Mayor Eric Garcetti Thursday released the findings of a group his office created to help guide Los Angeles on how to commemorate tragic and difficult aspects of the city’s history.
The Civic Memory Working Group — made up of over 40 historians, architects, artists, indigenous leaders, city officials, scholars and cultural leaders — worked with community leaders, including L.A City/County Native American Indian Commission’s Executive Director Alexandra Valdes, to create civic memory recommendations in its 166-page report.
The group recommends the city commemorate difficult histories, including through a citywide, ephemeral and permanent commemoration to victims of the 1871 Anti-Chinese Massacre on Oct. 24, 2021, the 150th anniversary of the day in which 500 white and Hispanic people robbed and murdered 19 Chinese residents.
The group also suggested the city conduct community-engagement sessions to hear the public’s ideas for commemorating the 30th anniversary of the 1992 unrest in Los Angeles sparked by the beating of Rodney King and the acquittal of the responsible officers.
“Proposals to create, remove or rename monuments or buildings, of the kind we are now seeing across the country, have a greater chance of community support if they are preceded by broad-based discussions about memorialization and commemoration,” said Christopher Hawthorne, who coordinated the Working Group’s efforts as the Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles. “Our Working Group has been guided by the idea that L.A. has not yet engaged in that conversation to the degree it needs to, especially when it comes to initiatives launched from City Hall.”
Other recommendations made by the group include:
— the creation of a garden or multiple gardens dedicated to L.A.’s essential workers;
— the creation of a City Historian position or council;
— the development of a program to train all city employees in civic history and Indigeneity;
— the creation of a space in City Hall to celebrate civic memory and Indigenous history, including through historical records, archives and rotating exhibitions;
— the adoption of an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Policy;
— the establishment of a Museum of the City of Los Angeles; and
— the creation of a full-time staff position within the mayor’s office to serve as a liaison to the L.A. City/County Native American Indian Commission and broader indigenous community.
“The recognition of local tribes, their histories, and their contemporary realities is long overdue,” Alexandra Valdes said. “The Commission looks forward to supporting the city and county’s land acknowledgement efforts and is hopeful that the increased awareness of local tribal communities will result in increased resources, support and investment, and land return.”
The group also urged the city to create strategies on how to recontextualize memorials that are outdated, instead of removing them. However, it noted that removal is the best option for some outdated memorials.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who first convened the group at City Hall in November 2019, welcomed the group’s recommendations.
“Los Angeles is a place where everyone’s story is welcome and everybody belongs, yet that spirit is too often lost in the way we pay tribute to our history, confront the pain of our predecessors and learn from our darkest moments,” Garcetti said. “Today’s report is a call to action — a guide for how our city can commemorate and memorialize formative moments that have gone unrecognized, reshape our civic identity and view our past as a window into the future.”
The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, with support from the Getty Foundation, produced the online and print forms of the report.
“Contributing to the Civic Memory Working Group has been exhilarating and challenging, and we all see the report and its recommendations as an invitation to all Angelenos to contribute to the discussion,” said Civic Memory Working Group member William Deverell, who also serves as director of the Institute on California and the West and professor of History at USC. “The past, and what we make of it, can help guide us all to a more equitable future.”
The report is available at civicmemory.la/.
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