Mission San Diego de Alcalá

The first stop in San Diego, and the very first encounter of many further contrasting narratives we have encountered, was Mission San Diego de Alcalá. California’s first mission was founded in 1769 by a Franciscan priest, Junípero Serra. The story of the San Diego Mission, which was handed out to us in the form of flyers, is precisely a summary of our experience there. The story there emphasizes the destructive role of “savage” Indians who did not appreciate saviors, mentors, Messiah-like colonizers, who simply came to enlighten them. For they were enraged, brutal, bloodthirsty, unappreciative animals, who killed one of the Padres during his praiseworthy act of “calming the Indians down.” This perspective was further introduced by a lady manning the gift shop, who was also a docent, and who wanted to share the history of the place. Along with the traditional narrative presented through the lens of missionaries, she presented colonization of native people as a blessing, for the Indians were simple and primitive people who desperately needed such help. It left in us a sour thought – why is such attitude prevalent even in the 21st century? Why can’t some people admit that colonization may not have been such a marvelous event for those who, as a matter of fact, did not ask of it? Even in Spain, around the time of colonization, there were differing readings of it. La leyenda rosa and la leyenda negra were two varying stands on colonization. The first one showed this very missionary and enriching “gift” of subduing people, transferring knowledge and education. It basically went hand in hand with what we have heard from the “Gift Shop Lady.” Yet, some – including the father of the term “leyenda negra,” Bartolomé de las Casas – noticed cruelty of the so-called missionaries. Perhaps it is time to include both sides of the story in such places. As American Studies students we do have the knowledge and we are able to think critically, which we did, yet some might simply weep over the benevolence and educational mission of the Padres, and admire beautiful architecture of the Mission.

 

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