A network of forced-labor camps and slaughterhouses

Speaking of pope Fluffy – Richard Kreitner asks why the hell he’s canonizing Junípero Serra.

Born in Spain, Serra arrived in Spanish-held Mexico in 1749 and quickly set about working for the Inquisition, citing by name several natives who refused to convert to Christianity; they were guilty, he wrote, of “the most detestable and horrible crimes of sorcery, witchcraft and devil worship.” Serra soon gained control of the missions of Baja California, but he found that the native population had already been nearly extinguished by contact with the Spanish. Looking for fresh converts, he led expeditions up the coast into the present-day state of California, where he settled at Monterey and set up ten new missions to spread the gospel through the new land.

To “spread the gospel,” meaning, to coerce the colonized population into adopting the colonizers’ religion.

From their establishment in the late 1760s until Mexico declared independence and secularized them in the 1820s, the California missions formed a network of forced-labor camps and, in effect, slaughterhouses, where the once-vibrant native peoples of California were systematically reduced to mere shadows of their former selves: Under the mission system, the overall indigenous population of Southern California declined by nearly 1,000 every single year.

If they were lucky enough not to be killed by European diseases spread largely through sexual violence on the part of the Spanish, many natives at the missions sought to run away, not terribly unlike African slaves on the East Coast in the United States.

So what is the point of canonizing that?

The summer that is ending saw the beginning of what many of us only a few months ago thought impossible: a serious and fairly intelligent national debate about the legacy of slavery and the Civil War. The proposed canonization of Serra has gained some attention on the West Coast, but almost none in the East. That is because in their grade-school history classes the students of California learn something the rest of us do not: There was not one form of slavery in the territory that is now the United States. There were at least two.

But of course from the point of view of the church, forcing Catholicism on a colonized population is a good and saintly thing to do.

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