In my earlier posts: California Missions, Chapters One through Six, I wrote about the founding and history of the missions. For the next several Sundays, I want to share my personal stories and how the Southern missions came to play a part in my life. I first became familiar with the Spanish Missions when I lived in San Diego and found the first mission in the chain: Mission San Diego de Alcalá founded by Father Serra on July 16, 1769.
San Diego, what can I say? I arrived in January 1972, my girlfriend picked me up at the bus station. I had traveled by Greyhound bus for the last leg of my cross country journey, having left my travel companion and his VW Bug in Barstow, California. I arrived at night and remember how pretty the city was with lights reflected on dark waters, as we crossed bridges and drove over islands to Pacific Beach where she lived.
I'm not going to go into any details of my life in San Diego here, except to say it was definitely the worst year and a half of my life. I got a job in the Personnel office at UC San Diego, where I worked for the Public Employment Program. The purpose of the program was to find, hire, and train minorities, Vietnam Era veterans, and disabled people. In effect to integrate the campus staff population. In 1972, gaining acceptance for this in a very conservative city was no easy task and a lot of what I saw and heard at work devastated me.
Many horrible things also happened in that short span of time: Several coworkers died tragically, including my girlfriend. While driving my car, I got stopped five times by policemen, who hassled me and then asked me for dates. And that was just some of it. A black cat that followed me home one night, became the best thing that happened to me in that beautiful, but troubled city.
Somewhere in all this mess, I discovered Mission San Diego and visited several times to sit quietly and exhale my troubles in the beautiful mission gardens. An active Catholic church, Mission San Diego de Alcalá was built in 1930 following the outlines of the 1813 mission. It is the fifth mission built on this site after earlier missions were destroyed by fire and earthquakes.
It was here that I first learned about the terrible treatment of Indians at the missions. At the time, I could meditate upon the fact that present day Indians were also treated pretty badly. At a place of higher learning, no less, where I worked and felt responsible for not being able to change the minds and attitudes of some of the people.
The above cross is a memorial in honor of Padre Luis Jayme who was killed during the Indian uprising of 1779 and marks the place where he died.
Some California blogger friends, who knew what happened to the Indians, mentioned in comments that they felt uncomfortable when visiting the missions. If you are aware of the tremendous price paid by the Indians at the hands of the Spanish, you will feel their spirits, you will see their graveyards and you will shiver. I have too, but that came later. My life in San Diego was in turmoil and I felt at peace while sitting in the mission gardens, looking at the magnificent campanario, or bell wall, which rises above. I learned that the largest of the five bells, called Mater Dolorosa, was cast in San Diego in 1894 and weighs 1,200 pounds.
In the fall of 1973, I transferred to UCLA and moved to Los Angeles. My life soon returned to its normal, happy self and only once since then was I stopped by cop while driving, and rightfully so.
Traveling north on El Camino Real, the next mission we will visit is Mission San Luis Rey. Should we also decide to travel inland a ways, we may visit San Antonio de Pala, a sub mission to San Luis Rey. Hopefully, that will come about next Sunday.
Note: It may be shocking for some to read this about a campus in the liberal state of California. I interacted mainly with staff employees, many of whom had never had a close interaction with a black person, for example. Many had never worked in an office with Latinos or Indians. Vietnam veterans were probably more welcome in San Diego than most places since it was a military town, however, they often came with such heavy burdens. The year was 1972, a lot was happening, and had I been more experienced, I'm sure I would have handled many situations differently and been able to help more. San Diego was still a relatively small town ~ it has grown up now and I'm sure attitudes have changed as people have learned to live together in that beautiful city by the Pacific Ocean.
Sources: Wikipedia and missiontour.org