- California Mission Landscapes: Race, memory, and the politics of heritage by Elizabeth Kryder-Reid
In this insightful book, Kryder-Reid shines a spotlight on one of North America's most enduring colonial myths: the idyllic missions of Alta California. Founded more than two centuries ago as the vanguard of the Spanish Empire among California's coastal hunter-gatherer-fisher peoples, the missions have since been transformed into symbols of a romanticized European past. And as California Mission Landscapes convincingly demonstrates, that mythical past today serves to support American settler colonialism in the region. The book centers on how mission landscapes, and particularly gardens, reinforce the historically inaccurate notion that "the Spanish frontier in Alta California had been vacant and settled by close-knit communities of contemplative, peaceful monks who conquered the 'New World' by assuming devout poses, gazing into fountains, meditating on scripture, and doing a little gardening on the side" (175).
This contemporary image of the California missions is certainly at odds with historical reality, the subject of the book's first full chapter. Here, Kryder-Reid synthesizes current research in history, ethnohistory and archaeology to reveal the dynamic landscapes of colonial California. In doing so, the chapter demonstrates how the spatial arrangement of Spanish colonial missions were specifically designed to enculturate California's diverse Native peoples through daily practices of prayer, labor and social relationships. But importantly, Kryder-Reid also recognizes missions as Native places—places where thousands of Indigenous people lived, worked and died in the colonial period, and places with which many Native individuals and families across California continue to maintain complex relationships.
Beginning in the late nineteenth century, however, the Californian missions were re-made. This remaking effectively erased—or at least masked—the Indigenous histories to which the missions are so intimately bound. In Chapter Two, Kryder-Reid charts this transformation through the lens of the mission gardens at several mission sites. The first such garden, at Mission Santa Barbara, set the stage for a renewed interest in the California missions among the region's burgeoning Anglo-American population at the same time that they openly discriminated against people of Native, Mexican and Catholic heritage. Although many mission gardens were originally proposed as reconstructions, this chapter's careful analysis demonstrates that these locales were nineteenth-century inventions that relied on a combination of various features to invoke an idyllic past divorced from the realities of Spanish colonialism in California.
Chapter Three details the proliferation of mission imagery in popular culture, with a continued focus on the role of gardens and the broader landscape. In addition to architectural style, Kryder-Reid shows how the newly invented mission gardens influenced more subtle forms of landscape design across a rapidly growing California that was climatically well-suited to Mediterranean inspiration. The image of the timeless mission garden, empty of Native people, was also replicated in engravings, photographs, postcards, advertisements, models and trinkets. But more than simply charting the growth of an aesthetic, this chapter considers a wide range of evidence to show how such representations contributed to the logic of American settler colonialism: through diverse media, the image of the cloistered mission garden erased Native people and reinforced the idea that Europeans tamed the wilderness of California.
Returning to the physical spaces themselves, Chapter Four considers the embodied experience of California's contemporary mission sites. Visiting the missions is a California tradition, often beginning in childhood as part of the state's history curriculum or during tourists' quests to visit all twenty-one mission locations. Kryder-Reid charts the trajectory of such visits, ranging from the expectations formed during initial planning to the specifics of how visitors experience a mission during their tour. Of particular interest is the detailed accounting of how Native people and their labor are portrayed by signs, artifacts and reconstructions, as well as how plantings, statues and devotional landscapes subtly shape the message at various mission sites. While the missions as a whole support a relatively benign view of their own history, a closer look reveals the complex...