Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Las Misiones De California and Texas Inspire and Educate New Generations of Students

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Las Misiones De California and Texas Inspire and Educate New Generations of Students

Article excerpt

"Knowing what went on at the missions helps us understand who we are today," says Dr. Rubén Mendoza, professor of social and Lbehavioral sciences at California Stute University-Monterey Bay (CSUMB), who teaches a class in mission archaeology, tie is on the board of the California Missions Foundation and the author of The California Missions Source Book.

Scholars and advocates such as Mendoza have continued to champion the missions of California and Texas as treasured resources that provide insight into history for all of those who visit. The missions are part of the unique contribution of Hispanic culture to America and are some of the oldest and most beloved structures in those states. Although originally established to support both military and religious purposes, they remain as architectural landmarks and popular tourist destinations.

The missions have earned national recognition and have been die subject of exhibits at the library of Congress, which dubbed them part of the "indelible mark on our nation's society and history·'" made by Hispanic Americans. Many of the missions are registered, as National Historic Sites and contain a rich collection of paintings, statues, furniture, manuscripts and other important artifacts. The majority run educational programs for their millions of yearly visitors, including thousands of students, thus serving as living history museums.

As one mission expert said, spending a day at one of the missions is "like taking a walk through lime."

Tom Castanos, education and youth initiatives coordinator for die San Antonio Missions National Park, has worked there for 10 years. Tie says about 45,000 students come to the missions each year. Many are fourtharid seventh-graders who visit as part of Texas state curriculum requirements that prescribe education about die historical communities of Texas and the Indians who populated the area.

"But we also get college architecture students and Spanish classes coming to the missions park," be said. "We attract quite a variety of educators and scholars."

For younger students, Castaños and the staff provide a popular activity titled "A Day in the Life," which features demonstrations of how food was hunted and gathered at die missions.

"We show diem the aüaü, which is a spear thrower used by Indians dating back to pre-Columbian times," said Castaños. "The students love to take turns trying to throw it.

"We also take them through an exercise where they learn to grind corn, which was used to make corn meal. Although doing it for a few minutes is hm, the students soon realize how much work it was to make corn meal for an entire family."

In recognition of their historical importance, the San Antonio Franciscan Missions have been authorized by (he U.S. Department of die Interior for die 2013 nomination to World Heritage list of UNESCO, the United Nations educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This nomination encompasses four missions (San Antonio Missions National Historical Park) and die Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero) . If accepted, they will join other similarly designated sites in the United States, which include historic icons such as Independence Hall and Mesa Verde and spectacular natural parks such as the Grand Canyon and Yoseinite.

"The missions represent an important - and often overlooked - chaptor of our nation's history," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. "It's important that visitors from around the world know and celebrate the contributions of Latinos to the fabric of America, and these missions help tell that story in a very real way."

Protecting and Preserving the Missions

The Spanish missions llial nourished in Texas and California in ihe I8II1 century grew out of the Spanish crown's drive to conquer and colonize. The padres who staffed the missions were members of the Franciscan Order, charged with converting the indigenous peoples of the area to Christianity. …

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