Should We Celebrate the Legacy of Junípero Serra?

Elections and mortality usually ensure turnover among California's representatives in Congress, but one figure has been representing the state since 1931: the bronze statue of Junípero Serra, one of California's two permanent delegates in the Capitol's Statuary Hall.

Regarded as the founding father of California's mission system, Serra has long been admired within the state. John Steven McGroarty painted him as a saintly figure in "The Mission Play," and in 1988 Pope John Paul II beatified Serra, bringing the Franciscan father one step away from actual sainthood. But while Serra is celebrated for converting both Indians into Christians and California into a European possession, scholarship--informed by a fresh look at administrative records, correspondence, and other archived documents from California's colonial era--over the past few decades has come to view Serra's mission-building project as a disaster for the state's native inhabitants.

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