The preservation of colonial Spanish missions has brought together the Californias from both sides of the border.
Spanish missions stretch from San Francisco Solano, Sonoma, in the northerly California’s Bay Area, to San José del Cabo in Baja California Sur, and are a visible reminder of the Spanish colonial history shared by Mexico and the United States.
While in Mexico the responsibility for preserving and protecting the colonial missions falls under the governmental jurisdiction of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), in the United States it depends solely on donations from private donors and organizations.
“All the churches from the 16th to the 20th centuries in Mexico are government property,” José Luis Martínez y Hernández, general director for international affairs with Mexico’s national council for culture and the arts, told the EFE news agency.
California, on the other hand, does not consider the missions to be an integral part of the national heritage, so their conservation falls on concerned private citizens.
Inspired by the Mexican example, American organizations seek to emulate and learn from preservation efforts south of the border.
The UC-Mexico Initiative’s Arts and Cultures Working Group met this week and brought together University of California scholars, native Americans, preservation experts and government officials from California and Mexico to examine the shared heritage of the missions and how to preserve their historical and cultural significance.
“The missions connect the Californias,” said Jennifer Scheper Hughes on behalf of the UC-Mexico Initiative. “This working group of about 30 experts from both sides of the border examined the status of the missions and how we move forward to address the restoration needs of this shared cultural, economic and historical resource.”
Scheper Hughes said priorities was urgent “as there is a strong sense that the historical heritage of the California missions is endangered.”
Entitled “Shared Pasts, Shared Futures: The Missions of California and Mexico,” the meeting was held at the University of California at Riverside, in Los Angeles, last week.
“This is the first conversation we’ve had, and so the mutual idea and aim is to see what it means to both countries to have a shared heritage and to create a joint vision,” Sheper Hughes said.
For the people of the upper California, she explained, the missions represent pillars of history and culture and, at the same time, are “fundamental” for understanding the history of the American Indians, the evolution of architecture and the impact the missions have had on the region’s educational system.
Another of the aims of the meeting was to note that the missions founded by Spaniards on both sides of the current border have continued to function across the centuries and will continue to be a central axis of religious life for many local residents.
It was highlighted during the binational meeting that INAH is spearheading an initiative to designate the Camino Real Misionero de las Californias – the cultural route that connected Baja California with upper California – a UNESCO World Heritage site.