Sunday, December 2, 2012

California Missions~ Chapter Seven: Mission San Diego de Alcala

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.

Since today is the first Sunday in Advent, let me finish with a picture from an earlier and better organized time. One of my Advent candle holders is in the middle. In Sweden, we light one candle on the first Sunday in Advent, two the next Sunday, until all four are lit and Christmas is near. 

Sources: Wikipedia and 



  1. Hi Inger - what an emotional post .. interesting how the police prey on us when we're new to the country .. I had the same in South Africa - but at a different level.

    When I next get a chance to visit San Diego - I'll visit one or two of the missions and see them in a different light.

    Lots here to think about and rightly so ... great post to read - and I love your Advent table .. Cheers Hilary

  2. i am glad you found peace in that beautiful setting. the history is troubling, but glad it gave you comfort when you needed it!

  3. You should think about writing your experience in book form. You are a lovely writer, and this is pretty interesting stuff.

    I love your header picture!

  4. Fascinating post!!

  5. Amy, that was quite a compliment from someone who has such a wonderful way with words. I'm still in awe of that first paragraph in your book. Thank you. And thanks for you comments, Fishducky, TexWisGirl, and Hilary.

  6. Oh Inger you are such a caring soul I am at a loss for words.Hug B

  7. beautiful advent calendar. my boys were in jr high during the 70's and it was a bad time every where, we were her in Georgia dealing with the new laws and changes in schools. I am glad it happened and wish it were better than it is, but those years in Savannah were also a mess like what you describe. my sister in law is blond like you and the cops did the same thing to her.

  8. I'm glad you were able to find some peace during a troubling time. It's so upsetting to hear people malign others. I hope it doesn't happen as much as it used to, but I hear more than I want.


  9. Inger, thank you for honestly sharing your history here. Everything in life is real and no need to sugar coat all of it, as so often happens.

  10. I think that many Europeans are shocked to find out how racist the US was and, in many cases, still is. As for the missions ... they left us some great architecture but a heritage of brutality and hypocrisy. So glad you're doing this series.

  11. You're right; I was kinda shocked to hear you describe a city in California as "conservative". Of course, I realize how foolish that is on my part. That's a BIIIIIIG state! (There's even a teeny liberal pocket here in Georgia.) Thanks for sharing your story. Fascinating stuff, dear lady.

  12. I really enjoyed learning more about you, Inger, and discovering at least a part of the story of how you became so interested in the Missions and the connected history. I have always had such an odd pull to "revere" the missions for their place in history, the architecture and the place they play in the picture of early California, yet with the knowledge of the horrible abuses to the native populations, there is a an entire other story that needs to be told. And you're doing a good job of raising that consciousness.

    I recently joined the California Mission Studies Association and I'm getting some good resource material from them. There's a very nominal fee for membership, I think it was $30, and you might be interested. Let me know if you'd like to know more. The journal they send is worth at least that much! :-)

    I'm enjoying reading your posts and finding someone who is as interested in the missions as I am...most of my friends just simply are not! LOL!

  13. I frequently used to visit mission San Luis Rey, which is near Vista. Every time I went there, I got bad vibes. The Indians WERE treated horribly and I think their spirits are still there...shudder...I won't go there again. However, I didn't feel that at all at mission San Juan Capistrano, maybe because it was vacant for so many years?

  14. Debra: I am torn too. La Purisima is my favorite mission and I know what happened there and feel the ghosts of the past as I walk around the place. Then I look at their donkey's face, the other animals, their beautiful church, and I'm torn again.
    desertsandbeyond: I wonder why the spirits of the Indians are felt at some missions and not others. Is it because of our awareness, are we more awake during some visits, or did more tragedies happen at some missions? I do feel sad that Latin America so readily adopted the Catholic faith after what happened to them.

  15. You've been through so much.

    I had no idea about some of the deeper history behind the missions. Next time I visit California, I'll have to make a stop.

  16. Nice to see you still have the swedish christmas traditions, I try to stick to them here also.
    Have a lovely week!


  17. Intressant läsning och du har ju varit med en del förstår jag.
    DIn fråga. Vi delar upp köttet enligt en lista. Vi får älgar tilldelade från älgskötselområdet som i sin tur får det av länstyrelsen. Tycker vi fått hög tilldelning då vi inte har mkt älg. Vi har ju inte skjutit fullt ännu.
    Vi har 4 stora o 4 kalvar på stora marken o är 24 st. På mindre marken 2 stora o fri kalv o är 10 personer

  18. It is hard to imagine California being like that in the 70's. Those of us not there thought the whole state was full of peace and love. Interesting post.
    To answer your question. I have Kindle 2 with keyboard and just love it. It makes reading easy, convenient and the selection of free books is amazing from classics to first time authors.Take the plunge, you won't regret it.

  19. Dear Inger, thanks for beginning a new series on the California missions. I'm glad that in this series we will learn more about you and how these missions have touched your life.

    So many truly tragic and despicable things happened in the past. . . and continue into the present. The USA embraced slavery for many year. Finally, Lincoln and the Congress abolished it, but racism persists.

    We mistreated Native Americas for centuries and stole their land. Now many of them live, poverty-stricken, on reservations. And yet prejudice against them persists.

    When will we accept that we are all One? That we are all part of Holy Oneness of All Creation--the Source of all life in you and me and the three cats with whom I live and Samson and Solider?

    I think that reading about the past mistakes and tragedies helps us move forward and forge new ways. So if I were to sit in the chapel of this mission in San Diego, I would sit in the presence of all who have gone before me--Native Americas and Franciscan Friars--and hope that in Oneness we appreciate the deep down desire for goodness in everyone.

    Happy Advent--my favorite liturgical season. Peace.


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


Related Posts with Thumbnails