Part One of Six*. Source: History of San Diego by William E. Smythe. All quotes are from this book.
By John Lawrence / From the original San Diego Free Press, circa 1969
In a nutshell, the history of San Diego dates from its discovery as an object of Spanish imperialism to its present-day status as a base for U.S. neo-imperialism. It all started when Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo, a Portuguese navigator in the service of Spain landed on Point Loma in 1542. That is, the official San Diego history starts at this point in time. The Indians, of course, had been here some time before that. As Stokely Carmichael says, “You ain’t nothing till some white man comes along and discovers you.”
In view of the fact that San Diego was ‘discovered’ by a Spanish imperialist, we can appreciate that racism and imperialism have had a very long history in San Diego indeed. Nothing much happened until in 1602 another Spanish imperialist, Don Sebastian Viscaino, landed here, sized up the place, and found it a ‘fine’ site for a Spanish settlement. Of course, the Indians had known for years that it was a fine site for an Indian settlement. After this second false start, imperialism started in earnest in 1769 when King Carlos III of Spain ordered occupation of the ports of San Diego and Monterrey.
In 1768 Galvez had met with Father Juniper Serra in Santa Ana, Mexico, to “develop their plans” for raising the Cross under the protection of the Sword. Actually, if you interchange the words “Cross” and “Sword” in the previous sentence, you get a statement that is closer to the truth. Under the guise of civilizing the natives, imperialism cloaked Its real motives of exploitation of the natives and seizure of their homeland. Cortez was to take care of the military details and Father Serra was to carry our the religious end of the deal. Even In those days, the importance of a good PR man was appreciated!
One might say that Father Serra was the precursor of the pacification teams in Viet Nam today. Conversion of the gentiles to Christianity was clearly “secondary to considerations of empire.” Dig the official San Diego historian:
“But as I study the records of the past it seems clear enough that it was the lust of empire far more than religious zeal which led to the pioneer plantings in California. This judgment is no reflection on the Missionary Fathers who simply availed themselves of a favorable political situation [for whom?] to accomplish designs unquestionably born of a high conception of duty to God and man.”
“But if we seek the motive behind the involvement we find it when we ask ourselves the question: If the Spanish King had not wanted to hold California for the advantage of his empire, would it have been within the power of the Franciscans to found a line of missions from San Diego northwards and thus to lay the foundation stones of an enduring civilization wiping out a previous civilization in the process ? The question must be answered in the negative, for the missionaries could not have supplied the necessary ships and soldiers nor the other provisions necessary to the great undertaking. Put the question another way and ask: If there had been no missionaries and if the Spanish King had still desired to occupy the California coast, could he have done so with the men and money at his command? Unquestionably, he could, but he was wise enough to utilize the enthusiasm and capacity which he found ready to his hand in the shape of the Franciscans and who were the more necessary because the Jesuits had but recently been expelled from their Mission holdings in Lower California.”
…It is important to note the influences which led to the founding of San Diego, and it is the simple truth of history to say that the most vital of these influences was the need of Spanish statecraft to exert itself in order to hold valuable possessions gained in previous centuries, by exploration and discovery? It seems that having “discovered” a place gives you the right to take “possession” of it.
*Editor’s note: Originally, there were thought to be seven articles in this series; please note, there are only six.