Columbus Day Protested in Southern California

by RP Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011 at 8:54 AM

Report and photos of actions in Santa Barbara and Mission San Juan Capistrano. (Pictured below: demonstrators at Mission San Juan Capistrano in front of a Starbucks--mission-style.)

Columbus Day Protest...
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Additional coverage: Photos of Columbus Day Protest: Mission San Juan Capistrano

Most regular readers likely understand why Columbus Day is not a time for celebration; however, quite a few in the mainstream apparently do not. (This author has witnessed objection to Columbus Day being dismissed as "politically-correct." The term "politically-correct" seems to have mutated into a convenient way of dismissing all manner of outrageous injustices.) Some participants in this year's Columbus protest at Mission San Juan Capistrano speculated that it may take another 10 years for the mainstream to become enlightened on this issue.

Earlier this week on American Indian Airwaves Georgiana Sanchez, a renowned "poet, scholar, grandmother, educator, storyteller, and leader" who instructs at Cal State Puvungna/Cal State Long Beach (in Native American Literature and Philosophy), pointed out that Marco Polo went to China but was never attributed as the discoverer of China. Whereas Columbus is regarded as the discoverer of the western hemisphere. In both cases the lands had been inhabited by ancient cultures. (Sanchez cited Jack Forbes's book Columbus and Other Cannibals.) "He [Forbes] asks why, and he says, 'Maybe that's because there are no European colonial settlers in China who need to evoke Marco Polo as a symbol for a successful, but still contested conquest,'" Sanchez said. (This discussion is archived at KPFK for 90 days and begins a little bit over one-third into the show.)

This year Columbus Day was protested at several locations in Southern California. In Santa Barbara, AIM (American Indian Movement) Southern California organized its third annual demonstration ("Challenging The Myth Of Columbus") at the Dolphin Fountain at the foot of Stern's Wharf. Prior to that, activists visited other locations of historical significance: Precidio and De La Guerra. Participants were able to articulate their views of Columbus to the media: An Anti-Columbus Day Rally Stirs Up a Lot of Heat (video). There was talk of a Columbus "hanging" at Cal State Puvungna/Long Beach; and at the San Juan Capistrano Mission, the 10th annual Columbus Day protest was held. (Usually on Columbus Day, other actions like banner drops on freeway overpasses occur throughout Southern California, but at the time of this writing, none had been reported this year.)

The 10th annual protest at Mission San Juan Capistrano on Wednesday October 12 was well-attended and lively. About an hour into the demonstration, this author did a rough count of 28 participants, who occupied all corners of the intersection. There was a lot of road traffic and pedestrians, surprising considering it was the middle of a weekday. A large group of uniformed school children passed us several times before entering the mission. Many of the students seemed curious about the protest signs. The media present included the Orange County Register.

There were short conversations with passersby, many them employees of the mission or people visiting it. Two employees told us that we missed Columbus Day, that it was on Monday. However, we corrected them: Columbus Day was observed on Monday, but it actually fell on Wednesday October 12. Although many pedestrians looked at the signs, no one was interested in taking a flyer (I am told people have taken flyers on previous years), but some DVDs of The Canary Effect (Exclusive Clip Columbus Day) were given away (as per the filmmakers' request). Several cars honked in support, but one motorist (a Caucasian male) gave us several Hitler salutes while stopped at a red light. (This was captured by a videographer and should be appearing on YouTube.)

One participant was trying to draw attention to a recent Columbus Day Sale at Fry's Electronics in Anaheim. The imagery in the ad showed three slave ships and arrogantly overlooked the very old peoples that already existed in this hemisphere.

The protest was followed by lunch at a nearby fast food restaurant with "mission" architecture and whose menu items included the Mission Burger (appropriately written in red letters)(1). 

After lunch, there was a gathering at a nearby sacred site, Putiidhem, one of many places visited in the annual Ancestor Walk. Putiidhem has been described as "the mother village of the Acjachemen. It is a sacred site and continues to hold significance in the hearts of the people." (This quote can be found at the link above.) The Acjachemen lived in the village until 1776, when they were removed and forced to construct Mission San Juan Capistrano and other buildings (and the people came to be known as the the Juaneno). The site is now occupied by Junipero Serra Catholic high school, and several years ago, the last undeveloped part of it was covered by a PE facility.

The protesters plan to return next year, but hopefully the debate about Columbus will continue year-round.


(1)Many other businesses at that intersection, including a Starbucks, also had mission theming, Had Germany won World War 2, maybe Auschwitz would now have a Starbucks, concentration camp-themed fast food restaurants, and souvenir shops selling Jewish crafts?