Every year at this time, one observes many in Santa Barbara dress up in Spanish finery and celebrate Old Spanish Days. But one has to ask, why?
Throughout history, power mongers have felt driven to invade established regions where commerce, community, and practiced beliefs successfully existed, occupying and destroying those who lived and flourished there. Those who were conquered often became slaves, if they survived the destruction of their culture and heritage and the various diseases that were newly introduced.
During the 1500s, Cortés, by order of the King of Spain, invaded and conquered the Aztec civilization, stealing its wealth and forcing many Aztecs to convert to Catholicism. After centuries of suppression, in September 1810, the Aztec, now Mexican, revolted, successfully beating the Spanish and declaring independence on September 16, 1810. If those from Mexico declared independence from Spain, why do they celebrate Old Spanish Days?
In 1898 America fought Spain in the Spanish-American War to secure independence for Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, and won. Why do Americans now celebrate Old Spanish Days?
In the 1700s, further Spanish misadventures brought Gaspar de Portola and his gang along our coast, committing the same atrocities as done to the Aztecs. Reaching what we now call Santa Barbara, the Spaniards found little resistance to their dominance from the peace-loving Chumash, who had occupied the region from Paso Robles to Malibu for thousands of years. They were enslaved by the Spaniards, their culture minimalized, and their farms and villages destroyed. They were forced to convert to Catholicism when their own beliefs of Mother Earth and the interconnectivity of all life was core to their culture. They were and are the natives of this land. For a community that cherishes their “native” plants, what happened to cherishing our native peoples?
So why do we celebrate Old Spanish Days?
After China invaded Tibet, destroying their monasteries, religion, and life, do you think the Tibetans celebrated Old China Days?
If children in America are taught that Columbus did not “discover” America, why do we celebrate Old Spanish Days? They did not “discover” Santa Barbara.
It is an embarrassment to profit from enslavement. It is unacceptable to limit the history of our unique and blessed region, ignoring the invasion and destruction of those whose land we share, the Chumash.
It is disgusting to see members of our community promote an event whose theme is Unity through Community, but no mention of the Chumash. The degrading event poster for 2017 shows Spaniards on horseback with what appears to be a Chumash woman sitting at their feet behind a goat with her baby in her arms with the Mission in the background. Where is the recognition of those who came before?
Have your parties, bring in the tourists, but it is time now to appreciate the culture created by those who came before and out of respect, drop the constant reference to the Spaniards and rename the event Old Chumash Days.
Or maybe we should rename our 4th of July celebrations Old British Days?