Social Justice Advocates Demand Removal Of Pete Wilson Statue

Speaker 1: 00:00 The statue of former San Diego mayor and California, governor Pete Wilson in downtown San Diego is once again the target of social activists, the group of social justice advocates Monday demanded the statute be removed from its location at Broadway circle, near Horton Plaza park. The statue was removed last October, but returned to its original spot by its private owners. Last December Wilson support for anti-immigrant legislation and his stand against gay rights has made his statue offensive to many in the social justice movement. And the controversy over the statue is just one of several efforts to remove tributes to historical figures with offensive legacies. Johnny May has Benjamin Gonzales. O'Brien a professor of political science specializing in racial and ethnic politics at SDSU. Thanks for having me now, this statute seems to be in a revolving door now here, gone. And now back again, can you remind us why Wilson is such a controversial figure? Speaker 2: 01:04 Well, he's controversial for a number of reasons. I think the most prominent and the most well-known was his support for proposition one 87, which would have denied state benefits to undocumented immigrants, including, uh, public education and healthcare. Uh, Wilson was an advocate for prop one 87. He also ran a number of ads that could be characterized as, um, at least anti-immigrant in his 1994 campaign. And so this is a big part of Pete Wilson's legacy. And one of the things that he's very well known for Speaker 1: 01:41 And why are we seeing this renewed effort to have this statue of former governor Wilson removed? Speaker 2: 01:47 Well, I think it's part of a larger national and in fact, international movement, uh, to look at a lot of these statues of historical figures, um, both those who are long deceased and those who are, who were still around as Wilson is, and, um, and consider their, their legacies and what they mean to communities other than either the majority community or the white communities, either in cities or States or nations. And I think that's an important conversation because for most of American history, uh, we have a record statues and tributes, uh, to political leaders, um, and politicians who, uh, frankly have really complicated and often very negative legacies on race, um, legacies that have done significant damage, uh, to nonwhite communities in this country. And I think that legacy, um, and that conversation is a very important one to have, Speaker 1: 02:45 As you mentioned in supporting prop one 87, Wilson helped stir up a great deal of anti-immigrant feeling that you could argue exists to this day, but does a statue like this represent that ideology or the entire public life of the person? Well, Speaker 2: 03:02 I think to some, it is going to represent the, you know, the complete public life of the person. Um, on the other hand, too many within the Latino community in California, um, Wilson's legacy is prop one 87. It is something that was meant to, um, uh, you know, damage the undocumented community in this country and to deny basic services, not only to undocumented immigrants, but to undocumented children, to deny them a basic education. And I think that's incredibly problematic for, um, you know, for a state like California. Uh, and that is something that really, you know, the community should be involved in and there should be a community discussion of these kinds of monuments to leaders like Wilson Speaker 1: 03:47 Lately. We've seen the former Hennepin Rose Serra high school in Tierrasanta officially change its name to Canyon Hills high because of Sarah's treatment of indigenous people. What does a name change like this accomplish? Speaker 2: 04:02 I think it signals something. Um, it signals that the concerns of the indigenous community is being taken into consideration and it signals a greater inclusiveness, um, having the names of individuals like Sarah, um, who did, uh, you know, whose missionary work and the forced conversion of indigenous communities, um, significantly harmed a number of indigenous individuals as well as the community, as a whole, um, changing that name signals, um, at least an acknowledgement of the complicated legacy that this country has on race in regards to every community of color that exists in this country. And so I think the changing of names, the removal of statues that signals that the concerns of indigenous communities or Latino communities or black communities that they're being taken into consideration. And I think if we want to move forward as a country, that is something that we have to do, and those are conversations as uncomfortable as they may be at times. Those are conversations that we have to have. Speaker 1: 05:14 What about the argument that removal of names and statues as part of so-called cancel culture, that it disappears history. Speaker 2: 05:21 It doesn't disappear history. The history is still there. And frankly, most people who are looking at statues are not considering the history or the legacy either of Sarah or Pete Wilson or anyone else. If we want to truly recognize history, then we need to include the complicated legacies of not only men like Sarah and Wilson, but also the founding fathers in the history that is taught to our children, not only at the level of, um, universities and colleges, but also in K through 12 education, that is not a racing history that is teaching, uh, that would be teaching students the complicated history of this country and they history that is more inclusive of the, uh, the sins of the past, not only on the part of individual leaders, but on the part of the American political system more broadly. And so it is not canceling history that is often, uh, you know, a strong man that is put out there, uh, to elicit outrage on the part of some. It is to say that we need to look at the complete legacies of these individuals, and we need to find a way if we want to erect some kind of, um, monument to them, a way of acknowledging the complicated past that these individuals have. And also that perhaps there are individuals who have more inclusive legacies that we should be erecting statues to instead of individuals who look to exclude, um, communities of color in this country or, um, or undocumented communities, uh, and, and, and other, um, groups that are marginalized. Speaker 1: 07:05 And just for the record, governor Wilson, by the way, has made no comments so far over this statue controversy. I've been speaking with Benjamin Gonzales, O'Brien he's professor of political science, and that specializes in racial and ethnic politics at San Diego state university and professor. Thank you so much for speaking with us. Speaker 2: 07:25 Thank you for having me.

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