The Corner


A Brief Note on the Burning of San Gabriel Mission

The San Gabriel Mission, founded in 1771 and located about twelve miles east of Los Angeles, burned the other day. My heart hurts. I grew up about five miles from the old mission, and my grandmother of blessed memory is buried in its cemetery. I helped carry her to her grave.

In my experience, the native peoples received nothing but respectful memory both at the mission and in school. In our early grades, we would take at least one field trip a year there, and I remember quite vividly my teachers lecturing us kids to NOT step on the graves of Native Americans still located in the mission courtyard.

Going to the mission made history come alive. It tied us to our past. As I recall, there was not a tinge of triumphalism in our education about the mission or its founding. Indeed, the mission was a source of pride for the entire community.  Locals visit it as a place of quiet, a welcoming oasis to rest and reflect. In the summer, before widespread air conditioning, it would be a place to sit in the shade of the courtyard trees or for Catholics to light a candle and pray.

We don’t yet know what caused the fire. I would not be surprised if it was arson and a means of “protesting” the oppression of the indigenous people by the Spaniards who settled in the area. But destroying history is a totalitarian impulse. The irony escapes our new woke overlords.


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