By Doug Porter
Eighteenth century Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra will be canonized by Pope Francis this week. Hailed by the church as “the evangelizer of west in the United States” and reviled by descendants of the indigenous people living along the coast, Serra’s ascension to sainthood is a controversial move.
The expulsion of the Jesuit order from the Spanish colonies by King Carlos III brought Serra to Baja California. In 1769, the government, fearful of intrusions by Russian traders to the north, dispatched the Franciscans to what we now call California. Serra founded nine missions, starting with the Mission San Diego de Alcalá and went about the business of ‘civilizing’ the local inhabitants.
Tales of the conquest of California by Spanish soldiers and Catholic missionaries by supporters of the church tend towards laying the blame for much of the ensuing slaughter on the military. Serra viewed the native population as children, children who needed the kind of brutal discipline meted out by the Franciscan order in order to find salvation.
Here’s the Union-Tribune’s Ricky Young:
The new title probably will not put to rest hundreds of years of disagreement over Serra’s treatment of Native American Californians as he went about establishing missions up the coast of California, starting with San Diego.
The pope has this to say about Serra: “He ushered in a new springtime of evangelization in those immense territories, extending from Florida to California, which, in the previous 200 years, had been reached by missionaries from Spain. This was long before the pilgrims of the Mayflower reached the North Atlantic coast. There are three key aspects to the life and example of Friar Junípero: his missionary zeal, his Marian devotion and his witness of holiness.”
The church’s position is that Serra was a friend of the tribes, protecting them against Spanish conquistadors and settlers along the coast. There is no shortage of contrary opinions, from people who say Serra is guilty of slavery and even genocide.
Alan Yuhas, writing for The Guardian, has a harsher view:
A story about conquest, religion and the Americas, central to a founding myth of California, will end this year with the pope bestowing sainthood on a man many see as guilty of “slavery” and “violent evangelism”….
“…Serra was not the face of evil”, says Deborah Miranda, a professor of literature at Washington and Lee University and an Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Indian. “But there were so many atrocities happening and he closed his eyes,” she said. “I don’t think he should be rewarded for that.”
For Miranda, Serra’s complicity outweighs whatever intentions he had. He was driven by ambition, she said, and in his desire to produce results for Spain he “laid the groundwork to erase our cultures and impose this burden of shame on Indians about being Indian”.
Rose Aguilar, also writing at The Guardian isn’t so sure about Serra’s intentions:
Elias Castillo, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, spent seven years researching and reading books published by the Franciscans, which include letters written by Serra himself. In his book A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Native Americans by the Spanish Missions, Castillo doesn’t mince words when he describes the missions as “death camps run by friars where thousands of California’s Indians perished.” In letters, Serra wrote that he considered the indigenous population to be “barbarous pagans,” and that only Catholicism could save them from evil.
When the King of Spain sent Jesuit priests to prevent Russian fur hunters from claiming the region, he directed them to educate and baptize native peoples so they could become Spanish citizens, but Serra had other plans. He brutally converted them to Christianity and wiped out entire cultures, languages and villages in the process.
Under Serra’s leadership, soldiers violently captured California’s Native Americans, forced them into labor and imprisoned them until they died. According to Castillo’s exhaustive research, they were beaten, flogged and placed in shackles that didn’t allow them to bend their knees for days. If they grieved over the loss of loved ones, they were whipped. Mothers who had miscarriages were not allowed to mourn; instead, they were accused of having abortions and then forced to hold a carved figure of an infant while standing outside of a mission church.
Jamie Manson, at the National Catholic Reporter, says the Pope “fervently fast-tracked Serra’s canonization process in time for his visit to the United States.”
Getting to the “Why?” of this process, Manson (who is critical of the canonization) says it’s about fostering a renewed evangelism in the Church:
“Some powers are committed to erasing” Christianity, he said, “because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of Mammon.”
Francis further warned against a “new form of colonialism” that has fostered inequality, materialism and the exploitation of the poor.
The strange irony is that Francis is using Serra, a missionary who sought to erase the culture and religion of one people, to try to counter the erasure of Christianity. He is using the founding father of religious colonialism to combat secular colonialism.
In the lead up to Serra’s canonization, some have argued that, to be a saint, you don’t have to be perfect, you only have to be holy.
Volkswagen’s Dirty Little Secret
The scandal surrounding Volkswagen is a testament to corporate greed. In the perfect world of the libertarian, the company would have never been caught rigging cars to defeat EPA smog tests.
The company has now admitted intentionally installing software on 11 million cars programmed to switch engines to a cleaner mode during official emissions testing. Once it detected the tests to over, the software switched off, enabling cars to drive more powerfully on the road while emitting as much as 40 times the legal pollution limit.
Worst of all, people got paid subsidies based on those test results. From the Los Angeles Times:
The federal government paid out as much as $51 million in green car subsidies for Volkswagen diesel vehicles based on falsified pollution test results, according to a Times analysis of the federal incentives…
…The Times analysis matched Internal Revenue Service data with Volkswagen sales figures to determine the value of subsidies VW diesel buyers were eligible to collect in 2009, the first and only year the vehicles qualified. The $1,300 tax credit would have been available to buyers of about 39,500 Jetta and Jetta Sportwagen models that sold that year, according to Motor Intelligence, an industry research firm.
Then there are the health issues. From The Atlantic:
On Monday night, Michael Horn, the president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said the company had “totally screwed up” over the scandal, which has prompted calls for investigations into the world’s second-largest carmaker.
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin called for a “Europe-wide” investigation into diesel cars.
“This is not a minor subject, it’s not about speed or the quality of leather,” he told French media. “What we are dealing with is making sure people avoid being poisoned by pollution.”
Cleaner Air in California Equals Less Cancer Risk
This is why we have all those pesky regulations the dirty energy industry tries to scare us about.
From the Los Angeles Times:
On Monday, there was more good news. The Air Resources Board reported that Californians’ cancer risk from toxic air pollution has declined 76% over more than two decades, a trend the agency attributes to the state’s array of regulations targeting everything from diesel trucks to dry cleaners.
State scientists measured the drop from 1990 to 2012 by tracking airborne concentrations of the seven toxic air contaminants that are most responsible for increasing cancer risks. They include the particulate matter in diesel exhaust, benzene from gasoline, perchloroethylene emitted by dry cleaners and hexavalent chromium from chrome plating operations.
The authors of the study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, said they were able to link declines in toxic compounds to specific policies, including rules targeting exhaust from diesel trucks, gasoline vapors and emissions from dry cleaners.
Son of Trickle Down
The latest spin from corporate apologists is that wages will eventually rise due to demographic changes. They’ve needed to come up with something new since publication of French economist Thomas Piketty’s works.
Here’s columnist James Saft at Reuters:
A new report by economists at Morgan Stanley and consultant Charles Goodhart, formerly a member of the interest rate-setting panel at the Bank of England, argues that what demographic trends have driven, demographic trends can also take away.
“Is Piketty history? We think so,” Goodhart, Manoj Pradhan and Pratyancha Pardeshi argue in a study released last week. “Just as a larger labor force pushed real wages lower and inequality much higher in the advanced economies, a smaller labor force will inevitably lead to rising wages, a larger share of income for labor and a decline in inequality.”
World population growth, now about 1.25 percent annually, will fall to 0.75 percent globally and near zero in the developed world by 2040, according to United Nations projections. Not only is the supply of untapped easily integrated labor in places like China drying up, but the aging of the west will put local pressures on wage supply, as it implies a booming need for healthcare workers.
If you’re willing to buy this, I’ve got some discount passes for the Coronado bridge you might be interested in.
Meanwhile, David Wessel of the Brookings Institution pointed out this week that the typical male worker actually saw his after-inflation pay fall between 1973 and 2014.
On This Day: 1961 – President John F. Kennedy signed the congressional act establishing the Peace Corps. 1985 – The first Farm-Aid concert was held in Champaign, IL. The show raised $10 million for U.S. farmers. 2005 – OSHA reached its largest ever settlement agreement, $21 million, with BP Products North America following an explosion at BP’s Texas City, Texas, plant earlier in the year that killed 15 and injured 170.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.