Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Town I Live in: What Happened to the Indians?

I have a newfound interest in local history. I feel a compulsion to learn as much as I can about Fullerton, the town I live in. So I walk down to the newly-remodeled library and browse the local history section. I find a book I was required to read in the 3rd grade called Ostrich Eggs For Breakfast. It’s a history of Fullerton that every 3rd grader in the district is required to read. I begin reading, and I am shocked by this passage:

“Sometimes people ask, ‘What happened to the Indians?’ As far as anyone knows, there are no Gabrielenos Indians left in Fullerton. One person who has studied about these Indians thinks perhaps this is what may have happened to them.

The mission padres tried to teach the Indians to live like the Spanish people. It was very hard for the Indians to change their old ways of living.

When the Mexican government ordered the missions to be closed, the Indians were left with no one to tell them what to do. They were used to the padres and the soldiers telling them exactly what to do each day. When the padres closed the missions and went away, the Indians did not know how to take care of themselves.

Some of the Indians had died from hard work at the missions and on the ranchos. Many of them died from diseases caught from the white men such as measles and chicken pox. The number of Indians grew smaller and smaller each year.

Many of the Indians could not find enough food to eat after the missions were closed. Many became sick and died. Some of them may have moved away and joined other tribes, perhaps to the south towards San Diego.”


If, when I was in 3rd grade, I knew what I know now, I would ask some questions of my teacher. I would question this account of the disappearance of the Indians. I would raise my hand and say:

“So, correct me if I’m wrong here, but it seems like this passage is suggesting that the Indians dying off was their own fault. When their oppressors left, they were like babies who, despite centuries of living in harmony with nature, suddenly forgot how to live off the land. This is bullshit, Mrs. G,” I would say in my 9-year old voice, “Just because we are children doesn’t mean we should be lied to. If you smooth over the unpleasant parts of American history, you are doing us a disservice. For it is only in understanding the mistakes of the past that we can hope to not repeat them.”

If I was to revise Ostrich Eggs For Breakfast I would write something like this:

“When native Americans lived in Fullerton, they lived in relative harmony with their natural habitat. They were free and shared things and did not try to exploit each other or the land.

But the king of Spain, like the other European kings of that time, was hungry for land and gold and power. He, like many before and after him, thought that the highest goal for humans was the accumulation of wealth and power. This idea is, of course, morally empty. But it didn’t stop those kings and soldiers from hurting and killing lots of people all over the world, in their empty quest for wealth and power.

One of the places that people got hurt and killed was in the land now known as Fullerton. The king of Spain sent soldiers to present-day California to grab as much land and gold as they could. The king also sent priests, so the soldiers wouldn’t feel so bad about killing whatever people lived on that land. The priests were there to make the soldiers think they were doing ‘God’s work’ by exploiting and killing people.

So, wherever the soldiers built a fort, the priests built a mission, so they could explain to the native Americans how they were inferior and how their spirituality, which mainly had to to with living in harmony with nature, was actually incorrect. They priests explained how nature was not something to be revered, but rather exploited, and how, if the native Americans didn’t accept an invisible white man-god into their hearts as their lord and savior, they could expect to burn forever in a place called hell.

Then the soldiers and priests proceeded to make life a living hell for the native Americans, and eventually wiped them out completely or drove them off the land.

Today, the artificial road that the Spanish soliders and priests constructed is called “El Camino Real” or “The King’s Highway.” That’s what that sign on Harbor Blvd means. But, from a native American perspective, The King’s Highway would more accurately be called The Devil's Highway.”


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