The Spirit of ‘49 statue, informally known as Prospector Pete, was removed on June 26 from its home in the Liberal Arts 5 plaza, where the statue had resided since its erection in 1967. Its removal has led to a great debate among faculty, staff and alumni about whether the former mascot should have a place on campus.
President Jane Close Conoley said she plans on having the statue reside in the Anna W. Ngai alumni center, which is scheduled to be completed by 2022.
Deborah Sanchez, alumna and professor of American Indian Studies, said the statue doesn’t belong on campus.
“The statue reflects a time when this country was in the full process of stealing land and massacring California Indian people,” Sanchez said. “To some, that statue represents white emigrants who traveled to California to find gold and, in turn, a better life. But, at what expense? We need to recognize the dark, dark history of this country and the even darker history of what happened to the indigenous population.”
Sanchez said that the statue is a piece of art and shouldn’t be destroyed, but maintained it has no place at Long Beach State, not even in the alumni center.
“At this time, public art should be something we all have the potential to enjoy and that statue should find an appropriate place — but not on campus,” Sanchez said. “I graduated in 1982 and it is offensive to me to display that statue anywhere on campus, including the alumni center.”
For others, like fourth-year religious studies major Jose Espinoza, the former mascot still should have a place at the Beach.
“Coming from my conservative viewpoint, even if history is coming from a dark place, it shouldn’t be erased,” Espinoza said. “It should be preserved so the next generation can learn not to repeat itself.”
Espinoza had speculated on FaceBook that the university moved the statue earlier than anticipated due to fears of potential vandalism. President Jane Close Conoley said in an official statement that the statue’s relocation was inspired by “renewed national conversation about anti-racism.”
The statue wasn’t slated to be removed from LA5 until 2022, when construction on the alumni center is scheduled to be completed.
“I understand why the university is moving it, but I hope it’s preserved for historical purposes,” Espinoza said.
Social media users debated on whether or not the statue should be removed, relocated or even destroyed.
One Instagram user, who goes by the name “nisantonicholo,” said in response to the news of Pete’s relocation “that shit need to be gone completely. Not just relocated.”
Another user by the name of “pao_lamf” said “as an alumni I can say, get rid of it completely. Get creative, melt it and figure out how the material can support BIPOC students. It’s a shame it’s only being relocated…we don’t want this shit.”
A former CSULB student by the name of “alandray” on Instagram had a differing opinion from most, writing “as an alumnus, keep it as planned in the new alumni center.”
Kevin Altamirano, cultural anthropology major at Long Beach City College, is an incoming transfer student for the spring 2021 semester. He feels the prospector’s time is up.
“While the statue may seem innocuous, it is devoid of any sensitivity regarding the historical mistreatment and violence that Indegenous Americans have faced at the hands of European settlers with specific reference to the original 49ers during the Gold Rush,” Altamirano said. “Prospector Pete serves to romanticize the problematic history that the 49ers have been glorified for throughout U.S. history.”
The incoming student said he believes the school’s choice to relocate the statue wasn’t the best, but understands that some groups, such as alumni, have ties to the image and will want to keep it on campus.
However, he maintained that statue no longer belonged.
“There was a person in the comment section of the Instagram post who suggested the statue be melted down and given to the art department to be repurposed for some sort of artistic endeavor. Another suggestion I saw was melting the statue down and selling the bronze in order to create some grants and scholarships for students,” Altamirano said. “Both suggestions are brilliant in my opinion, but at the end of the day, I just want to see it gone.”