Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Come to Jesus ...

I vastly under-utilized the opportunity when I went to Venezuela.  That was my first ever travel to a completely different world and as a newbie I had no idea how to understand the country and its people.

Even in that rawness, there were questions that always nagged me.  How would their history have turned out if Spain had not colonized them?  Whenever I interacted with people who had a lot less European features, I was left wondering what their ancestors felt when the Spaniards came in.  And given how much Catholicism is an integral part of life there, if they had not been colonized, would a great number of traditional religious practices have survived?

By the time I returned to that part of the world, to Ecuador, I was a much older and a tad wiser fellow.  I had become a better observer of people.  Even now, I clearly remember the woman who was selling eats at a plaza and my thoughts that I blogged about:
In a matter of a few years after Columbus, the lives of the original peoples of the Americas changed. Forever. Dramatically. For the worse.

Observing the Andeans, even the mestizos, I was always left to wonder how chaotic the disruptions would have been when the Spaniards came into their lives.

It seemed as if this older woman at Plaza Grande carried in her, and in her face, all those old stories.  One wrinkle was about Columbus. Another was about Pizarro. A lot of lines, recalling a whole lot of people who messed them all up.
The older and wiser me knew how to talk about this with people, if ever such opportunities came up.  Like this one that I blogged:
The guide there was obviously passionate about the cultural heritage, and the urgency to preserve the sites with archeological significance.  I asked her, "when you think about it, don't you get upset that the Spaniards wiped out your peoples and their histories?"
I get charged up thinking about this.  It is horrendous.
"Yes. It upsets me even more that the ancient sites are being destroyed. All the mining is blowing up the historic sites" she replied.
I was beginning to feel the pain she walked around with.
"Even the churches at Quito were all built on sites that were of importance to our people.  They destroyed them."
There is simply no way to compensate for the injustice, I thought to myself. Here was this beautiful young woman struggling to deal with her own identity, her cultural heritage, and has to do that with fragmented stories from the past even while fighting to protect whatever remains from being destroyed.
"I am surprised that you are able to smile even as you say all these" I told her.
"It is all in the past. There is nothing we can do."
Why think about those now?

My good debater friend is on a road trip in a part of India that I have always dreamed of going but I will never go for various practical reasons.  A part of India with many, many, indigenous groups with their own histories and cultures.  And, like with the Andeans, most of that old stuff has been replaced by Christianity.  Of course, Christianity not with a Spanish or Portuguese flavor but almost always the English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh varieties, along with the occasional American Protestant influence.  In a number of posts, he has also included photos of churches like this one below, which you might think is "European":


Missionaries went to all corners of the world, it seems, to spread Jesus' teachings and they went to India's northeast too.  Perhaps it is my atheist framework that makes me wonder why people have such a compelling urge to go somewhere else and covert people into their way of thinking--even now.

Whether they converted the natives under the threat of guns, or by talking about the hell they would go to after death, or by bribing them with hospitals, or by any other means, what a colossal and irreparable assault on cultures.

History is recorded by the victorious, but eventually we work our ways around that.  Which is what happened to Junípero Serra, who was a proselytizer extraordinaire.  After the current Pope announced his plans to make a saint of Serra, the forgotten and marginalized histories were out in the public, again.  After all, we now live in a world that is different from Serra's.
many of the people descended from those who first encountered Serra have a starkly different view of the Spanish friar. Sainthood for the friar would honor the actions of a brutal colonizer, many Native Americans protest.
Ron Andrade, executive director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, compared Serra to Hitler and the Spanish conquistadors who subjugated South America. Andrade, a Luiseño, said Serra “decimated 90% of the Indian population”. “Why doesn’t the pope canonize Pizarro or Cortez? It’s dumb.”
“Everywhere they put a mission the majority of Indians are gone,” Andrade said, “and Serra knew what they were doing: they were taking the land, taking the crops, he knew the soldiers were raping women, and he turned his head.”
Not only has the Vatican never formally apologized for what the Church did, now they even make a saint of Serra!
French explorer Jean François de Galaup de la Pérouse, Serra’s contemporary, wrote that the missions treated “too much a child, too much a slave, too little a man” and were akin to slave plantations. On several occasions tribes tried to revolt, until eventually new settlers took over the missions.
Whether it is in India's northeast, or in Ecuador, the effects of the religious colonialism are not that different from the California experience:
the consequences of Serra’s brand of colonialism live on today. “Treating Indians as less than human, or as children who could never grow up, created a sort of psychological trauma,” she said. “I don’t deny that cultures evolve, but more agency in the evolution could not have been bad.”
Sainthood, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

At the San Luis Rey Mission, in 2012

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