Monday, March 1, 2010

Mission musings

Spent a wet Saturday at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside, site of the annual conference of the California Mission Studies Association. We seldom see such downpours as came throughout the day, pouring off the tile roofs, pounding the courtyards and gardens, and overflowing the scalloped and tiered stone fountain. Luckily, the many presentations and the displays of books and art were inside the fine old stone structure; as with many missions the walkways are covered, so the rain was merely a picturesque backdrop. Unfortunately, it did limit the amount of time we could spend wandering the extensive grounds--seeing the progress of the preservation and restoration of the lavanderia, for instance.
Though many of the CMSA lectures can be a bit too academic, the subjects (from mission architecture to the era's liturgical music) are always intriguing, especially to those like myself who have spent a great deal of time reading about California's colorful past. The CMSA website contains many treasures, including articles and book reviews--and this illustrated glossary of mission terms.
On Friday night we were greeted by a tribal member of the San Luis Rey band of the Luiseno Indian tribe ; his "blessing" was in the form of a reminder of the tribe's connection to the land (as well as the mission itself) and it was a poignant reminder of all that was lost in the well-meaning zeal of "missionizing" those lands and their people.
Sunday's book launch party for The Deer Dancer by Gary Winters contained an odd echo of that sad history, one that resonates down through time. His novel is set in present-day Mexico, and tells the story of a Yaqui Indian youth who searches for his own personal identity and then seeks justice for other Indians in Mexico, a country with a strict caste system. Written for a mature young adult audience, the book is full of contemporary Mexican history--of the government's indifference to and abuse of Indians, and of the Zapatista struggle--but never fails to grip the reader. For those who like background, here's a link to a page about the Yaqui Indians' Deer Dance.