By John Lawrence / From the original San Diego Free Press, circa 1969
After the Spanish settlement had been established in 1769, there followed a period of digging in—trying to make a go of it and becoming self-sufficient.
There is no question that, behind the religious front, it was the military that was firmly in command. We quote Smythe: “With the dedication of the Presidio and the Mission, the first institutions had been established in what is now the State of California. These institutions were typical of Spanish civilization (sic)—the soldier and the priest working side by side, but always with the sword above the Cross in point of authority. It was essentially a military government, and the commandant was empowered to deal out justice, civil and criminal.”
One can appreciate the meaning of institutionalized justice and institutionalized racism in view of the fact that the first institutions in San Diego were those of a police state. It might be noted that the situation hasn’t improved much over the years.
It is very important to understand the role of the Spanish imperialists since an appreciation of their exploits helps us to understand the nature of imperialism and racism in general and of U.S. neo-imperialism and racism in particular as it is manifested in the world today. U.S. neo-imperialism is the lineal descendent of the 18th century Spanish variety.
The subjugation of the Indians was a sine qua non for Spanish imperialism to gain a foothold in San Diego. It was justified on the grounds that religious “conversion” to Christianity was necessary to save the Indians’ souls much as U.S. imperialism is justified on the grounds of saving the Vietnamese’ souls (as one example) from Communism. In both cases the imperialists use an ideology to mask the real nature of what they’re doing. The real nature of the Spanish presence in San Diego was exploitation of Indian labor as the following quote from Smythe reveals.
“Water and fuel they had in abundance, and supplies to last them a few months, but beyond this they must create the situation which would make permanent settlement possible. In order to do so successfully, they must convert the Indian in a double sense, for it was not enough to bring him to the foot of the Cross; he must also be converted to habits of industry and made a useful member of civilized (sic) society.” The only reason for converting the Indians to “habits of industry” was to make the Spanish “permanent settlement possible.” The Indians, themselves, had been eating quite well before the Spaniards even got here.
Despite the earnest efforts of their “saviors,” the Indians were, understandably, reluctant to be converted. In fact there were no converts for a year. The situation grew so dismal that the “founding fathers” decided to leave and set March 19, 1770 as the day for abandonment. Their undertaking had been an abysmal failure.
As fate would have it, just as they were about to leave, a new ship arrived loaded with supplies and recruits. This event so lifted the spirits of the soldiers and priests that they decided to have another go at it in San Diego. They put their heads together and decided to move the mission from Old Town to what is now the San Diego Mission in Mission Valley. They reasoned that this separation of church and military would result in a greater number of Indian “converts.” Smythe says: “One important consideration was the fact that the presence of the soldiers seriously interfered with the work of interesting the Indians both spiritually and industrially.” Since the hard sell didn’t work, the resourceful Spaniards tried the soft sell. They refined their heavy-handed techniques and resorted to more subtle means for “pacifying” the Indians.
*Editor’s note: Originally, there were thought to be seven articles in this series; please note, there are only six.