School leaders have put off a vote on the Cabrillo College name change until at least 2028. But Steve Trujillo, a trustee, thinks this is a mistake and wants the name removed. “To say Cabrillo was merely exploring is laughable,” he writes.
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I have been a Cabrillo College trustee for District 7 — which includes part of Watsonville and all of northern Monterey County — since 2020, when I defeated an eight-year veteran incumbent who opposed the name change.
I firmly believe we must all acknowledge that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, for whom our college is named, was not an innocent explorer. Read all about him here at Biography.com. He was a ruthless, cruel enslaver of Indigenous people of Central America, where he established his wealth on the backs of slave labor.
I am a 70-year-old, retired bilingual teacher and counselor and spent 36 years in California schools. I also served on the Santa Cruz City Schools board of trustees from 2010-14 when I lived in Capitola. I currently live in Watsonville.
This is my own opinion, not that of the Cabrillo board of trustees, the college or the college president.
To say Cabrillo was merely exploring is laughable. He wanted a title from the Spanish king and all the privileges that went with it. He profited from the established system, which gave him land and forced labor. He became a “leading” citizen — some say he declared himself governor — of Guatemala, but good luck finding any tributes to him in either the official website of, or the nation of Guatemala.
Let us recount the wrongs.
- Incarceration of any and all Indigenous males to do the grunt work of the Spanish missions. Those who did not were killed or seriously injured unless they complied.
- Trafficking of Indigenous women and girls, likely to become sexual concubines for Cabrillo’s soldiers.
- Persecution of all who didn’t agree with him.
- Theft of resources on the ironically named ship “San Salvador” (Savior Saint).
- Spread of viruses previously unknown: smallpox, measles and the ever-popular syphilis. The Indigenous people had no antibodies in their systems to protect them.
This is not merely “exploring.” This is wholesale genocide and a crime against humanity.
That is why the name of the college needs to be changed.
Both our campuses are on Amah Mutsun land. A land acknowledgement statement read at the beginning of each board meeting is insufficient to correct for the harms unleashed by Spanish exploration and conquest
In 2022, the Indigenous people of Fresno County had enough of the name “Squaw Valley.” Squaw is a slur against all Indigenous women. The state legislature and the governor agreed and allowed the name change in Fresno County. The Indigenous people of Placer County demanded that the Squaw Valley ski resort be changed to Palisades Tahoe. Both are Indigenous names and are respected.
Did some people object? They did. But, since that area is Mono Indigenous land, much as Cabrillo College (both campuses) is on Amah Mutsun Indigenous land, the state allowed it.
Our college has already received permission from the state community college chancellor’s office to change the name. The Indigenous people of our Central Coast now have a precedent to follow.
They deserve the right to rename the college — and be rid of, once and for all, a villain who used racial hatred to attempt to exterminate Indigenous people and who helped unleash the Spanish conquest of California.
So, I call on all local residents to do the right thing and support this effort. It is stalled for now — put off for years, but we must still take a stand.
This supposedly progressive county that believes in Indigenous rights needs to step up and be counted. I believe the founders made a mistake when they named the college in 1959 and I have voiced that feeling for more than a decade. In fact, in 1992, I wrote a letter to the president of the college asking for the name to be changed.
If you, like me, believe a name change is needed, then join me to voice your opinion. We can do this together.
Mark Twain said it best: “It is never the wrong time to do the right thing.”
This is the right thing to do.
Steve Trujillo is a retired bilingual teacher who spent 36 years in the classroom, a former Santa Cruz City Schools trustee and a current Cabrillo College trustee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.