Junipero Serra: Left Leaves Native, Black Latinos Behind for Pope Francis

Statue of Father Serra in DC
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The canonization of Fray Junipero Serra should have been a rallying cry for the Left. Pope Francis has given America its first saint–a man who dedicated his life to bringing Christianity to the native peoples of California. Many Native Americans see Serra as a conquerer who used violence to impose a religion. They have, selectively, spoken up, but the silence on the part of mainstream left media and white liberals is deafening.

Serra is the first saint to be canonized on American soil, as of Wednesday afternoon. His work in bringing Christianity to California in the 1700s has garnered him “Founding Father” status to many Americans–and, indeed, to Pope Francis, who said of Serra during his canonization Mass, “He sought to defend the dignity of the Native community, protecting them from those who abused them.”

“We are the children of the missionary audacity of so many who preferred not to seal themselves in those structures that give us a false containment,” he said, praising the boldness of Serra in leaving his native Spain to work on the west coast and in Mexico.

The backlash has been significant from Native American commenters, who consider their mass conversion to Christianity a destructive act. “Serra is also documented as being an extreme and unapologetic abuser of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Coast,” writes Oglala Lakota Nation citizen Simon Moya-Smith for CNN. “Serra would brutally beat and whip men, women and children in order to force obedience among the Indians. … Serra celebrated the demise of Indian children, referring to their deaths as a ‘harvest,'” he notes.

“Serra developed brutal and inhuman policies without consideration for our ancestors, Valentín López, the head of the Amah Mutsun tribe,” tells Univision. “He imposed Christianity, he gave us no options, causing incalculable damage to an entire culture,” American literature professor Deborah Miranda, a member of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, adds.

The official Native American opinion on Serra is clear, and the interests of an indigenous population in the face of alleged European oppression would appear an issue right at home with American liberal ideology. Yet the mainstream Left has by and large disregarded their protests upon seeing the latest in a long line of Italian popes praising a man they see as a mass murderer.

Newsweek dismisses the sentiment towards Serra among indigenous populations as “frustration.” The New York Times published a piece “explaining” Serra as a figure similar to St. Patrick or St. Boniface. The voices challenging this narrative on the left are, for the most part, Native American; all others are silent.

That is not to dismiss the praise for Serra. Not even all Native Americans agree with them; Spanish newspaper ABC even found an Aztec worshipper named Xochitl at the canonization mass, happy to celebrate Serra. To celebrate him is to concede that the Judeo-Christian roots of American culture are an inherently good part of our cultural DNA, and that the Spanish empire was indispensable to ensuring Christianity’s place in what, centuries later, are universally regarded as “American” values. But there is little evidence of the modern American left being comfortable with such an acceptance of Christian–and not vaguely multicultural–identity.

Some hints may be found in the positive coverage of the Pope. In discussing Serra, SF Weekly suggests ignoring the plight of Native Americans who encountered Serra because “this is the same pope who is challenging world leaders on climate change, a far greater risk to people today than the interpretations of the actions of a person who’s been dead for two centuries.” The same New York Times comparing Serra to St. Patrick posted an article titled “Viva Sophie Cruz,” praising a small girl for urging the Pope to help her parents stay in the United States illegally.

In Mexico, some are even suggesting Serra should not be a gem of the United States. “Of the 35 years Junipero lived in New Spain, 20 were in what is now Mexico and 15 in Alta California [a term to distinguish the U.S. state from the Mexican state of Baja California],” writes Luis Fernández de la Calle in El Universal, suggesting that Serra’s achievements–and, presumably, his crimes–should belong to Mexico, not California.

Pope Francis’ more vocal opinions on immigration and climate change are politically expedient to many on the left. Thus, his promotion of a man the indigenous peoples of America see as a monster can be dismissed for more practical goals, the evidence suggests.

Similarly, Pope Francis’ silence in the face of police brutality of black Cubans has received no backlash whatsoever from Black Lives Matter movement leaders or their supporters.

Upon leaving Cuba, Pope Francis claimed he “did not know” of any detentions of dissidents during his time in the communist dictatorship. At least two of these arrests, video proves, occurred before Pope Francis’ eyes:

Two dozen members of the Catholic Ladies in White movement were trapped on a bus by Cuban secret police to prevent them from seeing the Pope. Their leader, Berta Soler, was “dragged by the hair” into a car, where a man pressed painfully into her hands as punishment.

Soler is one of a handful of black leaders who are the heart that pumps blood through the Cuban freedom movement–people like Guillermo Fariñas, Jorge Luis García Pérez, Yris Pérez Aguilera, and those who gave their lives to the cause, like Orlando Zapata Tamayo. The liberation of Cuba from communism is indisputably a black issue.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been notably silent on police brutality 90 miles from our shores. Black Lives Matter leader DeRay McKesson, for example, has been apparently too busy on the all-important socially conscious Doritos beat to comment. (He has previously commented on international affairs relevant to black people–for example, the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria.) One has to wonder what makes the violent abuse of black people in a communist nation so much less objectionable than allegedly the same behavior in a free republic–just as one has to wonder what makes it so hard to defend Chicanos and their Native ancestors when lionizing their cousins to the south comes so easily.

The White Left will probably pay attention to this issue again in a month, when Columbus Indigenous Peoples’ Day rolls around and it becomes trendy to pretend to care about non-European Latinos again. More than any other year, the hypocrisy of such a sentiment from the non-Native American Left will be on full display. The Native peoples of America had no bigger chance to object to Spanish colonization than this week. Many stood up; their non-Native “allies” did not.


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