Two hundred and forty-eight years ago, on July 16, in 1769, a Franciscan Friar named Junipero Serra conducted the first Catholic Mass in the territory of the Kumeyaay Nation, a place that the Spanish explorer Vizcaíno named “San Diego” in 1602. This year, on July 16, 2017, 248 years after Serra’s liturgical ceremony, the San Diego Historical Society placed a plaque at the Spanish military fort, called “the Presidio.” The plaque was placed in honor of that phase of Spain’s imperial expansion called “The Portola Expedition,” an expedition that traveled north from Missions Loreto and Ignacio in Baja California in 1769.
I prefer to call it “The Portolá Expedition de la Dominación Española,” in keeping with Manuel Moreno y Sanz’s Spanish language book, Origenes de la Dominación Española en América (Origins of Spanish Domination in America), published in 1910. Evidence of the mind-set and behavior of domination in the colonization of Mexico and Baja and Alta California is also found in a biography of the Jesuit priest Juan Maria Salvatierra, published in 1754.
The book’s title page refers to Salvatierra as being part of “The Company of Jesus” (the Jesuit Order), and says he was “a fervent Missionary in the Province of New Spain, and Apostolic Conqueror of the Californias.” (emphasis added) Father Juan Antonio, who was then the Censor for the Holy Inquisition, dedicated the book “To The Most Holy Mary,” who the book cover lists as the “Mother of God,” and “Queen of all the Saints.” It also adds that she is “Lady of Armies,” and “the Conqueress of New Kingdoms in her Holy Image of Loreto.” This means “Mother Mary” was being conceived of as “the Dominator” of New Kingdoms. And lest anyone think that such language was only applied to the Jesuit Order, it is important to note that in 1775, the Dominican and Franciscan Orders made a joint commitment to the “spiritual conquest of the infidels in Old and New California.” Domination is the hidden meaning of the word “conquest.”
The Portolá Expedition was undertaken by Catholic priests, and by “Spanish” soldiers whom the San Diego History Center says were mixed bloods. More than 40 colonized Indians from missions in Baja California, such as the Mission Loreto and San Ignacio traveled to assist in the colonization of other Native nations in the north, or what Spain was calling “Alta California.”
One group traveled northward on March 23, 1769, and the other one traveled northward in May of 1769. The plaque dedicated on July 16, 2017, reads: “In Honor of the Soldiers, Missionaries, and Natives of the Portola Expedition that Founded San Diego de Alcalá and Gave Birth to Spanish Alta California.” A number of important landmarks are listed, “Loreto, Valicatá, San Diego, Monterey, San Francisco.” The base of the plaque reads, “They followed the native trail that became El Camino Real, and colonized Alta California with their Descendants.” (emphasis added)
By using the key phrase “colonized Alta California,” the plaque pays honor to the Spanish Empire, and its brutal process of colonization, which is an unjust form of domination in which a nation or monarchy (such as Spain) invades and overruns a distant territory, such as the territory of the Kumeyaay Nation and other Native nations. The invading nation or monarchy intrudes into the countries of other nations and thrusts in its own people. It then engages in physical coercion and endeavors to control or kill off the original nations.
Acknowledging that the descendants of the Spanish expeditions “colonized” Alta California is a polite way of saying that those descendants “dominated” Alta California. The plaque, in other words, celebrates a history Spanish colonialism and domination. This connection is explained quite well by René Maunier in his book, The Sociology of Colonies (1942). Chapter two is titled: “Definition of Colonies: Domination and Government.”
The way in which this connection between the domination and government works is well illustrated by a quote from Junipero Serra. In 1771, Serra expressed his “hope” that “we [Spanish Catholics] will see, before long, new and immense territories gathered into the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church, and subjected to the Crown of Spain.” (Writings of Junipero Serra, ed., Antonine Tibesar, O. F. M., Vol. I, Washington, D.C.: Academy of American Franciscan History, p. 209). He was envisioning the territories of Native nations being subjected to, or dominated by, the “Crown of Spain.” Serra’s use of the term “dominios” in the context of Spanish colonization is referring to political hegemony or domination.
How often is it noted in the mainstream press that Junipero Serra wrote a letter expressing the hope that the “immense” lands of Native nations would be “gathered” into the possession of the Catholic Church and into the possession of the Spanish Crown. How much acreage of traditional Native Nation lands does the Catholic Church hold today? Serra worked tirelessly toward that end result. Before you go and say that Serra didn’t know what he was writing, remind yourself that he was a university professor. He knew exactly what he was saying.
As mentioned above, in Serra’s original Spanish version of the letter, we find the word “dominios” (plural). Some 278 years before Serra wrote his letter, Pope Alexander VI used the Latin term “dominio” to refer to lands that were “not under the domination” (“dominio”) “of any Christian dominators” (“sub actuali dominio temporali aliquorum dominorum Christianorum constitute non sint.” An “establishment of actual, temporal “dominio” was to be achieved by the lands of Native nations and the Native nations themselves being “reduced” by means of a process of “subjection,” or, in other words, a process of domination.
The process of reducing Indians took many forms. The Scotsman Hugo Reid recounted what would happen to a woman who delivered a child that had died in the womb, “When a woman had the misfortune to bring forth a stillborn child, she was punished. The penalty was shaving the head, flogging for fifteen subsequent days, iron on the feet for three months, and having to appear every Sunday in church, on the steps of the altar, with a hideous painted [effigy] child in her arms.” (emphasis added)
Captain Grajera wrote from San Diego: “The customary punishment imposed on neophytes consists of twenty-five lashes and a novenario of twenty-five lashes per day for nine days.” (emphasis added) Hugo Reid said of Mission San Gabriel: “Ask anyone who made this or did that, and the answer remains the same: ‘El Difunto Claudio!’ or ‘The Whip!’ So as to not make a revolting picture,” I will bury acts of barbarity [on the part of the Spaniards] known to me through good authority, by merely saying that Father Zalvidea must have considered whipping meat and drink to them [the Indians], for they had it morning, noon, and night.”
It is time for the San Diego History Center and other organizations to stop acting as if the destructive legacy of the Spanish Catholic system of domination is something to celebrate. The History Center ought to tell the truth about the Spanish mission system being a system of sadism, and forced, unpaid forced Indian labor. This is accurately called “enslavement,” premised on white Christian imperialism and supremacy. Monuments to White Christian Supremacy in places such as Virginia and Louisiana are now being regarded by many people as unacceptable. So why are monuments to White Christian Supremacy (e.g., the Spanish ship San Salvador and statues of Cabrillo and Junipero Serra) still considered acceptable in San Diego, and throughout California?
Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008). He is a producer of the documentary movie, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, directed and produced by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), with narration by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree). The movie can be ordered from 38Plus2Productions.com.