Connecting the Dots ~ Fred Allebach

Fred Allebach Fred Allebach is a member of the City of Sonoma’s Community Services and Environmental Commission, and an Advisory Committee member of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Fred is a member of Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, as well as Sonoma Valley Housing Group and Transition Sonoma Valley.


Questioning Sonoma’s statues

Posted on August 28, 2020 by Fred Allebach

While waiting for a friend on the Plaza last week, I had a chance to study the Bear Flag monument and to contemplate the surrounding context of the Mission, the Barracks, the so-called Servants’ Quarters, the plaque listing Mission-era Indigenous people who died, and the Vallejo statue.

There is an opportunity here to look at Sonoma history in multiple ways. The easy way has been to glorify the white immigrant story as somehow leading straight to today’s glass of wine, and elide the underlying conquest, colonialism, exploitation, and suffering.  

 The Bear Flag plaque, dedicated by the Native Sons of the Golden West, mentions “freedom from Mexican rule” as a core reason for the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt. If Sonoma was Mexico, how could foreigners come in and assume they could just take over? The fact is, the U.S. has had a long, racist, and exploitive history with Mexico and Latin America. U.S. expansionism rode straight on the back of Anglo-Saxon, Manifest Destiny, exceptionalist mythology.

First the U.S. annexed Texas in 1845, goaded Mexico to “start” the Mexican-American War, and then used the war as a pretext to invade California soil. Fremont and the Bear Flaggers were bit players in this larger drama.

As the U.S. won the war and gained territory from coast to coast, the frontier provided a relief valve where U.S. social contradictions (slavery, social inequity) could be set aside and not addressed. Settlers came and claimed free land and opportunity, at the expense of the existing inhabitants. What transpired was many years of lawless vigilante justice and violent dispossession of lands, now romanticized in Western movies as the cowboy ethos, rugged individualism, exceptionalism, and the American Way.

Indians and Mexicans bore the brunt of expansionism. Blacks were enslaved. Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino immigrants were used as cheap labor akin to slavery, and then got run out on tides of racist Nativism. Latinos and Mexican immigrants, to this very day, inherit the same threads of U.S. bigotry, Nativism, and racism.

This leads up to today where we hear talk of law and order and property rights, and Black Lives Matter supporters are vilified as un-American, as if our collective thievery and brutal past did not really exist. This justifying narrative paints the U.S. as “exceptional” and leads to interpretation, especially with statues, where we get a stilted view that seems to glorify the exploiters and vigilantes.

Spain and Mexico did the same. The Bantu Expansion did the same to the Koi-San people. Israeli settlers do the same to Palestinians and their land. In fact, war, violence, expansionism, and territorial dispossession are universally human. Then the winners make the law and say how great they are.  

To put my views in context, as a kid I read every book I could find on Indians. I started out my trajectory in life squarely rejecting the white man’s way. Early 1970s Quaker summer camps sealed the bargain to turn me away from mainstream aspirations. My formal education in the human sciences was colored by social justice values. It’s no wonder I see U.S. history as corrupt, and Sonoma history as corrupt junior, a sequestered white, wealthy enclave. I can’t possibly take a line about how great it is here, or in the U.S.

The Plaza statues should either come down, or be balanced by statues, monuments, and interpretations that tell the full story, not just through the rose-colored lens of self-justifying victors. The scales of justice need to be balanced, debts and reparations paid, and our collective space not dominated by unquestioned, quaint images of past exploitation.

This is an opinion piece. Its views are that of the author. 





5 thoughts on “Questioning Sonoma’s statues

  1. Very Well Said. And every word the truth. Time to Re-balance local history with Facts, many of which are not flattering to the version of the victors. And certainly will be a hard sell at the Visitors Bureau or at the Mission and barracks, where signage still refers to the rooms where Native Americans were locked each night as ‘servants quarters.’

  2. (Comment posted for a reader by The Sun)

    This article is the most inaccurate radical piece of US and Mexican history I have ever read in all m years of historical research. No facts, just opinion. And distorted opinion. This type of hype fuels social disorder for those who believe the writ.

    First take a look how Mexico was formed, and the later named state of California. Mexico was completely occupied by Spain. They formed Mexico on slavery and oppression. They expanded into the California territory and enslaved the indigenous people as slave labor and occupied the territory. This includes the now state of Texas. Western expansion of the newly formed US did not involve slavery and oppression in the West. Most of the lands were unoccupied, and some that were not inhabited were claimed by Spain and even some by France. Santa Fe is a good example of Spanish oppression as were too many areas to name. Western expansion actually freed the lands of Spanish oppressive rule. White settlers and blacks who expanded West were themselves a mixture of what the author called “cheap labor.” Fremont was a leader of people which included oppressed Mexicans who ran the Spanish Garrisons from the California territory. The US Army came later. War in Texas, against Spanish oppression did not initially include the Army of the United States, but the so called “cheap labor” and settlers from the East. Nobody oppressed the south & central American Indian tribes more than the Spanish during that era. So before you call Manifest Destiny as oppressive, you must first know the past history of California and the West. It was not a snap of the fingers history as the author will have you believe. It was hundreds of years of history.

    The Filipinos, Chinese and Japanese who MIGRATED to our land on their own free will, as did many Europeans in the East US. They were in search of a better life, and certainly were a significant contribution to the development of our country’s structure and economy. They were the so called cheap labor, if you will, at their choice to flee the oppression and Slavery of thee homelands.
    There’s much I can write and reference as to why the article is a pure emotional rant in a case against Caucasian history in the American West. One may want to read about immigration and naturalization of the American West before taking the above article serious.

    Just my Nickel, respectfully …hambone
    [email protected]

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. To the Author. You sir are part of the problem. This article’s aim is to further divid Americans. Reparations and the balancing of scales??? Give me a break. No one currently living in America has been, owned or sold a slave of any color or creed. The more labels we continue to assign and endorse, the further from true equality and justice we get. Everyone, white, Black, Asian or Latino has an opportunity to succeed in this country. Each of them also have the opportunity to fail. It’s time to stop blaming others and take your future into our own hands. Follow the law. Treat people with respect. It’s simple. This article was writing to drive the wedge further between people. Get outta here man!

    This is also an opinion piece.

  4. A few years ago, my friend, a Mexican curandera who I have found to possess a strong intuitive sense and healing counsel, visited me in Sonoma. We went out for a meal, and then we walked around the Plaza as I pointed out the historic buildings and monuments. When we passed the old wooden Barracks building next to the Cheese Factory, she winced and turned away. In a low voice she told me, “Bad things happened there.” She paused before adding, “I see hangings.” I felt the distress in her voice and was suddenly anxious myself. We quickly ended our walk. I could tell that she was not positively affected by Sonoma’s acclaimed memorials. I have a different feeling now about those sites.

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