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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Battles and wars

There's much too much bemoaning about Democrats winning the presidency, but failing to sweep the down-ballot table.  Therefore I want to discuss the difference between battles and wars.  Conservatives frequently win battles, but it is an axiomatic rule that liberals win the longtime war.  That's just the nature of history and of the two philosophies:  liberals propose seemingly impossible goals, while conservatives try to plug the dyke against inevitable change.


Think of it anyway you like; there are lots and lots of examples.  The Japanese believed that their emperor was a god less than a century ago, and other Asians held similar views.  No society engages in human sacrifice anymore, but it wasn't too long ago that Koreans sent their royals off to eternity accompanied by hundreds of slain slaves.  Hindu wives no longer are cremated with the bodies of their dead husbands, although such burning was the polite thing to do in India (suttee, if you want to look it up). 


We evolve; we change.  We challenge the hierarchy of both church and state – which were the same in most cultures until very recently.  We don't much notice this as we go along from news cycle to news cycle, but occasionally we should look back to measure real change.  When I was young, for example, it was the political kiss of death to even consider legalizing marijuana, and now voters across the nation have moved beyond conservatism on that issue.  Please let me assure you that I'm not a smoker of any sort:  my point is the overarching principle of greater personal freedom, and the fact that liberals break barriers without acknowledging, even among ourselves, that we have done so.




Similarly, the sale of contraceptives was strictly limited in my youth, and now you can buy condoms at the grocery store.  The Catholic hierarchy banned their congregants from using them, and when birth-control pills became available, governments in states dominated by Catholics did their best to prevent sales.  Women bought and used pills anyway, and now the controversy is simply buried with a load of other hypocrisy.  Conservatives have moved on to abortion, but like the birth-control battle, they eventually will lose the war.


For that matter, divorce was a scarlet sin when I was young, and it's been a long time since I've heard any conservative mention the once hotly-debated controversy.   This seems a convenient time to add that when the most recent story broke about another high-ranking Catholic official involved in sex abuse, I hoped someone would inquire whether the status of women factors into this problem, but I heard nary a word.  Given the heterosexual view that the church advocates for everyone else, segregation of men and women within its own structure seems invariably to lead to sublimation and sin. 


But monk Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, a nun from a wealthy family, made that point when they married long ago.  My point here is that in both the cultural wars and the political wars, liberals eventually win while conservatives are destined to lose.  And although most commentators seldom see past the most recent election, it is we historians who will write the final word.  I'm predicting that despite some Republican gains, this year's election will be seen as a great liberal victory.  Not only did voters reject White House corruption and authoritarianism, but they also advanced liberal proposals that have been moving forward for decades. 


Health care is just one example. When, after World War II, most of the western world adopted the principle of access to basic health care, the US refused such proposals.  Twenty years later, in 1965, Lyndon Johnson persuaded a Democratic Congress to adopt Medicare.  Conservatives condemned it as socialism and promised to repeal, but that never happened.  A generation later, they railed against the Affordable Health Act, but a Democratic Congress passed it, and people enrolled.  This election, I think, will put an end to talk of repeal, and soon we will enact some form of Medicare for All.  Lose the battle, win the war – that should be our motto.  Hang in for the long haul.




I seldom know what things you want to read about, but I've had requests to follow up on some topics.  Today I'm choosing the introduction of slavery in the New World.  My earlier column on that was motivated by the Anglo assumption that slavery began in Virginia in 1619, and I pointed out that Florida (not to our credit) had slaves much earlier, in 1565.  When I began to write today, I intended to include both Jamestown and St. Augustine, but the English settlements will have to wait until next week.  There's just too much to say.


Again, things evolve.  Although Florida had slavery first, it would abolish it earlier – and much later, reestablish it.  In the 1600s, as Virginia, Carolina, and Georgia were settled by the English, blacks in Florida became free because the Spanish king declared it so.  His motivation was economic and political, not humanitarian, and based on longtime global rivalry.  Spain would benefit if slaves ran away from English colonies, and so in 1695 – 130 years after Spanish settlement of Florida – Charles II of Spain granted "liberty to all…the men as well as the women."   


Relatively few American slaves came directly from Africa; most first survived toil on plantations in the Caribbean.  Those islands were occupied in that era by French and Dutch interests, as well as British and Spanish-- and so with Americans, too, there is plenty of blame to go around.  Nor can we overlook the Africans who sold other Africans.  No white slave traders had the courage to invade that continent; instead, they stayed safely on the coasts and bought the victims of tribal wars.




Slave importation in the US largely ended in 1808 because the Constitution banned it after that date.  Yes, the Founding Fathers gave considerable thought to the issue.  And yes, many were slave-owners and none were outright abolitionists, but just as their basically liberal ideology included ending the divine right of kings, some also could envision the end of human bondage.  By setting an end-date on importation of new slaves, they helped move the future forward. 


The Constitution was written in the late 1700s, and already by then, the majority of slaves in the US were true African-Americans, meaning that they and probably their parents had been born here.  Florida was not yet part of the US, and for a couple of decades, it remained a Spanish colony with at least ostensible black liberty.  By 1819, however, Spain no longer was a world power, and the US bought the territory.  Many of those who pushed the congressional purchase saw it as a great opportunity for expansion of slavery.


When freedom ended for Florida blacks, some moved to South America, especially the British-controlled Caribbean islands.  Slavery remained legal in most of South America, but its practice there always had been more benign than in North America.  This largely was because the Spanish who dominated the Southern hemisphere were likely to be soldiers and adventurers, and they had no sexual choice other than non-white women.  This was a very different pattern from Englishmen in North America, who were much more likely to come with their wives and children.


Beyond that factor, the Catholic Church helped make slavery less cruel in South America, as priests in its theocratic governments could impose humane dictates in a way that could not be done in North America.  Indeed, Queen Isabella insisted on decent treatment of slaves when she endowed the first expedition in 1492.  She was thinking of natives, not Africans, but it was the same pattern with slaves who had been won in war.  Because of her relative liberalism, in most times and places in South America, the enslaved could earn their freedom:  their working hours were limited by law, and they were at liberty to sell their free time.  Masters could not impose cruel and unusual punishments, which they certainly did in North America. 


The really significant point, though, is that Spanish men fathered children with both native women and women from Africa.  Priests baptized everyone, whether they wanted it or not, and so color lines became much more fluid than in North America. The end result is that South America, for all of its recurring political turmoil, was and is much less racist than North America.  And although people are very slow to realize this, women are key to everything.



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