Monumental

In my last post I wrote about the Confederate monument in Waverly, Missouri. That summer morning, I met two little girls playing near the statue. That got me thinking about the statues I grew up around and the impact they had on me. Like the contested Confederate monuments in Charlottesville or Richmond, we also had a towering man on a horse. The statue was “El Cid Campeador” in San Diego’s Balboa Park. It was created in 1927 by Anna Hyatt Huntington, a famous American sculptor. El Cid was a flamboyant Spanish knight brandishing a flag. He looked down on you with furrowed brows, a dagger poised on his belt. So, we too had our mounted military hero with a flag from an extinct nation state.

But that was not my favorite statue. About fifty steps away, in the courtyard of the Hospitality House, was a fountain called “La Tehuana” (Woman of Tehuantepec). She was sculpted in 1935 by local artist Donal Hord. I remember being drawn through the dark Moorish arches into the light of the open courtyard by the sound of falling water. There the stone woman sat, endlessly pouring water from her olla. I had to look up into her serene face, but not too far up. She didn’t tower above me. Instead, it felt like she welcomed me into the embrace of the courtyard and the blue tiled fountain. I could dip my fingers in the water and reach — but never quite touch — the water pouring from the olla. I thought of her as Mother Earth.

I loved her long hair that trailed in two thick braids down her back. Like my hair. And how she sat crossed legged in bare feet, the way I often did. As a little girl, I didn’t think about why I ran to this fountain every time we went to Balboa Park. But looking back on it now, I think I felt validated in her presence. Here, in this public place, women in bare feet with long braids were honored. “La Tehuana” made me feel monumental too.

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