History in Song: “Alive with the Glory of Love” by Say Anything

An alternative rock song about the Holocaust? That probably sounds strange. And the result has been described as an “intense and oddly uplifting rocker about a relationship torn by the Holocaust.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“Alive with the Glory of Love” (2004) by the emo/indie/alternative rock band Say Anything, is loosely based on the lives of the grandparents of the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Max Bemis. Both of his grandparents were Holocaust survivors.

The song tells the story of two lovers during the years of the Holocaust moving from the ghetto, to hiding, to work camps. But does so to an upbeat punk rock beat rather than anything one could call sentimental. A bit irreverent and written with more modern language, the song actually does a wonderful job of humanizing, personalizing, and giving agency to the story of Holocaust survivors.

The terrible atrocities of the Holocaust included dehumanizing entire groups of people including the Jewish, disabled, homosexuals, and others; however, the humanity of these groups lived on in their love for their partners and families, in their resistance, overt and covert, and in their ability to rebuild lives and communities after the war. Some depictions of victims and survivors of the Holocaust can put too much emphasis on what happened to them rather than what they were able to actively do in the face of such great oppression. This song shines a light on the relationships and emotions that victims might have felt when facing potential separation.

This song also demonstrates that all genres of music can be inspired by the past and are often connected to personal and family histories as well.

Music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUws596eChQ

Lyrics:

When I watch you, want to do you, right where you’re standing yeah
Right on the foyer on this dark day right in plain view oh yeah
Of the whole ghetto, the boot-stomped meadows, but we ignore that yea
You’re lovely baby, this war is crazy, I won’t let you down oh no no no
I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no
I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no
No oh no no no

And when our city vast and shitty
Falls to the Axis, yeah [the Axis powers of World War II consisted of Germany, Italy, and Japan.]
They’ll search the buildings collect gold fillings, wallets, and rings [the Germans were notorious for stealing any item of any value from the Jewish people including even their gold fillings and personal effects.]

But Miss Black Eyeliner you’d look finer with each day in hiding oh yea
Beneath the worm wood, ooh love me so good, [this line evokes the image of hiding beneath floor boards to avoid being taken away to the camps. Some Jewish theology equates wormwood with evil or at least with bitterness, but I am far from an expert there.]
They won’t hear us screw away the day, I’ll make you say

(Alive, alive, alive with love)
No I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no
Oh no I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you

Our Treblinka is alive with the glory of love [Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in Poland and was the site of the genocide of 700,000-900,000 Jewish people and 2,000 Romani people by gas chamber]
Treblinka, alive with the glory of love yea
Should they catch us and dispatch us to those separate work camps yeah
I’ll think about you, I’ll dream about you
I will not doubt you with the passing of time
Should they kill me your love will fill me as warm as the bullets
I’ll know my purpose, this was was worth this, I won’t let you down
No I won’t, no I won’t, no I won’t
(Alive, alive, alive with love)
I won’t let them take you, won’t let them take you hell no no

** A few details of the song are not representative of the majority of the experiences of Holocaust victims. Since Treblinka was an extermination camp, not a work camp, the vast majority of people were immediately killed upon arrival with just a few men put to work to operate the gas chambers and bury the dead. Gas chambers replaced guns as the primary way of carrying out the genocide.

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History in Song: “Enola Gay” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

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Today is the anniversary of the first atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945 at 8:15 in the morning, local time, the Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, released the atomic bomb code-named “Little Boy.” The bomb’s blast and firestorm killed 70,000-80,000 people, 30% of the city’s population, and another 70,000 were injured. Out of those killed, only 20,000 were soldiers. These numbers do not include those who suffered long-term health effects and early deaths from the fallout and radiation.

While the attack on Hiroshima and the later attack on Nagasaki brought an end to World War II without the invasion of Japan, the immense loss of life and almost complete destruction of the two cities has been the source of much debate and controversy. Many of the mission’s crew have maintained that they felt the attacks were warranted in that they brought a swifter end to the war and resulted in less casualties than an invasion of Japan might have. Many have also argued that the immense and terrifying power of the atomic bomb as displayed in these two attacks has prevented future use of atomic weapons. However, the loss of life was catastrophic and many have questioned whether it was really necessary or the only option to bring about the end of the war.

1980s British synth-pop band, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, explored the moral questions rising from the use of the atomic bomb in their song, Enola Gay (1980). Interpreted by many as an anti-war song, the songwriter Andy McCluskey actually stated that the song was not politically motivated and he hoped the track “conveyed an ambivalence about whether it was the right or the wrong thing to do.” However, the song was released during a time of growing anti-nuclear sentiment.

Music Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5XJ2GiR6Bo

Lyrics:

Enola Gay, you should have stayed at home yesterday
Oh, words can’t describe the feeling and the way you lied
These games you play, they’re gonna end in more than tears someday
Oh, Enola Gay, it shouldn’t ever have to end this way
It’s 8:15, that’s the time that it’s always been [the time the bomb was dropped and a reference to the fact that the blast stopped watches]
We got your message on the radio
Condition’s normal and you’re coming home
Enola Gay, is mother proud of her little boy today? [a reference both to the code name of the bomb,”Little Boy” and the fact that the plane was named after the pilot’s mother, Enola Gay Tibbets]
Oh, this kiss you give, it’s never ever gonna fade away
Enola Gay, it shouldn’t ever have to end this way
Oh, Enola Gay, it should’ve faded our dreams away
It’s 8:15, and that’s the time that it’s always been
We got your message on the radio, condition’s normal and you’re coming home
Enola Gay, is mother proud of her little boy today?
Oh, this kiss you give, it’s never ever gonna fade away.

Organize Your Family Archives (Like Monica Geller): Step 3

Step 1: Start.

Step 2: Keep sorting and do your research.

Step 3: Make some storage decisions.

Now that you have sorted your collection, done your research to decide where each item should go, and assessed the size and condition of your collection, you are ready to decide how you want to store it. Album, scrapbook, or box? This depends on your specific goals for your collection and the features of your collection include size and condition.

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The one example we don’t want to take from Monica–storage.

Have a relatively small collection in good condition and want to whip it out whenever you have company and show off your photos and the stories behind them? A scrapbook may be the ticket. More effort is needed up front to create a visually appealing scrapbook, and care needs to be taken to use archival materials, but this is a viable option if you are feeling creative. This is also a good option if you have photos and related documents that you want to keep together for context. I will be scrapbooking my wedding photos and have made scrapbooks in the past for special occasions and vacations.

Photo albums are likewise easily accessible and easy to share with visitors. A little tricky if you have many photos of various sizes though. And not ideal if you have a large collection and not a lot of shelf space as they can get bulky. Photo albums with caption spaces are great for recording all those details you learned in your research.

Archival boxes are usually best in terms of preservation since they are completely enclosed and will most be most efficient in terms of space if you have a large collection. Boxes are best for fragile photos that can’t stand up to the page turning involved in albums. Photo boxes comes in a variety of sizes.

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Photo box from Gaylord Archival. Image from http://www.gaylord.com

When ordering your supplies, pay attention to dimensions, materials (remember to look for acid and lignin free), and capacity. You may also want to invest in some archival quality pens, or pencils, acid-free tissue paper, folders, envelopes, or archival sleeves, depending on the storage solution you decide on.  Part of the services I offer includes helping you make these supply decisions based on the specifics of your collection.

Now is also when you may want to decide if you want to digitize your collection before you file it all away. It’s a good time to scan, label, and save your digital files before you find a more permanent home for the physical copies.

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No judgement, but join the 21st century and digitize!

In today’s age, I recommend digitizing your photos for many reasons: accessibility, sharing, and preservation being the top. Digitizing your photos means you can access them at any time without physically needing to pull them out–this makes it quick and easy to locate particular images and also connects to preservation. The less the physical copy is handled and exposed to light, dirt, oils in your fingers, etc. the longer it will last.

Finally, the biggest advantage of digitization is the ability to share your family photos with your family and friends even across physical distances. I plan to digitize my family collection to be able to share with my parents and siblings as we are spread across three different states.

Like the physical files though, to digitize you need to consider storage. Depending on the size of your collection, you could need much more digital space than you should probably be putting on your hard drive (it would slow your computer down quite a bit), or then you could fit on a standard flash drive. I would recommend an external hard drive and/or a cloud-based application. My husband and I have an Amazon Prime account which includes unlimited photo storage so I will be making use of that feature in addition to saving the images on an external hard drive. Having two copies helps ensure you don’t lose your files! Other cost efficient cloud options include Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, and Flickr. These options are make sharing much easier. And sharing is caring. 🙂

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Stay tuned for next steps including the digitization process, file naming and labeling!

Organize Your Family Archive Like Monica Geller: Step 2

Step 1: Start – Prepare your space and dive in to the sorting.

Step 2: Keep Sorting and Start Researching

So you’ve started trying to sort through your family photos, but may have been overwhelmed by the sheer number you have, or how many you weren’t sure about either the date, the people pictured, or the location.  Deep breath. This may be when you decide to stop and hire professional help. *ahem–me* Or if you want to dig a little deeper for your inner Monica Geller, here is how to proceed.

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I began sorting by decade, knowing that everything would not be in perfect order right away, which is totally fine. Now that everything is roughly sorted, I am going through each decade’s pile with a more discerning eye to the order with the aim to get everything in chronological order, at least to the right year. If many photos are undated, it will be nearly impossible to have the photos in month/date order as even the people who lived through the events in the photos may not be able to remember which happened first or exactly what month and day.

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So if your photos are undated, how do you go about deciding which order they should be in? The first step if possible is to ask the subjects of the photos, the person who was likely behind the camera, or other close relatives who may recognize the subjects, places, or time periods.

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Even Monica could use a little help from her relatives…

 

What some of my research looks like–texts to my mom.

But what if no one remembers? There are other ways to figure out approximate dates. Obvious first options–check the front and back of the photo for the dates that were printed on the photo. Keep in mind that those dates are when the photos were printed, not taken. Depending on how quickly you or your relatives took their film to be developed will determine how close those printed dates are to the taken dates.

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Also common are handwritten dates and other info on the backs of the photos. If there is identifying information on some photos, you can then use context clues for similar looking photos–photos of family members where they look the same age, photos taken in the same house, etc.

 

It is also helpful to pay attention to hairstyles, styles of dress, and background details including signs, places, home decor, etc. to get an idea of time period. (Hopefully your family wasn’t behind the times too much.)

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The size of your prints can also be a general clue to age. For example, standard 4×6 wasn’t the standard until the 1990s. Smaller prints were more popular in the 1970s and 80s. And even smaller prints (like teeny tiny) were common in the 1940s. And finally, if in doubt, using estimations is fine.

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A print from the 70s, two from the 80s (one early, one late), and two from the 90s (one early, one late).

Now, what do you do with the information you gather from relatives and your research about specific images? For now, I would recommend making notes on a separate piece of paper. Writing on the photos themselves is not recommended for two reasons, physical preservation of the photo, and preservation of the context of the photo. If you add your own notes to the back of a photo that already has writing on it, or worse, you write a note that turns out not to be correct, later viewers of the image may not be sure what was written originally and what was added later.

The information is better added later in a caption in a photo album (with an archival quality pen or pencil) and in the digital record’s metadata, which we will discuss more in depth later.

As you go forth and gather information from relatives also consider recording more formal oral history interviews with them. There is nothing like preserving a relative’s voice and their stories. More on oral histories later or contact me to see how I can help.

Stay tuned for next steps–deciding on storage, both physical and digital, and labeling.

Organize Your Family Archive Like Monica Geller: Step 1

So you want to get your family photos and other archives in order but you aren’t sure where to start. Dig deep and harness your inner Monica Geller! Yes, that Monica Geller, from the 90’s hit sitcom Friends.

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Step 1: Start.

Easier said than done, but to get started you have to dive in. But in an orderly fashion.

Start with a dedicated clean, dry space for your project. You don’t want to start and stop this project, having to regather everything every other day, so I don’t recommend using your bed, dining room table (unless you never eat there, which I totally get), or coffee table.

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My space for now and my relatively small family project is a desk in our office/my husband’s man cave, which has been cleared of said husband’s stuff. (read: junk.)

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With clean, dry hands, start going through your collection. If already in older albums(i.e. albums in need of replacing), great! Leave them in for now. See if your collection is already organized in some way, by date, event, or some other way.

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This initial stage is to get a sense for how many items you have, what they are, and what you would like to do with them. And by all means, enjoy the trip down memory lane. That’s what it’s all about.

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In the case of loose photos, especially if they have gotten out of order, just start sorting by whatever parameters make sense to you, but I generally suggest date.

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I took my collection of loose photographs and initially began sorting by decade. I will refine it as closely as possible by year later.

This initial sorting has given me an idea of how many photos there are, what time frame is included, and how much research I might have to do in order to figure out dates, names, etc. It also brought my attention to the fact that some of the images are bent, torn, or sticky–some have tape or glue residue on the back. (Monica would not approve.)

But this is a start and you now have an idea of what you need to do in order to sort better (in my case, some phone calls and FaceTiming my mom are going to be necessary), some problem areas that will need to be addressed (sticky backs), and an idea of how large your project is–something that comes into play when deciding what supplies you will need to store your collection in.

Feeling your inner Monica yet? Or still feeling overwhelmed? I am a Monica and happy to help with your family archiving project. Contact me and let’s talk!

Stay tuned for Step 2 in the series!

Public Historian on Vacation Series: Final Stop – Louisiana

Finally coming to the end of my Public Historian on Vacation series. I spent so much time writing about San Antonio even though we were only there for 2 days because we packed a lot into 2 days, it was our first time visiting, and it was so beautiful and interesting. After we visited the Missions we also checked out the San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden, went back to the River Walk and ate at Casa Rio, the oldest restaurant on the River (1946)–(another example of commercialization of history, drawing on the past to create a certain atmosphere, and to substantiate the quality of the restaurant. Which was pretty yummy Mexican.)

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After San Antonio, we drove back towards the East and stopped over in New Iberia, Louisiana, an adorable small town and home to my wonderful friend and graduate school support person, Jayd. It is also home to the historic site Jayd works at, the Shadows-on-the-Teche, a historic house museum owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We visited Jayd at the Shadows and took a tour from one of the regular guides.

Built along the Bayou Teche, the Shadows was constructed in 1834 for sugarcane planter David Weeks and his wife Mary Conrad Weeks. To be honest, house museums are not my favorite kind of museum as their tours are often formulaic, focused a great deal more on architectural and design history than social history (my personal interest) and I often have a difficult time keeping the various generations of the family and all of the family names organized in my mind as we go through the house. But this house and this tour are interesting for the various ways that the house’s origins and its more recent history are alongside one another.

The house stayed in the same family for a very long time, from its construction through 1958, creating the opportunity to trace one family over several generations. The house has mostly been restored to the antebellum time period in which it was built, but one section of the house interprets more the life and times of the house’s last private owner, William Weeks Hall. His life stood out to me as the most interesting. He was an accomplished artist and knew many other artists and visionaries of his time, including Walt Disney, Henry Miller, Emily Post and more. Visitors to the Shadows during William Weeks Hall’s time were asked to sign an old door that remains on display.

Like most plantation homes today, the interpretation included something about the enslaved people who lived and worked both in the home and in the fields and other properties owned by the Weeks family, though like most historic house museums today that interpretation could use a little something more. We were told that the family depended on and supported slavery, secession, and the South in the Civil War, but less is known about the enslaved people and as such less is shared about them than the white plantation family. But I know more research is being done with the intentions of adding more about the enslaved African Americans at the site. And more information about slavery at the Shadows is available on their website. Overall, well worth a visit and they do some really interesting educational and special programming as well. I may be biased, but Jayd is a passionate public historian and educator who is doing some great work there.

After our tour we went to dinner with Jayd and Graig for some local Cajun food at Pelicans on the Bayou. We had poboys and Crawfish Kickers (a fried crawfish appetizer, kind of like a hushpuppy). And awesome Magic Dust (Cajun seasoning) french fries. And then we set off with Jayd to New Orleans for the rest of the weekend.

We went to New Orleans last year as well and we love NOLA. This year’s foray was with a native Louisianan but unfortunately it was also during a monsoon. I’m exaggerating a little. Rain, wind, clouds, and thunder made Saturday rather gloomy. Before it really started pouring we went to Cafe du Monde, the iconic cafe known for their beignets and cafe au lait. Cafe du Monde has been in operation since 1862 and is one of few things I find totally worth the line, which, thanks to the staff’s efficiency, moves pretty fast. Delicious beignets, wonderful coffee, and the simplicity of it–that’s quite literally all that’s on the menu–all combine into a warm, fuzzy experience. Cafe du Monde is another example of a restaurant successfully capitalizing on its history and longevity. So much so that it doesn’t have to offer anything else. But even after becoming a must see for any New Orleans tourist, the quality of the food and the experience remain. Because, trust me, there are plenty of other places to get beignets in the French Quarter without the line, but there isn’t a line for a reason–they simply aren’t as good.

After pumping ourselves full of caffeine and sugar we set off without a plan into the French Quarter to find something to do. We considered the Cabildo, but it was closed for an exhibit installation. The weather began to get worse and worse so we stopped off at the 1850 House Museum located in the Lower Pontalba Building on Jackson Square. This was a unique house museum in that it was more of an apartment building that had had many different residents over the years. It interprets upper-middle-class life of antebellum New Orleans. Most interesting to me is that the building and its mate, the Upper Pontalba Building across Jackson Square, were designed and financed by a woman, Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba. Both buildings were intended to be combinations of residential and retail spaces. The 1850 House is small and it’s a quick tour of the three floors, including going through the back staircase to the slave and servant quarters and working spaces. (Picture on left above shows one of the Pontalba buildings, but on Sunday when the sun came out.)

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When the weather continued to get worse it drove us from the French Quarter to what we thought would be a safer, drier, and more enjoyable visit to the National World War II Museum.  Well, every other tourist in New Orleans, which was also holding the rained out French Quarter Festival that weekend, had the same idea and we waited in line to get tickets, then to see exhibits, then to eat, only to arrive at the extra experience we had paid for (Final Mission: USS Tang) to find that it was down due to technical difficulties (we were reimbursed, but had walked to that separate building in the rain just for it). Overall, it was a pretty disappointing and frustrating day. It called into mind issues on the visitor experience side of museums. All three of us had been to the WWII Museum before and we knew that it was an impressive, well-done Museum with interactive exhibits, special features, and more. But what if that rainy day had been our first visit? We may have left with a very negative view of the Museum or at least not feeling like it was worth it. Visitor experience and basic qualities of comfort such as benches, crowding, accessibility, etc. really affect visitors’ ability to learn and get the most out of the museum.

It was difficult to focus on what was presented in the exhibits and hard not to feel like you were in someone else’s way. I was pleased to find they had added an immersive exhibit about the home front, often an excellent opportunity to discuss women’s roles during the war, with home interiors set up in 1940s style with places to sit, listen, and read; however, it was also full to the brim and we felt rushed through the space.

Some busy Museums use timed tickets to help control the number of visitors. Independence National Historical Park does so for visitors to Independence Hall, an effort which keeps the small structure from being overcrowded, a preservation necessity that also aids in creating a more positive visitor experience. Visitor caps might also help, keeping the number of visitors allowed in at any one time to a number that allows visitors access to exhibits without too much crowding. Museums have to weigh access, i.e. allowing as many visitors as possible to view the exhibits, with visitor experience, and often with financial concerns as well. Small museums need all of the admission fees they can get to help finance their collection, programs, and often simply operating expenses. However, the World War II Museum likely turns a profit and has been able to invest greatly in new buildings, high quality exhibits, etc. The tickets to the World War II Museum aren’t cheap ($28 for adults), which does give you access to a huge array of exhibits in several buildings, but when your experience is muddled by crowds and ultimately cut short by the exhaustion of dealing with them, you begin to question the value. This coming from two museum professionals (and a good sport of a husband).

Of course, the last time we visited the World War II Museum last year, it was busy without being overly crowded and perhaps we simply caught the unlucky rain-induced visitor onslaught. However, if the Museum finds itself having more and more of those days it may want to institute some sort of control over the number of visitors on forecasted busy days.

After leaving the National World War II Museum wet, tired, and a bit grumpy we went back to our AirBnb, took our host’s suggestion for dinner at the delicious Sassafras, drank the wine left graciously by our host, played cards, and called it a night. The weather cleared and the morning was sunny and breezy. We revisited Cafe du Monde, took a glorious walk around the French Quarter and said our goodbyes.

Our whole trip was full of wonderful times with family and friends, beautiful places, interesting history, and good times. Can’t wait to go back and see family again in Galveston, explore more of San Antonio, visit Jayd and explore more of New Iberia and Southeast Louisiana, and as always, eat more beignets in New Orleans. And of course looking forward to the next trip to anywhere–I always find the history.

Public Historian on Vacation: The Missions of San Antonio

This is part four of my Public Historian on Vacation series, which was originally intended to be a three part series. However, I realized I had more to say about various stops along the way. However, this will be the third and final post about our time in San Antonio before moving on to our stops in Louisiana.

To recap the series so far, this trip took place in April and included stops in Galveston, Texas; San Antonio, Texas; New Iberia, Louisiana; and New Orleans, Louisiana. I’ve already described our time in Galveston visiting family and enjoying The Strand Historic District and the Seawall, dipping a little into the commercialization of the past. I have also now written two posts about San Antonio, one about our visit to the Alamo, and one about our visit to Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum. This final post about San Antonio will be about our day in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

The park consists of four different missions, from north to south: Mission Concepcion, Mission San José, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission Espada. Each mission is about 2.5 miles from the next mission and can be reached by following Mission Road.

The Mission system was devised by the Spanish as they colonized North America and staked their claim on territory. Missions served many different purposes for the Spanish colonizers. They were miniature towns inside stone fortifications, a combination of church, military outpost, school, and living quarters. The work of the Missions was to convert indigenous people not only religiously, but culturally, to make the native people Spanish citizens. These newly converted citizens helped the small number of Spanish priests, soldiers and others to grow in number and be able to maintain and hold their territory.

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The mission system in San Antonio is summarized on the park’s website: “After 10,000 years, the people of South Texas found their cultures, their very lives under attack. In the early 1700s Apache raided from the north, deadly diseases traveled from Mexico, and drought lingered. Survival lay in the missions. By entering a mission, they foreswore their traditional life to become Spanish, accepting a new religion and pledging fealty to a distant and unseen king.”

This short introduction to the Missions on the National Park Service website for the park begins to get into why indigenous people would enter a mission–the push and pull reasons. Dangerous conditions pushing and promised food and safety pulling them in. However, within the Missions there was forced conversion and also forced labor, with indigenous people being the very ones who built the stone walls of each of the 4 Missions.

I am fascinated with Latin American history, the history of Latinos in what is now the United States, immigration history, and the colonial era, so I knew as soon as we started planning our trip to San Antonio that I wanted to see the Missions. My poor husband was just along for the ride, but I think he ended up getting more out of our whirlwind tour then he expected.

Having grown up in North Carolina, I was taught much more about the 13 original British colonies than I was about Spanish colonization of territories that would become the U.S. and so the word colonial usually conjures different imagery.  To see these 300-year-old Spanish Missions and think about how their presence helped shape the region was a new and eye opening experience.

I was somewhat familiar with the history of Spanish colonization in general, having written my undergraduate seminar paper on the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the ways in which women were used by conquistadors to expand Spanish control. I also took a survey course on the history of Latin America which covered the colonial period including the main goals of Spanish conquest, the 3 G’s: God, glory, and gold. Conversion and spread of Christianity, exploration and territorial claims in the name of Spain, and accumulation of wealth were the three main motivators and goals of Spanish conquest.

Armed with this background knowledge, my husband and I set out first thing in the morning in an effort to beat the San Antonio heat, already reaching over 80 degrees in April. We went in geographic order, beginning with Mission Concepcion.

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Mission Concepcion was dedicated in 1755 and is the oldest unrestored stone church in America. Like all of the San Antonio Missions (except the Alamo) it is still in use for church services, including English, Spanish, and bilingual services. Also some of the original frescos, murals, and other art is still visible on the walls and ceilings, showing that this grey stone church would have once been colorful and bright.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo was up next, the largest and most restored Mission in San Antonio. It was largely restored as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Founded in 1720, it was a model for other later missions and was a social and cultural center of colonial Texas. According to the Park’s website, at the height of the San Jose Mission 350 indigenous converts lived within its walls, worked in its fields, and tended cattle. The restored site includes the church, the granary, the convento, and the walls into which was built rooms for the indigenous people who lived at the Mission. More about San Jose, since it was the largest, is available and in more detail on the website. It was definitely the most complete stop on the tour owing to its restored exterior buildings which give a better idea of the more complete life of the inhabitants, not just their religious life. The site also includes a 1794 grist mill, fueled by the acequia and used to process wheat, the preferred grain of the Spanish, that began to replace the indigenous corn.

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The last two missions, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission Espada were less restored than San Juan and at Mission San Juan we could not go inside the church. However, these buildings were the most architecturally beautiful to me. More about each of these are in the links. An interesting tidbit about Mission San Juan though is the incomplete larger church. The project halted as the population declined. Near Mission Espada is the Espada aqueduct used to irrigate the farmlands surrounding the Missions.

These four historic sites were among some of the most interesting, most powerful sites I’ve visited. There was this conflicting feeling between the beauty of the architecture, the romanticized beauty of colonial ruins, and the sacred feeling of religious spaces and the ideas of forced conversion, forced labor, disease, war, fighting, and the upheaval of culture that took place in the walls of each of these missions. Each of these sites left me feeling that conflict and wanting to look deeper into these sites. I’ve done some of that in the process of writing this post, reading more in depth about each site on the park’s website and looking beyond for other resources. I do think the sites themselves could delve deeper into these conflicting narratives and experiences of the Missions and it does seem since we visited that Mission Concepcion has put up a new exhibit, Four Voices, aimed at sharing the divergent points of view at the Missions.

Overall, these sites are so important for understanding the history of San Antonio, Texas, the Southwest and ultimately the United States. As in many other places in time, several cultures converged. Owning up to what that convergence meant for many indigenous people is important for how we move forward.