San Diego’s celebration of its 250th anniversary this week was a welcome reminder that what brings Americans together in 2019 is stronger that what divides us.
While Washington was reeling from President Trump’s suggestion that four Congresswomen from immigrant families should “go back” to the “places from which they came,” the Kumeyaay flag was raised at the site of the European founding of California and political leaders praised diversity and inclusion.
The two-hour ceremony included Kumeyaay Indian bird calls, Portuguese-American dancers, and speeches by political leaders from both sides of the border. Tacos and flatbread were on sale. An African American cowboy wandered through the crowd of 500.
Father Junipero Serra’s founding of Mission San Diego de Alcala n July 16, 1769, was a disaster for the Kumeyaay. Indians died from epidemics of European diseases, they became virtual slaves to the Spanish, and then the United States ordered them onto reservations.
Kumeyaay tribal leaders spoke at the celebration of “generations of systematic oppression” but also expressed pride as tribal members who are U.S. Army veterans raised the Kumeyaay flag.
The founding of the mission wasn’t just the beginning of San Diego. It was also the beginning of California.
“Are the Kumeyaay proud of that? Yes we are!” said Angela Elliott Santo, chairwoman of the Manzanta band.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer explained the spirit of the event clearly and eloquently, pointing to what is printed on every U.S. dollar bill.
“E pluribus unum … out of many one,” said Faulconer. “What good is that motto if we don’t endeavor to live by its ideals?”
Fox News, the cable news network founded by Australian immigrants that is the President’s favorite, talks about our “broken immigration system.” But San Diego’s celebration was a testament to America’s ability to attract the best from around the world — and their ability excel.
Portuguese and Italian immigrants made San Diego the center of the tuna industry. Jews fleeing the Nazis helped found Qualcomm, San Diego’s biggest company. Mexican immigrants today are building companies and businesses throughout the county.
It was easier, perhaps, in 1925 when what is now the Junipero Serra Museum was opened. The only task was to glorify the European colonization. The Kumeyaay were at best forgotten, at worst considered “savages.”
Happily San Diego, California and hopefully the rest of America have grown over the past 250 years.
Assemblyman Todd Gloria, himself of Indian descent, may have put it best: “The last two centuries indicate that we are capable of coming together.”
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.