California: Please Raze the Missions and Rename Cities Named After Them

California is home to 21 structures known as ‘Missions’ evenly spaced along what used to be known as the El Camino Real (much of California State Route 82 is named after it). These Missions were set up by missionaries on behalf of the Spanish Empire to “civilize” the indigenous population into Spanish colonial citizens. What this meant, of course, is that Native Americans in the area were treated like slaves and regularly brutalized: they were regularly murdered, raped, and beaten by missionaries to no accountability of the missionaries.

Somehow, though, the Missions are still celebrated as landmarks of a glorious project in California, and the Californian educational curriculum barely touches on the degree of violence and brutality visited by the Spanish missionaries upon the native tribes. Even when the actions of the missionaries are acknowledged, the acts are often described euphemistically, for instance saying that “a cultural bias” “caused” “missionaries to develop strong negative opinions” of Native Americans, rather than acknowledging that the missionaries were simply generalized supremacist mass-murderers.

Furthermore, California has many cities named after various of the 21 Missions. San Diego is named after Mission San Diego de Alcalá. San Francisco comes from the names of the narby Presidio and Mission San Francisco de Asís. There’s also San Jose, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, San Rafael, and many others. By naming these cities in the convention of the 21 institutions of oppression, we are celebrating the plight of the Native Americans. We could find better, more germane and appropriate names for these cities. Personally, I like to refer to San Francisco as The Golden City and San Jose as The Silicon City. There are probably a lot of other good possible names for these cities, as well as for all the others.

I sense a probable objection that as structures that are hundreds of years old, the Californian Missions are more historical landmark than symbol of tyranny, and that by razing them, we would be removing a system of valuable historical landmarks. This is an often-used argument, but I’d like to suggest that it seems ludicrous that something 5 years old and an establishment of tyranny would be something people would cheer for bringing down but something 200 years old and an establishment of tyranny is considered a valuable landmark, as if the fact that time has passed has made the structure become more okay. If anything, the fact that a symbol of brutality is able to last that long should symbolize that this was an exceptional case of oppression, one that couldn’t be shut down sooner. (Of course there’s the awkward fact that the United States itself has an amazing history in mass-killing and mass-dehumanization of Native Americans, and thus even those that have beliefs against what was done to Native Americans in the Missions may fear the aura of hypocrisy, and this may have contributed to Missions not being viewed negatively soon enough.)

There is a very weird and very sad thing about this country, the United States. Over time, the United States has been in a gradual cycle of realizing that after it claimed to the world that “all men were created equal”, the country has been constantly riding a cycle of seeking the marginalization of a different group of people. In the modern world, many oppressed groups now at least have a significant voice: the Irish, the Italians, African Americans, the LGBTQ+ community. And yet, the people who were in fact the original inhabitants of this land still don’t really have anything of a voice in American politics. The Washington Redskins are still not renamed. If the team was called the “Niggers” or the “Fags” there was no way that name would have lasted a year before it had to be taken down for backlash for its inappropriateness. Americans also have a day simply dedicated to celebrating a man, Christopher Columbus, who went out of his way to get more Native Americans killed, and was proud of it. Barely enough want to speak up for Native Americans. Now is a far overdue time to do so, but it is still less overdue than later. California should destroy its 21 structures of past systematic oppression of local populations, teach candidly about the harm they brought, and rename the cities that celebrate the Spanish Empire’s machine of cultural supremacism.

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