I recently met with a surviving Chumash elder who wisely said,
“God made humans the last living creatures so they could learn how to survive from the animals and environment that came before them.”
It’s quite evident that humans turned out to be belligerent students at times throughout history as they were given dominion to make conscious choices. In the course of Santa Barbara’s pastoral Spanish history, we can see that today our lack of consciousness is drunk with complicity by annually celebrating Old Spanish Days. Our cries of “Viva La Fiesta” revs up the celebratory spirit each August. Behind the backdrop of beautiful dancers in front of the Old Mission, tortas at De la Guerra Plaza, horses dancing in El Desfile Historico, and blueblood dignitarios dressed in traditional Spanish outfits from the 18th century, we’ve ignored the savage killings of the Chumash people, which included torture, the raping of women, enslavement, distruction of their villages, and occupying and stealing their sacred land. At the same time, we’ve ignored during this celebration the environmental, physical, and spiritual legacy of the Chumash.
In this moment we must confess that Old Spanish Days as a whole is a complete disregard of the Chumash genocide that begin in 1602. The leaders of the City of Santa Barbara and Old Spanish Days should not only acknowledge the Chumash genocide, they should also begin the procees toward repurposing this annual celebration. Santa Barbara’s diversity is what should be celebrated. It does not serve us well to continue perpetuating the Chumash masacre. Our lack of consciousness and complicity has grown out of the days when the actor Leo Carrillo would stroll through town during Fiesta, branding the celebration for the world to visit, or when former Mayor David Shiffman would pass out shots of tequila during the parade. As far as I can tell, the party’s over.
The recent racial uprising — protests for equality and to fully regulate police to curb brutal abuses — have now provided an active platform and opportunity to review Old Spanish Days with a lens that acknowledges that this land, which the wealthy call “paradise,” is sacred to the surviving Chumash descendants in the area. It is also an opportunity for our Mexican and Chicano community to realize that our skin is not brown by chance. That we, too, come from the indigenous people of North America. Yet our ancestors lost our native history through cultural amalgamation due to religion and racism. Equally, celebrating our city’s history and diversity correctly will help abolish patriarchy and the misogyny that justified much of the Spanish conquest and lives in today’s Latino macho stereotypes.
If anyone is complicit in this celebration, it is I. As a reveler and musician, I’ve participated in many events sponsored by Old Spanish Days, dating back to when I was a kid in the Children’s Parade. I’m now compelled into a personal reckoning and propose that as a community we recreate a local celebration that truly integrates our local history and lifts up our Chumash people.