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[whitespace] Coyote on Flagpole
Photograph by Eric Carlson

Ohlone Over the Guadalupe

And the irony of the flagpoles

By Eric A. Carlson

ON THE BANKS of the mighty Guadalupe River, in the vicinity of the Children's Discovery Museum, I observed a leisured indigent feeding several feral cats. "Everybody needs a friend," he murmured, as he lovingly attended to the grateful felines.

I was searching for a statue--and getting nowhere fast. Over the years, odd references to a monument had appeared in a San Jose daily newspaper, to the effect that an Ohlone Indian tribute must be finished and flourishing before the Thomas Fallon statue would be allowed to rear its ugly head. Several promising clues persuaded me to concentrate my search in the area of the Guadalupe River, from the Sharks Arena down to Woz Way.

Ohlone Indians arrived in the Bay Area about 10,000 years ago. They would not survive the culture shock brought on by successive encounters with the Spanish, Mexican, Californian and American governments. They had no written language, toaster-ovens, CD-ROM burners or flat-screen monitors. No marble City Halls or diorite statues of prominent citizens. No vision of a Brave New World populated by deliriously happy Cisco worker bees (all commuting from south of Coyote Valley one supposes).

I asked complete strangers if they knew of the whereabouts of the Ohlone monument. "I think I heard something about it, but ..." was a typical response. Finally, experiencing a minor brainstorm, I detoured to the Martin Luther King Jr. Library for help. I normally go straight to the California Room--where the crème de la crème of San Jose librarians are assigned. But it was Sunday, and the California room was closed. I would have to consult an ordinary librarian. Fortunately, a chap by the name of John Cain was up to the task. As it turns out, the monument is located on Park Avenue as it crosses the Guadalupe River. It consists of an eagle, four coyotes and a small herd of hummingbirds perched at the tippy-top of flagpoles.

Eagle, Coyote, and Hummingbird were integral to the spiritual well-being of the Ohlone. Mary Null Boulé, in her epochal Ohlone Tribe, relates, "... Eagle, Coyote, and Hummingbird created a new race of people after a great flood covered the whole earth. They made mistakes and had good and bad things happen to them." The God of the Old Testament never made mistakes--though the downside of that perfection is you burn for eternity if you screw up. Perhaps Ohlone bungling gods are more forgiving.

Standing on Park Avenue I absorbed the monument. The coyotes, four of them perched high atop their poles by redevelopment agency mandate, look a bit flamboyant for my taste (sculptor: Peter Schifrin). On the median an eagle spreads its wings beneath four flagpoles--each pole crowned with brightly plumed hummingbirds. Four flags whip in the wind: Spanish, Mexican, Californian, American. What's going on with that? A plaque states that the whole kit and kaboodle is named The Park Avenue Bridge Decorations.

Decorations? Decorations are for Easter eggs. This is supposed to be a monument honoring a people who maintained this land for ten thousand years. (So we can destroy it proper?) And it gets worse. After a token few words describing the Ohlone, the plaque continues, "The flags recognize the people who have governed San Jose: the Spanish Empire, the Mexican Federal Republic, the State of California, and the United States of America. Ultimately, all people who have come to this special valley, following the dream of a better life, are those to be honored."

Well, that is enough to gag a maggot. Why not throw in France and upper state New York? What should have been a monument solely to the Ohlone Indians has been inexplicably amalgamated into decorations honoring The United States, two foreign countries and the state of California. Did we leave anyone out?

Final note: It is difficult to see hummingbirds with the naked eye--when they are sixty feet up in the air--on top of flagpoles. Final irony: The societies represented by the four flags ... effectively annihilated the Ohlone.

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From the December 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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