Speaking of monuments…

The last post about Rosie the Riveter started me thinking about other monuments in San Jose. The city, founded by Spain to feed the missions around San Francisco bay-Santa Clara, San Francisco de Assis, and San Jose (located in Fremont, CA), predates the founding of the United States. It has housed citizens from Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Of the three nations that have owned California the one with the shortest claim is Mexico. Newly independent Mexico took possession in 1824 and renamed it Alta California to designate it from lower or Baja California. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 saw the transfer of Alta California to the United States along with much of the Southwest. The land changed hands, but the residents just got a new flag and constitution. They were the same as when California was owned by Mexico. This brief time period is the background for the statue of Captain Thomas Fallon on the west entrance to downtown.

At a cost of $900,000, one would be excused for thinking some sort of community approval process would have been in place in 1990 before it came time to place the statue of American Captain Thomas Fallon holding a Bear flag and poised to hoist it up a flagpole, in the 1846. The placement of the statue was far from being a celebration of the city. To the Mexican American community, it represented oppression of Mexicans and the US annexation of California just two months after the declaration of war against Mexico, according to www.theclio.com/entry/41221

Captain Fallon had a varied life. The Bear Flag he is holding in the statue came from John C. Fremont whom he had joined on the third expedition into California. The Bear Flag revolt didn’t hold, and California joined the union at the close of the Mexican American War with the infamous Compromise of 1850. He spent some time in Santa Cruz where he married a Californio girl from Santa Cruz in 1849. He also spent some time in the gold fields, and later returned to San Jose where his famous Fallon house still sits across from San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. He was also the tenth mayor of San Jose. All in all, Fallon would seem to be a person for whom a statue might be appropriate.

Is it better to bury the statue in some warehouse next to the Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant or to leave it and tell his story and the story of its placement?

The city arrived at a compromise to put Thomas and his companion on the pedestal. According to the plaque affixed to the statue, three other public statues were placed around the city. One of those is a serpent at the entrance to Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Every summer for the San Jose Jazz Festival and every December for Christmas in the Park, tens of thousands of San Joseans and others are greeted by the serpent at the head of the park.

What do you think? Is it better to bury the statue in some warehouse next to the Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant or to leave it and tell his story and the story of its placement? Do you think local schools should use the statue to teach local history? If so, what grade? State history is taught around the country in 4th grade. Is this too soon? Should we wait for high school? While these questions sound like they are tailored for San Jose the statues in your city have stories to tell also. When should they be told and explored? 

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