Why Do We Celebrate This?

A few years ago, when I was still living out in Tennessee, I brought my first girlfriend home to visit family for the holidays.  She had never been to NorCal before.  The architecture here tends to be heavily Spanish-villa/mission influenced; I remember as we were driving somewhere, and we were talking about a particularly spectacular example of it (a country club out in Napa, IIRC), she got quiet for a moment, then asked, "Why?"

"Why what?" I replied.

"The mission-style architecture.  Why is that still such a thing?  Why model buildings after a period of colonization, where the purpose of the original buildings you're inspired by was to forcibly take over and convert the Native populations?"

I was at a loss.  "Because it's our history?" I offered, knowing what a weak excuse that was.

That conversation was brought to mind today by this post over on Calitics, a California-specific politics blog where I get most of my local- and state-level political news.  Fort Ross, an old Russian outpost and historic site on the northern coast of California that was one of the first European settlements on the west coast, turned 200 yesterday.  The post was a simple enough quick-recap of the history of it and a "happy birthday", but it got me wondering.

Why do we celebrate this?

Especially since the subhead was about it being one of the first European settlements in the area, like that was the salient point and major accomplishment we were celebrating?

What we're "celebrating" is a new phase in the invasion and colonization of the Americas.  An event which ended in the deaths of many, and the near or total obliteration of hundreds of unique cultures, simply because they were here first and white people wanted the land for them(our)selves, and which has left a legacy of racism, poverty, and appropriation that continues today.

Do we have these bicentennials (or really, far-more-centennials) for enduring Native settlements?  LOLno.  Both because most were destroyed by colonizers and the people forcibly moved away, and because even if they hadn't been this wouldn't be a priority for the general public.

And that disparity in and of itself should tell you that this is not the innocuous "yay history" it seems at first glance.

We should not be uncritically celebrating this.


itchbay said...

I had an entire class last semester about this. We read a very informative book by Phoebe Kropp: California Vieja:


Jadelyn said...

Oooh!  That looks like an excellent read, I'll have to see if I can get a copy of it on ebook or perhaps the library will have it.  Thanks for the rec!

itchbay said...

I don't anticipate re-reading it anytime soon. I'm happy to drop it in the mail or do a meet-up thing to pass it along. 

Otherwise, I don't think there's an eBook version or I would have gotten it instead. I suppose the SSU library would have it available for inter-library loan. :)

Jadelyn said...

Heh, that's exactly why I was hoping to find an e-version or library version, cause it's not the sort of book I see myself rereading very much, hence not really wanting to drop $30 on it.  I'd be happy to pay shipping if you were to mail it to me, or if you're in the Bay Area, we could meet up somewhere.  Email me - nikaia.jadelyn@gmail.com - if you'd like to arrange that, and thank you.  :-)


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