Junipero Serra gets a reappraisal

Historians take new look at oft-critized mission founder

The following comes from a March 17 LA Times article by Louis Sahugan:

Ruben Mendoza  (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Ruben Mendoza
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

When archaeologist Ruben Mendoza was a boy, his father was prone to fiery outbursts in the family’s mobile home on the tough west side of Fresno. One of the biggest targets of his anger, Mendoza remembers, was the Catholic Church and its California missions.

 

“Over and over, he claimed Catholic missions were cancers that Spain brought to the New World,” Mendoza said.

 

Mendoza, who is of Yaqui Indian and Mexican American heritage, was shaped by his father’s hatred.

 

“I became obsessed with ‘pure’ ancient Indian cultures,” he recalled.

 

When his fourth-grade class built models of the historic missions, he asked his teacher if he could do something else — and got special permission to build a dinosaur instead.

 

Sonoma State anthropology master's candidate Jennifer Lucido walks past San Carlos Cathedral. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Sonoma State anthropology master’s candidate Jennifer Lucido walks past San Carlos Cathedral. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Mendoza, one of the founding faculty members at Cal State Monterey Bay, grew up believing that the controversial founder of the missions, Franciscan friar Junipero Serra, now on a track for sainthood, was an imperious theologian who imposed a slave system that destroyed the Indians’ way of life.

 

A new perception began to take hold in 1993, when he was invited by the Mexican government to excavate a 16th century convent in Puebla.

 

“It was a transformative experience,” he recalled. “We uncovered evidence of an incredibly diverse mass of humanity” — Spanish colonial foundations, pre-Columbian floors and figurines, and Aztec ceramics.

 

“I realized that I would never fully understand the arc of history in such places if I exclude their Spanish cultural dynamics,” he said.

 

Since then, “archaeology has been a high-wire act for me,” he said. “Skeptics believe I’ve been compromised by some personal desire to honor my ancestors — all of them. When I don’t go along with the idea that the missions were concentration camps and that the Spanish brutalized every Indian they encountered, I’m seen as an adversary.”

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. http://Tracy says

    I enjoyed this article. Mr. Mendoza gives us another example of how we human’s can change with God’s grace even when we seem to have our world view set in stone from childhood. I really admire his humility in admitting his change of heart.

  2. http://Anne%20T. says

    Oh, but that’s right. Our countries still practice human sacrifice to the gods Chemosh and Moloch; only now it is called abortion.

    • http://Anne%20T. says

      Some of my post was left out through my own fault. What I mentioned in the first one — which was left out — was that although the Spanish were not perfect, neither were the Aztecs. Hernando Cortez could not have overcome the Aztec Empire on his own; he simply did not have the man power. He beat the Aztecs with other native tribes helping him because they got tired of being sacrificed to the Aztec gods and goddesses when they lost in battle, and unless you think I am biased, many of my European pagan ancestors sacrificed humans before they were Christianized, and I would not want to go back to that by any means.

      Also, the Spanish were educating the natives and women in their colleges a long time before they were being educated in the United States because they knew the people needed to be prepared for the coming businesses and trades. During the Mexican Revolution against the Spanish, many of the colleges were destroyed when they were used as military barracks. it can all be found in the book Blood-Drenched Altars by Rev. Francis Clement Kelley by Tan publishers if some want to hear another side of the story.

  3. http://Ted says

    It isn’t surprising that History, like any other field of study is subject to fashionable ideas and trends. It’s interesting to note that some have the courage to go against these trends and make an honest and unbiased appraisal of what happened and why. At the other end of this process, we may actually get a more complete view of the missions and their places in California history. All of my three children were assigned the task of building a model of a mission, and a research theme describing their history and their important place in the development of the state. They learned a lot from it.

  4. Hispanic organization Los Californianos is officially supporting the upcoming canonization of Fray Junipero Serra: http://montereybayarea-tlm.blogspot.com/2015/03/los-californianos-supports-upcoming.html

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COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.