Making an Orisha, an African spirit, by hand in Salvador, Brazil

I’m getting company. Alisa, Bernie’s daughter, along with her son, Milo, are here for a number of days. I don’t usually have family near me, so when somebody comes it’s a big, big deal and has priority over everything, including this blog. We’ll spend these days doing different things, outdoors and in. I look forward to hanging out with both of them, traveling around, eating out, watching movies.

First, this morning I read that the Vatican finally rescinded its Doctrine of Discovery. That doctrine was comprised of papal bulls that, for almost 600 years, authorized Catholic kings to take over any lands owned by “pagans and infidels” and take ownership of the people living on those lands for the benefit of their souls. It had been invoked by the kings of Spain and Portugal as justification for their conquests in Latin America and, believe it or not, was incorporated into American jurisprudence in the early 19th century.

The article appeared lower down on page 1 of The Washington Post, way under the immense, giant-size font headline: Trump Indicted. Sorry, Post, you got this one completely wrong. Trump Indicted is common and tawdry, designed to inflame as many people as possible. The rescinding of a religious doctrine that justified enslavement, murder, plunder, and illegal appropriation of land not theirs—all in the name of God—is way bigger news. It is unbelievable and terribly unfortunate that it took more than half a millennium—long after slavery was made illegal—for the Vatican to finally take this back.

I first heard of this doctrine from the Native American scholar Steve Newcomb, who gave a very moving talk about this some 8 years ago at our 2015 retreat at the Black Hills. He also talked about this when he participated at our retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau and was among the delegation of Native Americans who visited the Vatican to plead the case against the doctrine.

The recalcitrance of the Vatican in refusing to admit the consequences of that doctrine—the millions of indigenous people who lost their lives and lands in this hemisphere—was painful to hear in Poland, reminding me of the many who still deny the Holocaust ever happened.

If we don’t come face-to-face with the results of our past actions, what hope is there for the present? For the future?

There is nothing accidental about this announcement being made just days after the terrible fire that caused the death of 39 migrants in a migrant center in Mexico close to our border. By all accounts, they were left to die. No one ran in after them even as they screamed and shrieked for help.

I’m reminded of something VS Naipaul, the Nobel Prize-winning writer, is reputed to have said about Third World immigrants making every effort to come to Western lands, to the effect of: “They wouldn’t be coming here if you hadn’t gone there first.”

He was reminding us of the effects of colonialism even after the death of Empire, when Western values continue to supersede traditional cultures, when Western-style institutions continue to be built on non-Western soil, when success and failure are judged according to Western criteria.

Leaving one country for another is not just geographical displacement, it’s also an internal one. The host language is not yours, the host culture is not yours, their family values are not yours. You try to integrate your children into American society while making sure they remember where they come from, but there’s a nagging feeling inside that something is lost.

In talking with Jimena, my contact with the immigrant community here, about her family, she’ll mention a situation involving her sons in which she puts down her foot and says: “In this family we don’t do those things.”

No-man’s land doesn’t just lie between borders, it can lie in people’s souls, too.

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