A car trip through the beautiful Sierras

Jennie and I just got back from a week-long car trip through the beautiful Sierras, looping across the upper Central Valley to the Mendocino Coast, and eventually returning to Santa Cruz. The early part of our journey found us traveling through Gold Rush country, principally on Highway 49. Whenever I visit this area, I think of all the mining that was done and the effects of that era on the Indigenous people who endured a huge influx of Anglos from the east, all here to strike it rich in the golden foothills of California.
It is well documented that the miners were especially cruel to the natives, not only exposing them to diseases but outright stealing their land and offering bounties for the killing of “savages.” I can’t help but to compare that with the Spanish missionaries and colonists who arrived a hundred and fifty years prior. They also introduced fatal diseases to the local tribes and essentially enslaved baptized Indians at their missions, but the Spanish did not wantonly murder the Indigenous people. Their goal, although misguided in its application, was to assimilate the locals into Spanish culture, as well as to baptize them and save their souls for eternity.
The Catholic padres often encouraged Spanish soldiers and settlers to marry native women. Mestizos were accepted in early California-Spanish society. To kill a native was an offense that brought perpetrators before judicial tribunals, many times resulting in harsh penalties. Compare that to the inconsequential murders of Indians that occurred during the Gold Rush days.

This, in a roundabout way, brings me to a local issue regarding the renaming of Cabrillo College

Juan Cabrillo was an explorer who held slaves and helped to establish a strong Spanish presence in California. Not an especially nice man, but certainly a product of his times and not much different from other powerful Spanish men who arrived during the early days of colonization. Renaming the college in response to the “Sins of our Fathers” will make little difference in my life and my relationship with the school, which I attended in the mid-1970s. But I do see the odd precedent that it sets in our community. Most people are against the name change. And many people argue that, carried to a logical conclusion, a very large number of towns and cities in the state that have Spanish origins, should, by similar associations, have their names altered, including Santa Cruz, host to the “Holy Cross” Mission. This seems like madness to me.
And to take things a bit further, what about all the cities and towns named after Anglo settlers who arrived in the mid-19th century and worked the gold fields of California? Their lethal sins regarding the natives were much, much worse than the Spanish colonists. The word “genocide” comes to mind. Jennie and I have passed through the towns of JacksonMurphysJulienSutter CreekJamestownWeaverville, and Downieville—all places named after Anglos who came west to seek their fortunes, often at the expense of dead native Californians. Do we rename these places?

It seems best to me to leave California place names as they are. They are a reminder of days past and a history that can be a tool for educating ourselves about what we were and what we have become as humans, both in positive and negative ways.

It appears likely that Cabrillo College will eventually be renamed.

Five names have been offered. I tend to like two of the names—Aptos Community College and Cajastaca Community College. These two proposals represent the Ohlone tribes that inhabited the area some 250 years ago.

Photos by Jennie Anderson

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