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Pride or Prejudice? : Monterey Park Debates Mayor’s Plan to Erect Washington Statue

Times Staff Writer

To social studies teacher and Monterey Park Mayor Barry L. Hatch, George Washington represents everything that’s great about America.

So Hatch, mayor of the heavily immigrant community, persuaded his City Council to approve spending $50,000 on a statue of the first President, adorned with plaques of the U.S. Constitution.

Many of the Asian and Latino newcomers to Monterey Park, he said, have no feeling for America’s traditions or its hard-earned freedoms. The statue will serve as a reminder, Hatch said, to immigrants and longtime citizens alike.

But not everyone in this San Gabriel Valley community has welcomed this latest proposal by Hatch, whose earlier stances in favor of a temporary ban on immigration and the establishment of English as the official U.S. language have gained him notoriety.

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For one thing, Hatch wants the Washington statue to displace an existing City Hall sculpture that commemorates the 1984 Olympic Games, an event that promotes international brotherhood as well as athletic achievement.

Said Councilman Christopher F. Houseman, “It would be unfortunate” if erecting the Washington statue was a reaction to “something washing up on our shore . . . so we have to put up this monument and make some statement.”

Hatch, a teacher at Bell Gardens Intermediate School, said he simply wants to boost pride in America.

“I feel like a coach in a locker room at half-time. We have to do something to win. This country is in more trouble than any time, other than the Civil War.”

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‘Real Motive’

But E. George Ricci, a former Chamber of Commerce president, asked: “Why George Washington? And $50,000! How about Christopher Columbus, for heaven’s sake? I wonder what’s the real motive.”

If the statue’s purpose is to educate new immigrants, asked Councilwoman Judy Chu, “then why don’t we use the $50,000 to set up citizenship classes?”

Beyond the immigration issue, Councilwoman Betty Couch said, is the more pressing question of whether a city struggling to balance its books can afford the luxury of spending $50,000 on a statue. And, she added, “I don’t have any lack of respect for my country.”

Under Hatch’s plan, a statue of Washington will replace a 15-foot-high sculpture of the Olympic torch and the five interlocking rings. Dedicated in ceremonies attended by about 4,000 spectators, the Olympic sculpture marks the path where a torch-bearing runner passed City Hall in 1984 en route to the Los Angeles Coliseum. Monterey Park hosted the Olympic field hockey competition and since then has billed itself as “An Olympic City With a Heart.”

‘Standards and Values’

“We’re fighting to keep the city an American city,” Hatch said, “not by face or by race, but by standards and values.” When Hatch speaks of America, he also speaks of his town, a microcosm, he said, of the nation’s immigration problems.

Since 1985, when Hatch was first active in campaigns to declare English as the nation’s official language, he has been a key participant in the city’s continuing debate over immigration. Elected in 1986 as part of a slow-growth ticket, Hatch nearly lost his council post two years ago during a bitterly contested recall attempt.

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Last fall, when he took his seat as mayor--a position that rotates among council members--Hatch proposed a temporary ban on U.S. immigration to ease the burden that population growth puts on schools, freeways, hospitals, prisons and the welfare system.

Citing the ethnic diversity of Monterey Park, with Asians accounting for more than half its 63,500 residents and Latinos another third, Hatch said: “These people need to understand why we are a unique nation. They need to gain the same pride in this nation that we have.”

The City Council on a 3-2 vote earlier this month did approve the statue, but no decision has been made on whether to follow through with plans to have the Washington statue created by Culver City’s nationally known sculptor Brett-Livingston Strong, who once carved a Malibu boulder into John Wayne’s image.

Olympic Sculpture

And the council has yet to decide on whether to relocate the Olympic sculpture; the mayor is the only member who supports moving it. He believes that the Olympic sculpture is unattractive and should be moved across town to Garvey Ranch Park.

Said Couch, “We’re only going to make enemies if we take that (Olympic sculpture) out and act like it is unimportant.”

And Lily Lee Chen, a former council member who as mayor in 1984 spoke at the dedication ceremonies, said the Olympic sculpture symbolizes “one of the most positive reminders” of an international event in the city. “The thought of having the sculpture removed is something I cannot even comprehend.”

Regardless of where the Washington monument goes, Hatch said this is one of his most important causes since he was elected three years ago.

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“I can think of no logical argument against it,” he said.


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