San Diego

Should Balboa Park Have a Statue of Its Namesake?

Local indigenous tribes say it goes against their heritage

It's a hotly debated topic among different ethnic groups in San Diego: Should Balboa Park have a statue for Vasco Núñez de Balboa? The famous 16th-century Spanish explorer who the park is named after. 

"Vasco Núñez de Balboa is credited as the first Spaniard, the first European, to discover the Pacific Ocean," said Jesus Benayas, President of the House of Spain located in Balboa Park. "There is no statue of Balboa in Balboa Park." 

Benayas said he has been trying for five years to erect a statue of Balboa. He wants to put it near the Palisades Tram Stop as a tribute to the historical figure.

But the city has rejected the notion due to disapproval from various local groups. 

"For us to buy into the placing of that statue is going against everything we've been taught," said Steve Banegas, spokesman for the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee. 

Banegas said his tribe has been living in the area for thousands of years. 

"[Balboa] didn't discover anything," said Banages. "We were here. Our ancestors were here. I would like to see the whole name of that park change because there were real villages there, there were real people there." 

The park was created from 1400 acres of land that were set aside by developers in 1868, according to the park's website. It was originally known as "City Park." 

There is a statue near the Laurel Street Bridge honoring Kate Sessions who is known as "The Mother of Balboa Park." Sessions worked to plant trees and shrubs in the park in exchange for using several dozen acres of parkland for her commercial nursery.

The park was eventually named Balboa Park after a vote by park commissioners in 1910. 

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