The Defiling of Miguel de Cervantes

Vandals in San Francisco desecrate a monument to the creator of the modern novel

Pop quiz: What do Ulysses S. Grant, Francis Scott Key, and Miguel de Cervantes have in common? It’s not just that they’re all dead. And it’s not that they all owned slaves, because Cervantes, on the contrary, was himself enslaved for five years after being taken prisoner by Ottoman pirates. No, it’s that some pack of ideologues in San Francisco desecrated their statues in Golden Gate Park on Saturday. Grant and Key’s statues were toppled and graffitied, while that of Cervantes had the word BASTARD painted in red across it, with red splashed across his eyes and those of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Cervantes

Perhaps whoever did it wasn’t quite sure who Cervantes was, but thought that if he had two figures kneeling in front of him, he had to be, well, a bastard. Never mind that those figures are his own fictional creations. At least the vandals didn’t scrawl “SLAVE OWNING PIG” on his pedestal, as they did with Grant. (Leave aside that Grant freed the one slave he ever owned, who had been a gift from his father-in-law.) They probably didn’t know enough about Cervantes to be sure if he owned slaves or not. So we can give them credit for that much restraint.

But, you might ask, how did all this happen? It began as a rally near San Francisco City Hall commemorating Juneteenth that had elements of protest to it, with calls for police reform and measures against institutional racism. Late in the day, around eight o’clock, a group of about 200, mostly clad in black, moved to Golden Gate Park, where they began to wreak havoc. Down came missionary Father Junipero Serra, down came Ulysses S. Grant, down came Francis Scott Key. There’s a certain logic to it, whether you agree with it or not: they were all, in their ways, political figures of one sort or another, and knocking down their statues makes at least some political point. Certainly the anarchist symbols spray-painted on the pedestals are a statement of politics, and you could take ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) as one, if a little indirect.

But BASTARD? Cervantes was never a cop, let alone a bastard cop. A tax collector, a combatant in the Battle of Lepanto, a spy—an agent of the state, to be sure, but not an enforcer of the law. The statue in Golden Gate Park commemorates him for none of these functions, but for his brilliance as a writer. The man almost single-handedly created the modern novel. Who knows what novels might be popular among the Antifa and hard Left, probably books about oppressed underdogs and their ultimately successful struggles against unjust systems (so not 1984). If they read any fiction at all, and not just political screeds, it owes a debt to Cervantes.

Consider this passage from Don Quixote (in John Ormsby’s translation): “Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heaven has bestowed upon men; no treasures that the earth holds buried or the sea conceals can compare with it; for freedom, as for honour, life may and should be ventured; and on the other hand, captivity is the greatest evil that can fall to the lot of man.”

This from a man who the Ottomans enslaved yet opposed the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, who saw freedom as every human being’s birthright, regardless of ethnicity or background. Perhaps those who desecrated his memorial might disagree with Cervantes regarding “honour,” and on anything to do with heaven. Perhaps they’d have complicated ideas about freedom vs. the collective. Yet if their own political message conflicts with his sentiment here, who needs it? They called the man a bastard, and splashed bloody red across his eyes. Whether they knew who he was or not, that constitutes an attack on literature per se. And an attack on literature is an attack not just on thought and creativity, but on the human spirit itself. So much, then, for celebrating Emancipation Day.

Cervantes

G.L. Ford

G. L. Ford lives and works in Victoria, Texas. He is the author of Sans, a book of poems (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017). He edited the 6x6 poetry periodical from 2000 to 2017, and formerly wrote a column for the free paper New York Nights.

25 thoughts on “The Defiling of Miguel de Cervantes

  • June 22, 2020 at 3:48 pm
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    It is look like we live not in America 2020 , but in Germany 1933 .

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    • July 5, 2020 at 10:34 am
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      That comment makes me want to cry. So true, and the majority are blind to the consequences.

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    • July 10, 2020 at 8:51 am
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      I am jewish, and live in Germany and this comment is no ignorant of what happened in Germany in 1933 and so uneducated that it makes me more sad than angry

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  • June 22, 2020 at 10:55 pm
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    from a village of La Mancha, thanks for your words

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  • June 23, 2020 at 4:35 am
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    “an attack on the human spirit”

    It’s not an attack on anything specific, it’s just anger and ignorance, there is no need to be so dramatic. Not everyone has had the good fortune to read his work and recognise his name.

    Emotions that have been bottled up for generations are coming out, of course that’s going to get ugly in places, but it still needs to happen.

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    • June 23, 2020 at 11:32 am
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      The symbols there, circle/cross, stands for white power not anarchy.

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      • June 23, 2020 at 6:38 pm
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        The media will automatically go with the narrative that there were white nationalists among the mob in Golden Gate Park desecrating statues, and no Antifa, BLM, Marxists, or other leftists around them noticed.

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      • June 25, 2020 at 5:30 pm
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        Yes, I noticed the same! Odin’s cross.

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      • July 12, 2020 at 5:16 pm
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        them commies love false flag ops

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    • June 29, 2020 at 6:25 am
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      So, we justify hate and vandalism on the grounds that “Emotions that have been bottled up for generations are coming out, of course that’s going to get ugly in places, but it still needs to happen”?

      So, the violence of Hitler’s Brown Shirts and the murders of Mao’s Cultural Revolution ‘still needed to happen,’ because something made the thugs got angry?
      Got it.

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    • July 15, 2020 at 12:11 pm
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      Ridiculous. All you ignorant, 80 I.Q. idiots did is destroy your own communities.
      The president isn’t giving you money to rebuild them, this time.
      I wish something like that would jump off where I live.
      Ignorant traitor.

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  • June 23, 2020 at 11:53 am
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    “Who knows what novels might be popular among the Antifa…” mmmm, I’m guessing they don’t read much.

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  • June 24, 2020 at 1:38 am
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    San Francisco is not worthy of a statue of Servantes. It should be removed.

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    • August 7, 2020 at 8:10 pm
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      The circle with the cross in the center is the telescopic sight of a rifle. You are in the crosshairs.

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  • June 24, 2020 at 11:07 am
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    That Celtic Cross surrounded by a circle is a symbol used by white supremacists. not anti fascists.

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    • July 15, 2020 at 12:15 pm
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      You are dumb enough to think it was whitey?
      You certainly have never read Don Quixote in the author’s language. Too damn dumb.

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  • June 24, 2020 at 1:28 pm
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    Fyodor Dostoevsky on Don Quixote: This saddest of all books man will not forget to take along with him to the Lord’s last judgment. He will point to the very deep and fatal mystery of man and of mankind revealed in it. He will show that the most sublime beauty of man, his loftiest purity, chastity, naïveté, gentleness, courage, and finally, the greatest are often – alas, much too often – reduced to naught….

    Diary of a Writer

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  • June 27, 2020 at 7:30 pm
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    AS THE GREAT CERVANTES ONCE SAID: “EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY” THE PIECES OF POND SCUM WHO DID THIS WILL BE PUNISHED BY THE ALMIGHTY. CERVANTES IS NEVER WRONG.

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  • July 1, 2020 at 9:25 pm
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    It’s ignorance in its avalanche of rage assaulting knowledge, education, history, literature, and whatever happens to be on its way. Vandalism and looting under the premise of social justice?

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  • July 2, 2020 at 4:17 am
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    If anyone imagines that white supremacists did this, they are _beyond_ self-deluded. They are willfully lying to themselves.

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  • July 7, 2020 at 10:52 am
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    Why? Because you just prefer to think it is not them?
    When in the end of May, similar Celtic crosses (that are a very common symbol for white supremacists) were tagged on the migrants-friendly and LGBT-friendly shops of Raleigh, you will tell me that it cannot be them?
    “Congress finds the following: (1) White supremacists and other far-right-wing extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States.” (Text: S.894 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)). The document lists 11 “fatal terrorist attacks by far-right-wing extremists” attacks from 2012 to 2018. Some white supremacists are longing for a racial war à la Turner Diaries, accelerationist movements are trying to accelerate its coming…
    But you think white supremacist cannot be the authors of some tags?

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    • July 15, 2020 at 12:18 pm
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      The idea of Wat Sapremiss clandestinely destroying statues and leaving their signature in San Francisco, while communist mobs control the streets, is absurd.
      They painted those symbols the statue, for the same reason they spray painted them on confederate statues— to mark the target as a “Wat Sapremiss.”

      You couldn’t gather that?

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  • July 7, 2020 at 8:23 pm
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    I don’t care what color you are destruction as a outlet of anger is unacceptable. Maybe anger management classes would be more helpful for both the individuals and society. I don’t believe this kind of expression ever really gets the kind of results they are looking for unless they are looking to destroy property just to destroy. Then I would say that this behavior is a reflection of insanity!

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  • July 18, 2020 at 12:31 pm
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    My mother in law, now passed, read Don Quixote in Spanish. I read it in translation at UCLA when I was an undergrad many years ago. Do they still teach Cervantes at UCLA? My guess is, probably not. When I lived in San Francisco I walked by this statue many times on my ramblings through Golden Gate Park, a wonderful park that is filled with statues of many great figures of civilization, including the guiding visionary of the park, John McClaren who, if he were alive today, would be deeply offended, and saddened, by the desecration taking place there today. BTW, wonderful piece. Kudos to G.L. Ford

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  • August 7, 2020 at 8:08 pm
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    Grant only owned a slave through the laws of inheritance valid at the time. Grant’s wife inherited the slave when her father died. What ever the wife owned the husband owned too as was the law at the time.

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