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California’s Mission Projects: The Spanish Imaginary in Riverside and Beyond

  • Author(s): Sepulveda, Charles Anthony
  • Advisor(s): Perez, Robert C
  • et al.

California historical discourse routinely centers Europeans and represents Indians as primitive remnants that could only fully exist in the past. This study provides a historical overview of the formation of California’s Spanish imaginary and its intersections with race, class, gender, sexuality and indigeneity through both theory and archival materials. It disrupts this imaginary through a re-centering of Native peoples and land.

This dissertation understands mission style architecture to be a physical manifestation of an anti-Indian ideology that permeates a landscape that has been critically altered by and for the settler. Focusing on place/territory the history of California Indians is re-evaluated through a critical evaluation of the canonization of Junípero Serra in 2015 and the dedication of his memorial on Mount Rubidoux in Riverside, California by President Taft in 1909. Also evaluated is the Sherman Institute, an Indian boarding school in Riverside originally constructed in mission revival style architecture. The school was founded through a white-supremacist logic similar to that of California’s mission project: to educate, convert and assimilate the Indian into productive laborers. Nearby, the Mission Inn would also be constructed in mission revival style architecture. These buildings and those similar convey a history crafted to narrate the Spanish Missions as benevolent with Junípero Serra as the “founder” of California. Largely erased in the imaginary is gendered and sexual violence perpetrated through the institutionalization of the monjerio, the gendered dormitories that functioned as prisons for unmarried baptized Indians at the mission.

Argued throughout this dissertation is that despite the past violence, denial of the genocidal conditions, historical trauma and the continued erasure faced by California Indians including, but not limited to, destruction of sacred sites and environments, language loss and massive settler populations living on their lands, they have continuously resisted and struggled to maintain culture and tribal governance. This study acts as a bridge between theory and archival sources to dispute the myth of the Spanish imaginary.

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