The upcoming sanctification of Franciscan Padre Junipero Serra seems a Sarah Palin play. Apparently the people who advise the Vatican on such things think they can pass off the European Spaniard who founded the California missions as the forerunner of contemporary Latinos and Spanish-speaking immigrants who may (or may not) feel oppressed within Anglo U.S. culture. This seems analogous to the notion in the dumber precincts of the GOP that all they have to do to overcome the distrust they've sown among Latinos through years of xenophobic calls to deport tia and abuela is put up a Cuban face for a candidate.
Father Serra was a man of his time, building the infrastructure to convert a heathen land and make the natives into good, obedient servants of the Spanish monarchy and its armies. The substantial native population of Californian, the most dense in North America before European contact, consisted of ignorant children in Serra's understanding of the world. Once they accepted his God, they were to be locked away from their own culture and from their families and put to work. If they resisted (and they did), they could be whipped, beaten or killed.
Serra may not have been intentionally cruel, but the Spanish invaders and the diseases they brought with them killed of 5 out of 6 of the indigenous people of California within 100 years. More than 5,700 Indian bodies from that period are buried under church buildings at Mission Dolores in San Francisco; the overall death toll of Spanish conquest was likely over 200,000. The coming of the Spanish to California achieved what we now call genocide. Not surprisingly, the descendants of the survivors aren't applauding the Franciscan's canonization.
insists that Padre Serra is an inspiring model for U.S. Latino Catholics today.
This is pretty tangled. While some migrants from south of the border may identify with the Euro-Spanish part of their ancestry, others very often think of themselves as victims of the Spanish empire that the founders of their countries threw off in the early 19th century. For a significant number of newcomers from southern Mexico and Central America even today, Spanish is a second language to some indigenous tongue.
Most U.S. Latinos are nominally Catholic -- but are they likely to identify with a Spanish cleric who forcibly converted Indians and built a colonial economy? Or is Serra just another European imposition erasing their history?
All photos from a polite gathering of protest outside Mission Dolores on Saturday, May 2.