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Interconnection – Muslims, Mexicans, California and Conquistadors

Recently, I have decided to call California home for the long term.  It has been difficult to let go of the possible return to life in Asia but using the techniques laid out in my post “Mind Control” I’ve been able to do so and am enjoying myself!  (I simply decided to become enthusiastic about it and so it was)

In order to to ease my mind in this mental transition, I have decided to turn inward and study the history of California.  At first, my aim was to discover local, historical places of interest for weekend jaunts.  But what I have quickly learned is that California has been a crossroads for all the major cultures I enjoy!  Further, in a way it connects my past with the present.

I spent six months studying in Spain while I was at University and am very familiar with the history.  I also spent three months in Mexico and learned quite a bit of their history.  However, in my mind, they remained two separate places and I really didn’t understand the connection.  Now, living in California it had not occurred to me that all three places are connected and if we start in Spain, continue through Mexico, pass through California, we can eventually arrive in Asia by following the path of the Spanish Conquistadors!

As I have lived in all of these places, you have to understand how excited I am to find such a direct connection which adds tremendously to my understanding of the past, present and gives me a glimpse of the future!  Further, as my mind continually wants to pull me back to Spain, Mexico and Asia, I find I can remain connected to all three by simply staying in California and studying history!

This enlightenment occurred to me last weekend when I downloaded the book “North to California: The Spanish Voyages of Discovery 1533 – 1603.” This is an excellent book and to my surprise, has taken me right back to Spain starting with La Reconquista.  La Reconquista refers to the retaking of the Spanish peninsula from the Moors over a period of 800 years.  This book taught me that the discovery of California has to start in Spain and thus has reconnected me with my past in that country!  What this book does is ‘connect the dots’ between my understanding of Spanish and Mexican history and my discoveries here in California.

Just as the opening credits of “The Tudors” explains, “You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends.  To get to the heart of the story, you have to go back to the beginning.” By studying the history I can be transported back to to time of Kings and Knights!

It all becomes so clear!!  I can understand the present much more by understanding the past!  This “enlightenment” has also enabled me to understand current political issues such as Mexican immigration and “Muslim Issues” by learning about the past and I cannot express clearly enough my discouragement when I hear our politicians simplify every issue.  They have no understanding of history!  Now, when I hear their debates, they seem almost like children to me!

How simple they all are!  By understanding history, we can easily see that we are all connected and there is no absolute good, no absolute evil, history moves along and will continue to change what many would wish to keep permanent.  Just as Buddha says “Nothing is permanent.”  If we wish things to remain the same forever then we will be eternally unhappy.

Instead, let us rejoice in change and let us understand how we came to be as we are.  Only then, can we more completely understand where we will be!

Now, I know that history lessons can be tedious and boring.  So instead of diving completely in to each period like a professor, I am going to skim over each period quickly while adding personal tidbits to keep things entertaining.

The point of this post is to pull out those golden nuggets from the drudgery of academia to help you achieve an understanding of the past and therefore more fully understand the present.

I. España (Spain)

As said in “The Tudors” opening credits, we have to get back to the beginning and a great place to start is “La Reconquista.”

Spain has always been a very important vanguard in protecting Western Europe from Muslim influence.  In the year 711, the Muslims entered Spain and continued conquering north for the next several hundred years.  The only place that was not under their control was the Kingdom of Asturias and Asturians today take great pride in this fact.  (I have a friend from there and he told me so – thanks Jose!)

From the year 716 the Christians start to push back and by 1492 the Reconquista is finally completed with Ferdinand and Isabelle retaking Granada.

——-

*Side Note:  Spain has not always been “Spain” but instead a collection of Kingdoms.  The most important of these were Castilla and Aragon.  Isabella I came from Castilla and Ferdinand II from Aragon.  This was quite a royal match as Ferdinand was very handsome, athletic and a great match for Isabella.  She had the opportunity to marry Alfonso V of Portugal but they had an age difference of 19 years so Ferdinand II was the better match for her.

Imagine if Isabella had married Alfonso, then the Kingdoms of Castilla and Portugal would have been united and the Iberian peninsula would look much different today.

Another tidbit I learned is that the name Castilla (which means Castle) came from the practice of building fortresses (or castles) on tops of the mountains during La Reconquista which provided protection and areas from which to launch attacks against the Moors.

—————

Now, what one has to understand is during these 800 years or so of reconquest, Muslims and Christians mixed and that is why Spaniards of today are darker than northern Europeans.  Further, if you look at many of their names, some may have “moorish” names attached.  There are also many Arabic words in Spanish such as the following:

1. azúcar – Sugar
2. barrio – Neighborhood
3. Algebra – Algebra
4. jarabe – Syrup

For a bigger list, click here.

Currently, some politicians would like to simplify history as Christians vs. Muslims, but in actuality it was pretty much everyone against everyone.  Christian kings fought Christian Kings, Muslim rulers fought Muslim rulers and within those Kingdoms there were rivalries amongst themselves.

Newt Gingrich has tried to portray the Cordoba mosque in Spain as an affront to the Christian world when it was much more a middle finger towards other Muslims who wanted to rule from Damascus.  Just read any book entitled “History of Spain” and this fact will most likely be pointed out.

Now, getting back to the Reconquista, we have to understand that this created a huge warrior class of hardened fighters.  As we know today, it can be difficult to re-assimilate these warriors back into society and for them to not cause trouble they must be kept busy.

As Cristobal Colon had recently discovered the “New World” this offered a perfect opportunity to send these warriors to conquer new lands.  Now, we have a very hardened “religious extremist” warrior class heading to the New World in search of riches and the natives had never encountered such a people.  Certainly there was going to be trouble.

But, before we get on the boats and head West, let us take a moment to speak about Toledo, Spain.  I had the great fortune to study here during university and it was here that set the course of my life for the next decade.  Religion, culture, language all became intensely interesting to me and it is all due to my experience in Toledo. In fact, I’ll write another post just on Toledo, but in this post, let us get to why it is important and fun facts.

1.  Muslims, Christians and Jews

*Note – I am going to go very fast through this and tell you some important points, politically correct or not.

- The current political climate is detestable concerning differing religions.  Toledo is a shining example (as well as a horrible example) of Muslims, Jews and Christians getting along as well as persecuting each other.  It was under Muslim rule that Christians and Jews were allowed to worship.  It was most likely that they were still second class citizens but to have all three religions be able to get along amicably, especially in the Middle Ages, is astounding.

When the Christians took over Toledo they not only expelled the Muslims but the Jews as well.  It was pretty much a reign of terror with the Inquisition and nobody was really safe.  However, you would have to think that after fighting for so long, this terror might not be so surprising as the Christians wanted to solidify their hold on the country through religion.  The pendulum is always swinging and after going to far in the Islamic direction it swung equally and forcefully back into the Christian domain.

Why were the Jews expelled?

Well, they were not Christians first of all and if you were not Christian at this time, you were in big trouble.  Secondly, the Jews have always been a very tight knit group.  They are very smart and many of them in the financial sector.  They would charge lower rates to other Jews and very high rates to everyone else.  This caused a huge amount of resentment and what is called “usury” is one reason this group has often gotten in to trouble.  Christians were pretty poor during this time and just like the Nazis, used the Jews as a scapegoat to redirect the populace anger towards a certain group of people.  Not good at all but this is a reason.

When I was in Toledo, I remember a story of a Jewish person coming back with a very old key that had been passed down in her family for generations.  And guess what!?  The key still worked.

Another interesting story was that Toledo is so old, when they make renovations, they often make discoveries.  At the church by my school, they knocked down a wall and found part of a mosque.

Toledo is important for many reasons, but in terms of conquering the “New World” one reason is they had “Toledo Steel.”  The natives did not have such armor and this is the reason a small group of Spaniards could win against a huge amount of natives.

If you go walking through Toledo today, you can find many shops as in the picture.  I personally bought one of those smaller knights and it has become a treasured piece of my collection.

II.  The New World

Before we sail off, I also want to mention Don Quixote.  As you probably already know, he is the crazy knight who attacked the windmills.  But he also helps us understand the mentality of the Conquistadors.

During the 1500s, there were many books published about this idea called “Chivalry,” and were very popular with the soldiers.  Basically, the stories were about some famous knight who upheld all the values of “good,” fought monsters, had a one true love, and always won.  Don Quixote is a satire against these “silly” books since as we know, Don Quixote is a feeble old man who thinks he can conquer the world by upholding the values of Chivalry.  He continually embarked and failed on adventures and really won over the hearts of Spaniards which is why this book is the most famous in Spain.  He is always referencing some famous Knight or another from the books of Chivalry.  There are many DQ books some with different translations, but most of them have Don Quixote reference Esplandian towards the beginning.

Who is Esplandian and why is he important?

The book is called “Las Sergas de Esplandian” and is important to us in this post because it is where the name “California” came from.

In the book, there is a fictional island named “California” ruled by a Queen Califa.  When the Spanish had made their way across Mexico, they crossed the gulf of California and found Baja California (Lower California).  They didn’t know it was a peninsula and thought it was an island.  As they had been reading Las Sergas de Esplandian they jokingly named it California.

Now why was the queen named Califa?  Califa sounds like Caliphate which is an Islamic word and refers to a system of governance.  Therefore, by naming the queen Califa, it gives her a bit of an ominous sound as the Spaniards are very anti-Islam.

But let us back up and arrive freshly in the New World.

The Spanish had first arrived in the Caribbean and launched their voyages to Mexico from there.  Hernan Cortez was the main protagonist here and with their use of Toledo steel were quickly able to establish a presence in Mexico.  However, this ragtag group of soldiers could not take over the entire populace just due to their weaponry.

Their real advantage was exploiting the divisions among the Indian tribes there.  The Aztecs, were the dominant group but did not refer to themselves as Aztecs, but instead “Mexica,” which is how we get the name Mexico.  Their religion involved a MASSIVE amount of human sacrifice provided by the less dominant tribes and this was very unpopular.  It was kind of like the “tax man” showing up and demanding a certain number of people for sacrifice.

Further, these “lesser” tribes had their own ritual sacrifices, many of which included babies.  Therefore, when the Spanish show up and are against human sacrifice their religion seems a bit better, especially when they show images of La Virgen Mary with the baby Jesus.

As Cortez could not communicate with the tribes, he found immense value in one small native girl who knew the language of the Mexica as well as the tribe helping Cortez.  To the Spanish, she is called Doña Marina (which is an honorific title) but to the Mexicans, she is called La Malinche and is the most hated woman in Mexico.

Linguistically, it is quite interesting that her name starts with “Mal” as this is the Spanish word for “Bad.”

Please take a look at the following video, because without it, you will not be able to understand the rest of this post.  It will explain the reasons why the Spanish were able to conquer as well as why the Spanish are so hated.

WATCH THIS

Now, I’ll add the translation and a bit of commentary so you can better understand the story.

From the sea they saw them arrive
mi feathered brothers and sisters
they were the bearded men
of the awaited prophecy.

- The prophecy is that of the God Quetzalcoatl who in legends speaks of a white skinned God who will come from the East to reclaim his kingdom.  This God was cast out by a stronger God in ancient times.  It makes me wonder if the natives didn’t have some contact with a white skinned person or perhaps a European who perhaps had sailed off course and then simply became legend?  Or maybe there were albinos in that time?  I don’t know and the academics even question if Montezuma (leader of the Mexica) believed him to be a God?

In any case, this is the prophecy the lyrics are talking about.


The voice of the monarch was heard
(Montezuma)
saying that the god had arrived
and we opened the door to them
out of fear of the unknown

They were mounted on beasts (Horses)
like demons of evil
they carried fire in their hands
and they were covered with metal.

Only the valor of a few
put up any resistance to them
and when they saw the blood running
they were filled with shame.

(The Spaniards were a hardened bunch of fighters who often stuck for the face in order to induce fear among the natives.  These guys fought so many battles and were extremely scarred so the Spanish women didn’t really want to marry them)

Because gods don’t eat,
nor do they enjoy what they’ve stolen
and by the time we realized
everything was over.

(They just could not be defeated.  It seemed like their eyes were always open, always ready for an attack)

In that mistake we gave up
the greatness of the past
and in that mistake we became
slaves for 300 years.

(Spaniards came, conquered and did make slaves out of the natives)

The curse remained with us
of offering the stranger
our faith, our culture,
our bread, our money.

Today we continue exchanging with them
gold for glass beads
and we give up our wealth
for shiny mirrors.

(The Spaniards traded glass beads for gold because the natives thought they were very valuable)

Today, in the middle of the 20th century
blond people keep coming to us
and we open our homes to them
and we call them friends.

(A bit of resentment here against the Rubios, now called Gringos.  The term Gringo didn’t come until much later which means “Green Go” and refers to the green the American army wore)

But if there arrives an Indian,
tired of walking the mountains
we humiliate him and we see him
as a stranger in his own country.

(In Mexican society there are whiter people *Spanish blood* who are the ruling class and rich.  The “natives” are darker and much more poor.  In the USA you will notice that many of the migrants are of a darker color and more likely to come in search of work.  Yet, there are white Mexicans if you take a look at their society.  The societal breakdown in Mexico is worth a post *hint hint.*

“In addition, the Mexican population consists approximately of 60% Mestizo (mixed indigenous-Spanish), 30% indigenous, 9% white, and 1% other. There is a definite racial hierarchy in Mexico that is easily observed, but seldom acknowledged.” –  Documented here.

You, hypocrite, you who appear
humble before the stranger
but become arrogant
with your peasant brothers.

Oh, Malinche’s curse,
sickness of the present,
when will you leave my land?
When will you make my people free?

Notice that this song is sung in the language of the oppressors.  The song also assumes that Mexicans are united.  If we look back at history, the varying tribes were at war with each other and nobody really liked the Mexica.  But, as the Spanish ran over the entire country it is easy to place the blame on the Spanish and conveniently forget that the native tribes really disliked each other.

This is very similar to the way Native Americans blame the “white man.”  Yes, the white man was terrible but it is also true that Native Americans (North America) were continually at war with each other.  And, if we go back to Europe, the “White Man” was also continually at war with each other.  It would seem that everyone was at war with everyone!

In any case, it is a very sad song and tells of the fall of a civilization which changed them forever.  It puts me in a very reflective mood every time I hear it.

III.  California

Now, let us get to California.

IT COULD HAVE BEEN, that the USA could be divided between Spanish and English speakers if the Spanish of this time period had decided to settle into what is now called the USA.  By why did they not?

a.)  The Sonoran Desert. –  This was simply too hard to cross with a large supply of animals, goods and so on.

b.) A Good Reason – The Spanish were looking for easy money and would rather conquer a civilization and take gold, not necessarily mine for it.  When Pizarro conquered the Incas, this sent some soldiers south in search of fortune.  Up in the present day USA there really were no civilizations as advanced as the Mexica and Incans so why even go?

c.)  Wind and Current

Notice that the currents run down the coast of California.  The wind also pushes South to East.  This makes sailing very difficult if you are going up the coast.  Therefore, if there is not a lot of easy money to be made, it is hard to get to, and you cannot get by land, California at that time was a very inaccessible area!  Very isolated!

d.)  Focus on Asia

- At that time, the Spanish monarchy became increasingly interested in Asia and “The Spice Islands.”  The Portuguese were making their presence known in Asia and the Spanish did not want to be left out of the action.  Therefore, they ordered Cortez to send expeditions there instead of concentrating on California.

If you would like a good movie about the Portuguese influence in Asia from the time of discovery I recommend “James Clavell’s Shogun

Some did make it however and the Spanish influences in California remain a subject of study for me.  Here are some interesting tidbits.

1.  Place Names

Most names in California are in Spanish.  Why?  Because when the Spanish made a new discovery they would name it after the Saints day on the Christian calendar in which it was discovered.

a. San Francisco – St. Francis – Was discovered on his day
b. San Diego
c. San Leandro

If the day it was discovered had no Saint attached to it, there were plenty of other Christian things it could be named.

a. Santa Cruz – Holy Cross
b. Vera Cruz – True Cross

2. El Camino Real

- This is a main highway running up California and was the principal highway before freeways were constructed.  It means “King’s Highway.”

3. Missions in California

I don’t have much to say about these yet and am looking forward to more discoveries but what I can share is a picture.

This is a chair shown to me by an acquaintance.  It has been passed down in his family for generations and was acquired by his great grandfather from a mission he was hired to do work for.  We can see an image of a conquistador right there on the arm rest.  He told me that his grandparents had made a mistake in the 50s’ and had the chair reupholstered, which you’re not supposed to do on antique furniture!

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, I am very much looking forward to making more discoveries here in California and have my work cut out for me.  This is something I enjoy and should I come across something interesting, I’ll be sure to share.

What I’d like to leave off with, is a political point concerning Mexican Immigrants and the whole Mosque brouhaha occurring right now.  Instead of sound bytes, I think it would do everyone better to learn about history and see how we are all tied together.  Wouldn’t an explanation like this be much more interesting than simply the nonsense spouted by our current politicians?  It would be much more fun to debate the following!

1.  If you’re related to the Spanish, you may have Moorish blood
2. A great part of the USA was once Mexico
3. The divisions within Mexican society
4. The USA could have been a Spanish speaking nation if the Spaniards would have crossed the Sonoran desert in greater numbers.
5. Muslims let Jews and Christians worship freely in Toledo, Spain.  Couldn’t we replicate these ideals?
6. Muslims invented Algebra and were great scientists in the past.  Some places have decayed but that is the fault of the leaders.  Islam just like any other religion has much to contribute.
7. Everyone massacred everyone at some point.  There are no tribes or group of people that are pristine and free of awful actions.

Instead, let us learn from history and let us all get along!  It is impossible to keep things as they are as the world continually changes.  Embrace other people, learn from them and call them friends.  It is time to stop all the wars, the hatreds and blaming.

If we cannot do this, then we will just continue the atrocities of the past.  As the cliché says, “Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  - George Santayana.

After so many millennia, you would think we would learn.  But instead of the quote by George Santayana, it seems like we would all prefer another quote:

4 Comments

  1. Helen Healy's Gravatar Helen Healy
    October 6, 2010    

    The Guardian would like to use the illustration of Don Quixote. Can you tell me where you sourced the one you are using.
    Helen Healy
    helen.healy@guardian.co.uk

  2. October 6, 2010    

    Hi Helen,

    We found it on Google Pictures for \”Don Quixote.\” No copyrighted I think. Just type \”Image: Don Quixote\” and you will see it.

  3. July 16, 2011    

    Just found this piece on Pandora. As we learn more, we start to better understand the things which surround us.

    “The Lady Caliph Nocturne” – Yo Yo Ma
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5NcJWkWdPE

    I tried looking up the meaning but couldn’t find it. So I’ll take a guess and my guess is that this piece relates directly to the Lady Calipha, which is where the name California comes from.

    What a beautiful piece, and what stupid politicians we have.

    Caliph – Arabic meaning Successor
    Nocturne –
    1. A short composition of a romantic or dreamy character suggestive of night, typically for piano.
    2. A picture of a night scene.

    Defined in reality, a beautiful piece based on history.
    Defined in political Republican speak – “Arabs are bad”

    I can only hope that one day we will all become enlightened.

  4. August 2, 2011    

    Good movie for a Friday Night. “The Other Conquest” is a decent portrayal of the “religious extremist” Spaniards imposing their religion on the native Mexica. Basically, what happens when two extremely different worlds collide.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2HuzivgCFg

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