- California Mission Landscapes: Race, Memory, and the Politics of Heritage by Elizabeth Kryder-Reid
After glancing at the copious marginalia and yellow highlights that mark my copy of Elizabeth Kryder-Reid's California Mission Landscapes, it is not hard to understand why she recently won the 2017 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize from the Foundation for Landscape Studies. Readers of this journal, in particular, will appreciate how Kryder-Reid analyzes California's missions and, especially, their gardens as constructed landscapes that have led, and continue to lead, a vibrant social life—built and rebuilt, mediated and remediated, welcomed and damned, inherited and transmitted, timeless but always easily placed in history. They have traveled across time and space to shape and be shaped by a dynamic variety of stakeholders, from Catholic leaders to boosters and tourists, who engage them in their everyday lives.
Kryder-Reid is upfront that one of her central aims "is to set the record straight on the origins of the [mission] gardens" (9). More narrowly, her focus is on the production and consumption of these gardens—not historically a part of the Spanish colonial missions, mind you—in the late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries. In doing so, she more broadly interrogates the history of the mission sites as constructed heritage landscapes and all the implications thereof (i.e., her study fits firmly within the tradition of both critical heritage studies and cultural memory).
To begin, she touches on the long, complex, and often brutal colonial history of these [End Page 93] sites, powerfully documenting their "mix of beauty and blood" (1). She then traces their postcolonial legacy, with particular focus on their cultural memory. She highlights the sociocultural and political-economic contexts that affect and are effected by mission gardens and mission representations, especially as reconstructions rather than mere reflections. In doing so, she conveys more than their surface or denotative meanings, but deeper, myth-like connotations.
Peeling back the proverbial layers, Kryder-Reid documents the hegemonic power and Foucauldian regimes of truth that work to fashion narrative stories, historical representations, and the built environment of the missions. She also names names, identifying the figures who are responsible.1 She reveals how power structures and individuals constructed a dominant way of representing the past at California's missions (i.e., a dominant memory and/or way of representing the past), which later generations inherited as invented tradition and perpetuated, unwittingly legitimizing them. To Kryder-Reid, a dominant memory functions as a contributing force in molding historical consciousness and understanding—a basis for the formation of both personal and group/community identity and cohesion (as well as exclusion).
Kryder-Reid tells this complex and nuanced story, drenched in deep but accessible theory, in an introduction, four chapters, and a conclusion. While she does not break the book into parts, I discerned four. The first is the introduction, where Kryder-Reid sets up the problem of mission gardens being understudied and misunderstood, reviews the relevant literature, and explains the major theoretical frameworks underscoring her study: landscape (as constructed/shaped), meaning (as both mediated and personal), memory (as articulated, materialized, and the result of influence), and heritage (as political fiction and essential to both individual and group identity).
The next part focuses on the missions' history. Chapter 1, "Colonial Mission Landscapes," reviews the colonial history of the missions. It begins with the establishment of the missions at the end of the eighteenth century, contextualizing them as colonial spaces of enslavement, domination, and indigenous resistance. Powerful here is her review of the social experience of these spaces, especially under regimes of increasing surveillance and spatial management. Chapter 2, "Inventing Heritage: Time Building in the Mission Landscape," looks at the postcolonial invention of tradition through the mission gardens (built over time from the 1870s through 1950s...