Public History Experience

Located in Oceanside, Ca, San Luis Rey Mission is the 18th out of 21 missions established by the Catholic Church during Spanish colonialization of the Pacific coast.

Located in Oceanside, Ca, San Luis Rey Mission is the 18th out of 21 missions established by the Catholic Church during Spanish colonialization of the Pacific coast.

For my historical site experience I visited the San Luis Rey de Francia Mission in Oceanside, California. The San Luis Rey Mission indirectly addresses the Latino community as it focuses mainly on Native Americans and their Spanish and American conquerors. The founding of the mission was executed by what would prove to be the forefathers of Latinos, mainly the Spanish and the local Native American population.

The mission is the eighteenth mission set up by the Catholic Church during Spain’s colonization of the area now known as California, in which a series of twenty-one missions were founded. San Luis Rey Mission has a museum and self-guided tour that is open to the public in order to present the history of the San Luis Rey mission. On April 5th, 1970, the U.S. Dept. of the Interior National Park Service designated San Luis Rey Mission a historical Landmark due to its status as an excellent example of a Spanish mission, the Franciscan Friars of Santa Barbara Province cares for the museum and the grounds, overseeing all aspects of the mission.

The prominent features of the museum are the artifacts collected during the colonization, Mexican and American periods. There are many examples of tools and clothing used by the Native Americans who inhabited the area, designated “Luisenos” by the Spanish. On display are also many religious artifacts, including statues, robes and crucifixes used in worship services.
The main feature of the museum is the history of the Mission itself and the Padres who founded and built it. Father Antonio Peyri is one of the main historic figures and the event of his leaving the mission and eventually returning to Spain following the secularization of the mission by the Mexican government is commemorated by a painting.

Other historical content involves the occupation of the mission by American troops during the American-Mexican War, and the use of the mission by Mexican friars from the city of Zacatecas who were fleeing persecution from the Mexican government in 1892. Eventually, while being occupied by the military, the mission was returned to the Catholic Church as their rightful property by President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. The original document is on display in the museum and was issued only a couple of months before his assassination.

Besides the museum, visitors can see California’s first planted pepper tree, 1830. The Lavanderia is also open to the public, exhibiting a complicated water system that the Indians used to wash clothes. It was a weekly event that also served as a social gathering. The water would then go on to the fields and gardens, making sure that no water was wasted. The ruins of the military barracks and the cemetery are also available to visitors. The barracks housed anywhere between six to twelve soldiers at different times. The cemetery includes the remains of both recent and historical residents, and a monument commemorating the many Indians buried there.

The site mainly involves Spanish and Native American figures, though the Native Americans are mostly referred to collectively rather than as individuals of particular interest. Almost all of the figures of note are priests of the Catholic Church or military figures, such as Fathers Peyri and Joseph J. O’Keefe, and General Stephen W. Kearny. Some contributors are the Oceanside Blade newspaper; Rose Marie Beebe (Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815-1848) and several possessions of Father Peyri were discovered in an archaeological find on the mission grounds and/or donated to the museum.

The Luisenos would come to be “Hispanicized” by intermarriage with the Spanish and the adoption of Spanish names following baptism, though the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are not included anywhere in the museum. I would consider it Latino heritage unless the definition of Latino is used in such a way to exclude Spaniards.