Power & Market

"Protestors" Deface Bust of Miguel Cervantes, a Former Slave

In a bit of ironic vandalism, San Francisco protestors painted "bastard" on a bust of Miguel Cervantes and defaced it in other ways. It's hard to imagine what the motivation was behind attacking the Cervantes bust, beyond, of course, total ignorance of who he even was. Cervantes was a sixteenth-century writer who penned Don Quixote, possibly the most influential work of Spanish-language literature ever written.

Did the protestors even know who Cervantes was? It's impossible to know. Perhaps his "crime" was being a white man, although that is not even known for sure, and Cervantes may have been descended from Spain's large Sephardic Jewish population, as were many Spaniards whose ancestors had been "encouraged" to convert to Christianity in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Crowd beat up on the statue after and tagged it, plus a nearby statue of Cervantes for good measure pic.twitter.com/F7foXW1ez6

— Joe Rivano Barros (@jrivanob) June 20, 2020

The great irony here, however, is that Cervantes, unlike every person "protesting" his image, knew what it was like to be a slave. As described by Fiona MacDonald for the BBC:

In 1575, after fighting in military campaigns against the Turks in the Mediterranean, the Spaniard was captured by Barbary pirates and taken to Algiers. There, he was kept as a slave for five years. When he was freed – with a ransom raised by Trinitarian friars attached to the convent he was to be buried beneath – he had become the man who would write one of the greatest novels in history.

“His five-year captivity in Algiers left an indelible impression on his fiction,” Cervantes scholar María Antonia Garcés tells BBC Culture. “From the first works written after his liberation, such as the play Life in Algiers (c. 1581–1583) and his novel La Galatea (1585), to his posthumous book The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda (1617), the story of this traumatic experience continuously speaks through his work.”

Cervantes was just one of countless Europeans enslaved by slave traders (especially the Muslim Barbary pirates) over the centuries, kidnapped in coastal raids by pirates along the coasts of Italy, Britain, Ireland, and the eastern Mediterranean. Saint Patrick, of course, had been enslaved in such a way, by Irish pirates.

Such nuances of history, of course, matter nothing to the protestors or indeed to Americans in general. The average American (whether white, black, left, or right) knows about as much about the sixteenth century (or any century before the twentieth) as he knows about the intricacies of astrophysics.

So we should not be surprised that the protestors are also vandalizing statues of abolitionists, as happened to a memorial for Philadelphia abolitionist Mathias Baldwin.

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