The following comes from a March 17 LA Times article by Louis Sahugan:
When archaeologist Ruben Mendoza was a boy, his father was prone to fiery outbursts in the family’s mobile home on the tough west side of Fresno. One of the biggest targets of his anger, Mendoza remembers, was the Catholic Church and its California missions.
“Over and over, he claimed Catholic missions were cancers that Spain brought to the New World,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza, who is of Yaqui Indian and Mexican American heritage, was shaped by his father’s hatred.
“I became obsessed with ‘pure’ ancient Indian cultures,” he recalled.
When his fourth-grade class built models of the historic missions, he asked his teacher if he could do something else — and got special permission to build a dinosaur instead.
Mendoza, one of the founding faculty members at Cal State Monterey Bay, grew up believing that the controversial founder of the missions, Franciscan friar Junipero Serra, now on a track for sainthood, was an imperious theologian who imposed a slave system that destroyed the Indians’ way of life.
A new perception began to take hold in 1993, when he was invited by the Mexican government to excavate a 16th century convent in Puebla.
“It was a transformative experience,” he recalled. “We uncovered evidence of an incredibly diverse mass of humanity” — Spanish colonial foundations, pre-Columbian floors and figurines, and Aztec ceramics.
“I realized that I would never fully understand the arc of history in such places if I exclude their Spanish cultural dynamics,” he said.
Since then, “archaeology has been a high-wire act for me,” he said. “Skeptics believe I’ve been compromised by some personal desire to honor my ancestors — all of them. When I don’t go along with the idea that the missions were concentration camps and that the Spanish brutalized every Indian they encountered, I’m seen as an adversary.”