By Sarah Macedo This photo, the information presented, and the otherillustrations are all from Mission San Luis Rey or its website.
When reading What Caused the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 about the variousinterpretations of a single event, I began to think about how the way history is presented also varies depending on theteller. To take a look at this first hand in the study of Latin American history in California, I visited Mission San Luis Rey and took note of how the information was presented.
The San Luis Rey Mission is known as the “King of the Missions” because it is the largest of the California Missions. It was named after the 13th century French King, St. Louis IX, and was run on the land of the Luiseno Indians. One of the reasons for its establishment was for the conversion of the Native peoples of the area, a common goal of the Spanish colonies. After observing and analyzing the displays available at Mission San Luis Rey, however, I find that the information given presents the Spanish perspective of the experience while neglecting to show the Amerindian contributions and point of view.
On the tour, the visitor travels through eight rooms. The first of these rooms is the only one that attempts to explain the experience of the Native Americans, but its exhibit contains mostly information about their culture pre-European contact. It hosts arrow heads, native stoves, and woven baskets. Although it does give credit to the civilization by stating that their work is an example of a “lost art of much skill”, it does not explain how their previous knowledge contributed to the building and maintaining of the Mission. The fact that it is a “lost” art also implies that it was pushed out of society based on the greater Spanish technology that replaced it. In one section of the room it stated that there is one example of a written source given by an Amerindian from the Mission studying in Italy, but they neglect to include what the source said.
The lack of primary source information given from the Native American perspective also contributes to the imbalance of perspective. In the remaining rooms there are recreations of the Mission kitchen, working tools, and a Spanish sala. While these recreations contain period artifacts with plaques detailing their use, I find that they did not thoroughly explain who used the artifacts. The only reference to work done by Native Americans I saw was one sentence stating that the neophyte women spun the fibers into wool. The descriptions did, however, state the role the artifacts played in the overall function of the Mission as intended by the Spanish who ran it. The economic gains through trade and production of things like hide were a common characteristic of the European settlements, but it depended on the labor of the Amerindians.
The Mission also contains written accounts from the Spanish who worked and visited San Luis Rey. Primary sources can be a powerful tool in understanding the past, but it is important to consider their biases. The only written primary sources on display detailing the experience of the Amerindians were those written by the Spanish. They were also posted in the archways between exhibit rooms away from any displays. According to one of the signs “…his Mission was…the one in which those poor Indians received the best treatment… ”. It goes on to say how paternally the priest treated the Amerindians and the gifts they received. Although this sign does discuss the Native Americans, even this description is given from the Spanish perspective. It does not explain how the Native Americans felt about this arrangement themselves, only how it appeared to the author, AugusteDuhaut-Cilly.
There is also a film that gives an overview of the Mission. Even during the film, however, it only shows the Spanish intentions of conversion and the history of the Mission up to its modern state. Furthermore, this film neglects to show the influence of the Native Americans or how they felt about this institution. In fact, the film commented how the Mission today “continues to serve area residents as it did 200 years ago” . This implies that it was the Spanish that served the Amerindians and that it was the Spanish technology that helped the native peoples. According to records left behind by previous Spanish religious leaders in the Americas, such as Sepulveda and Las Casas, it can be argued that it was the Natives who would be the ones serving the Spanish through forced work and oppression. It was their labor that produced the crops and goods that were used and traded. This perspective, however, is missing from the film’s content.
Even the plaques and monuments outside the Mission do not acknowledge the presence and influence of the Amerindians. There are large signs posted around the Mission land detailing the efforts of such groups as the Spanish, early American Californians, and even the Mormons who labored on the land in the 19thcentury. This gives the impression that the Native Americans did not significantly contribute as much as the other groups did.