Winter 2019, 49.5, pages 470–494
Revisiting Missions: Decolonizing Public Memories in California
Abstract: Living in California seems to require interaction with the state’s twenty-one historic Spanish missions, either by visiting them as a tourist, driving by a mission in one’s neighborhood, or learning about them as a schoolchild. While the missions ostensibly celebrate California’s history, many promote an anachronistic and dishonest re-telling of history that elides the devastating impact of the missions on Native communities (both historically and today). The missions operate as largely uncontested tourist attractions that promote self-serving collective memories about California’s founding narrative. Rhetorical analysis, I argue, can lead to a more honest engagement with the “hard truths” of their pasts, thus enabling a decolonizing paradigm (Lonetree). Toward this end, this essay focuses on the missions’ role in shaping public memory in California by comparing the rhetorical choices made at two locations: Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and La Purisima Mission State Park.