Finding California in Mission San Juan Capistrano

It seems like everyone is up in arms over immigration lately.  Just last week President Obama pledged $600 million toward border security.  The history of the U.S. is a story of immigrants – their struggles, their push, their clashes with each other, and sometimes their exclusion of each other.  We tend to think of nations and boundaries as immutable.  However, our history bears witness that while the land may remain the same, invisible lines and treaties are drawn, transferring power from one group to the other in the blink of an eye.

Mission San Juan Capistrano sits on land that was, as everyone knows, originally occupied by Native Americans. Then came the Spanish, who built the mission in 1775 to convert the Native Americans and reap the benefits of the land.  The mission didn’t serve just as a church.  More than 1,000 people actually lived on the property.  The Native Americans who converted lived in the Mission and followed the Spanish padre’s rules.  Spread amongst the grounds, you can see remnants of living quarters, vats for tanning leather, and where livestock were kept.   The gem of the Mission is the Great Stone church, which was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1812.  I felt really small standing next to the stone walls.

Another change of power came in 1821 and for the next 27 years the Mission stood on land that belonged to Mexico (along with the rest of Alta California and border states such as New Mexico and Arizona) until the last group of this saga, the Americans, took over.  Imagine being born in a land and having your national identity change three times in your lifetime.

Mission San Juan Capistrano isn’t as known as it should be considering it’s importance to California’s history and beauty, which is a shame.  You can walk the grounds and imagine how it must have been like to live through such a turbulent political period with a $9 ticket which includes an audio tour.  Don’t be surprised to see a wedding party during your visit as it’s a popular place for wedding photos because of its acres of gardens and charming Mission architecture.


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