Independence Day

In Apercu 2010-06-12, I noted that insights gleaned from casual reading can sometimes rise to the level of epiphanies. Glancing at the CD booklet for A Choir of Angels - Mission Music performed by the vocal ensemble Zephyr, Civic Records, 1997 I read the following paragraph by William John Summers Ph.D., a historical musicologist and Professor at Dartmouth College,

".....California was named by Hernan Cortez (ca. 1536) after the mythical island paradise described by Garci Roderiguez de Montalvo in Las sergas de Esplandian, Seville, 1508. Upper or Alta California, which included the entire west coast of the United States, British Columbia and Alaska was ignored by the Spanish crown until 1768 when King Carlos III ordered Jose de Galvez (Visitador General of new Spain) to begin the colonization of this region to forestall Russian colonial encroachment upon the west coast of North America. In 1769, under Gaspar de Portola, Governor of Baja California, expeditions were sent north from Baja, one by sea and one by land."

I covered much of this story in Blowback, 2010-01-14; and in Mission Creep 02-22-10, I explored the shortcomings of the History curriculum in both grade and high school: here I thought, was a paragraph that should be tattooed (in Spanish, perhaps) on the wrist of every nine-year old in the state which is when, in Fourth Grade, California deems its children should learn its history.

It situates California in a global context that has very little to do with the founding of the United States in 1776 and makes Independence Day sublimely peripheral to our true origin story. While important to the thirteen east coast colonies, the War of Independence was an after-shock of the power struggle that had erupted amongst the European powers in the Seven Years War (1756-1763). The founding of the United States - an event, as it would prove, of huge historical significance - was an unintended consequence of this skirmish except for those few who understood the opportunity that the distracted George III presented to them.

The mythical status of California as an island continued to have profound resonance during the storied days of the Nation's founding. The event of real consequence in California in 1776, was the founding of the seventh mission by Fr. Junipero Serra in San Juan Capistrano - as Spain continued to tighten its grip on California through the work of the Franciscans and their military protectors, the Spanish army. Four Presidios functioned as the army's military base. The last to be built, in 1782, was in Santa Barbara and its detachment oversaw security from the Los Angeles Pueblo to just south of San Luis Obispo.

Last Thursday, Lorrie and I were in Santa Barbara for an exhibit organized by the California Central Coast Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and which featured drawings of our Upper Ojai house. We parked on Anacapa Street and walked though the newly restored Presidio. The beautiful, massively thick white washed adobe walls and a mission tile roof supported on old growth red wood timbers presented the romantic ideal of old California, complete with a decomposed granite courtyard dotted with a few gnarled olive trees. This glorious vision of Spanish provincial architecture was curiously at odds with the grim historical reality of its function as regional base to an occupying army protecting cadres of religious zealots that terrorized the indigenous population.

The parade in Ojai celebrating the birth of a nation, was held Saturday on Juy 3rd, in deference, apparently to the church-going habits of the local citizenry; I suspect it was very similar to last year's parade which we attended, the highlights of which, for me, were the Danza Azteca Cuauhtemoc, a troupe of indigenous dancers and drummers; the Mexican dancing horses and the Mexican American vaqueros, their high waisted suits and their steeds dripping in tooled silver as they paraded under the shade of the rider's broad sombreros: here were celebrations of our pre-Columbian, Spanish and Mexican heritage that balanced the endless parading of U.S. war veterans and the waving of the Flag of Empire, the stars and stripes.

California was, of course, home to vibrant native cultures before the Spanish arrived, and then part of Mexico after they left, briefly an independent republic (under the Bear Flag) and then, as part of the slave/free-state Congressional compromise, granted statehood in 1850.

Yesterday, as Lorrie and I weeded the last stand of now brittle thistles on the west bank of the seasonal stream four single propellor airplanes, perhaps of World War II vintage, flew over us in formation - following their sweep over the parade route on Ojai Avenue.

Today, we are celebrating by taking a hike up Bear Canyon and perhaps this evening we will enjoy, what the vaqueros, anglo-cowboys and african-american cow-punchers worked so hard for - a barbecue of cheap beef; and we will drink a California red in rememberance of the first planting of grapes at San Juan Capistrano Mission in 1779, ten years after the arrival of the Franciscans in California - and of their first Californian vintage in 1782.