The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1978, Volume 24, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

By David Ringrose

(Saint Didacus)

THIS special issue of The Journal of San Diego History is the result of a symposium presented at the University of California, San Diego in October, 1976, under the title “From Lope de Vega to San Diego: The Backgrounds of Spanish Colonization in the Californias.” The symposium was made possible through the generous assistance of the Del Amo Foundation of Los Angeles and was presented by the Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies of UCSD. It grew out of a suggestion of Professor Claudio Guillén for the possible production of Lope de Vega’s little known play about San Diego de Alcalá, patron saint of Mission San Diego, as a possible UCSD contribution to the bicentennial activities of Fronteras 1976 in San Diego. This portion of the symposium was presented by the Dramatic Arts Department of UCSD, while the symposium itself was organized and programmed by Professor David Ringrose of the History Department. The special volume you are now reading has been made possible through the combined support of the Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, the San Diego History Center, the Del Amo Foundation, and the Chancellor’s Office of the University of California, San Diego.

The purpose of the symposium and of the resultant volume of proceedings was to go beyond the conventional narratives of missionary and military colonization in California and place those events in the context of the cultural assumptions and impulses of the colonizing Spaniards. This approach illustrates their inevitable compromises with actuality, and the impact of their efforts on the often sophisticated but always different native societies of the Californias. This has been attempted through a combination of literary sources, literary criticism, and historical and anthropological scholarship. The participants included faculty from the University of California at Santa Cruz and Berkeley, a Franciscan scholar of the mission experience, the Coordinator of the Baja California Center for Historical Studies, and scholars from the University of New Mexico and from the three major universities of the San Diego area—the University of California, the University of San Diego, and San Diego State University.

The central feature of the original symposium was a production of the Lope de Vega play San Diego de Alcalá in its American premiere. Translated by poet Stephen Fredman of San Francisco, it was presented by the Dramatic Arts Department of UCSD under the supervision of Peter Klein. It was given two performances at UCSD, played at various missions, and in Los Angeles. No printed version of the play can recapture the vitality and effectiveness of that dramatization, with the result that the reader must work his way through what Professor Joseph Silverman characterizes as a mediocre and poorly constructed example of Lope de Vega’s work. With Mr. Fredman’s translation, and subsequent editing by Professor Thomas Case of San Diego State University, we offer a version which is both reasonably readable and reasonably accurate.

For all of its flaws, and despite the brief space given the conquest of the Canary Islands and the total lack of direct reference to America, Lope’s play offers important insights into the mentality which created the pattern of military and religious expansion of eighteenth-century California. Written in the early seventeenth century, San Diego de Alcalá offers a depiction not only of religiously inspired conquest, but a portrayal of Spanish life which reveals the tensions and pressures of Spanish society. It places fundamentalist and traditional rural values, associated in the play with legitimate and unquestioningly pious Catholicism, in opposition to superficial religiosity as a mask for economic calculation and concern for prestige and power. The popular position, that of the Old Christians with no past of Jewish or Moorish compromise, is opposed to that of the nobleman—the practical man of wealth and power, often descended from or related to converted Jews. The overtones of social, religious, and ethnic tension are clear. They were an outgrowth of a continuation of the medieval Castilian drive to reconquer Spain from the Arabs, a spirit renewed by the conquest of the Canaries in the early fifteenth century and the fourteen-year war of conquest against Granada finished in 1492 on the eve of Columbus’ first voyage. This archaic politico-religious tension was perpetuated in sixteenth-century Spain by the prolonged battles of Charles V and Philip II against the expanding empire of the Mohammedan Turks in the Mediterranean and the rise of Protestantism in Europe. This religious and political struggle was marked within Spain by the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, by the sixteenth-century rise of the Inquisition and general mania for purity of blood as a requisite for office holding, by recurrent Moorish raids on the Spanish coasts, by the revolt of the Moorish population in southern Spain in the 1560’s, and by the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Moriscos in the first decade of the seventeenth century—the period when the play was written.

Thus the Spaniards who conquered America were the product of a tension-ridden society in which religion and very real international and internal threats were inextricably mingled. It is little wonder that religion became a major element in the Hispanicization of America, that various religious approaches came into conflict there, and that the Christianization of the Amerindians came into conflict with the practical considerations of political control, power, and diplomacy. The imagery, popular figures, and cultural assumptions articulated by Lope de Vega in the seventeenth century were thus part of the cultural baggage which the Spaniards of the eighteenth century brought with them when they began to revive Spanish expansion in what is now Northern Mexico and the American Southwest during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The play itself, and the discussion of its significance by Professor Silverman are designed to offer something more than the assertion that Spaniards were motivated by Greed and Faith in varying proportions depending on the individual. They are intended to provide a link—a pattern of understanding—between the heart of Spanish culture in the Golden Age and the expanding Spanish frontier in California at the end of the eighteenth century.

The efforts of Spain to consolidate her control in Lower and Upper California have always been part of conventional California history. The arguments between missionaries and governors, the distance between Indian culture and interests and those of the Hispano-Mexican immigrants, and the ambiguous record of the mission treatment of the native population have all received considerable attention. To a degree, the papers and commentaries which follow the play in this volume re-examine this familiar ground. Hopefully, however, they do so in such a way as to offer renewed interest and insight.

To establish a bridge between the home country and the frontier in the eighteenth century, Professor Donald Cutter of the University of New Mexico was asked to discuss the political and diplomatic context of Spanish expansion in the period. He offers a lively narrative of the process whereby military penetration and international spheres of influence were developed in the area. In her commentary, Professor Iris Engstrand of the University of San Diego elaborates on important aspects of that development and provides a more detailed orientation to its relationship with the San Diego area.

The dominant feature of actual Spanish occupation of the region was the long chain of Franciscan missions which reached from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay area. Father Francis Guest O.F.M., currently Archivist for the Santa Barbara Mission Archives, offers a perceptive analysis of the pattern of mission colonization. He refers to experiments being attempted by eighteenth-century civil authorities, and discusses the attempt to acculturate the Indians while also coercing them into providing sustenance for the new settlements. As a member of the order which staffed the early missions, Father Guest offers a refreshing and surprisingly objective analysis of the evolving “system,” if such it was, and of the growing tension between religious and civil/political methods and objectives in imperial expansion. As an invaluable counterpoint, Sr. David Piñera Ramírez of the Baja California Center for Historical Studies examines the same topic from a more secular point of departure, and broadens the framework with an interesting summary of the Jesuit experiences in Lower California—an episode which provided much of the experience and lay personnel for the expansion northward. The two presentations offer a lively analysis of the inner workings of expansion and complement the broader narrative framework of the preceding paper and commentary.

Finally, through the work of the eminent Berkeley anthropologist, Professor Robert Heizer, we conclude with an analysis of what happened to the people in the middle. Caught between economic and political motives of Spanish political authority, soldiers, and settlers, and the policy of Christianization and acculturation of the missionaries, were the California Indians themselves. Consisting of a sizeable population, in tribal societies with considerable sophistication, the natives understood neither of the forces impinging on them. Professor Heizer examines the internal organization of the missions—their economic bases, the patterns of conversion and discipline, and the personal and collective fortunes of the Indians drawn into the system. It is a dismal picture, relieved only by the good intentions of the missionaries and by the benevolence of their system when compared with the aggressive extermination practiced by the North Americans who subsequently seized the area. The volume closes with the comments of Dr. Lucy Killea, Executive Secretary of Fronteras in San Diego. Drawing on her extensive research on early San Diego, Dr. Killea elaborates on and questions aspects of Professor Heizer’s treatment of California in general, in part by focusing upon the questions he raises as they apply to the San Diego area. Much of Heizer’s presentation stands, some aspects are challenged, and the specifics of dealing with the Indians of this region are laid out as thoroughly as the sources permit.

With the last three papers and their commentaries, the cultural and literary insights of the first paper and the play can be traced through the context of Spanish expansion, the institutions which were used to carry it out, and their impact on the existing societies of the area. Geographically, the focus shifts from the Hispanic world and Spain to California and ultimately to San Diego. Thus the reader is carried almost literally, from Lope de Vega to San Diego in a way which we hope will deepen his perception of the Hispanic backgrounds of the colonization of the region.

Professor David Ringrose
University of California, San Diego