Francisco Palou (1723-1789)
Contributing Editor: Juan Bruce-Novoa
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Students may think that the text is an anachronism, coming late in history. While the East Coast is in the midst of its independence struggle, Serra and Palou are still founding missions. Students have been taught to think of Spain as finished internationally after the Great Armada.
The eighteenth century was one of expansion and renewed vitality for Spain. Its missionaries and soldiers were moving on all fronts, founding new cities in Texas and northern New Mexico, moving into the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, solidifying their position in the Caribbean basin, and spreading north along the Pacific Coast to counter the southern movement of the Russians from Alaska. Missionaries were the Spanish equivalent of frontiersmen, but they prove how much better organized the Spanish expansion system was. Also, students should be told that the treaty between France and England in 1763 acknowledged Spain's traditional claim to the Mississippi Valley, which was disputed by the French.
Students often question the purpose of the missionary project. It has become fashionable to denounce Serra as an exploiter of Native Americans, so instructors may find it necessary to prepare for a discussion of the moral issues involved in the activities of Christian missionaries anywhere in the world. More useful, however, is to turn the discussion toward a consideration of how models are always ideologically based and serve the purpose of social indoctrination.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Consider the following: the theme of personal sacrifice and determination in the face of great odds; the theme of the traditional moving of borders farther into the territory of the non-Christian that comes from Spain's reconquest of their own territory from the Moors (700-1492).
There is also the literary motif of creating models of culture behavior in texts that will be used to teach the young.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
The form is biography. Students should consider the task of depicting the life of another, the choices made to emphasize certain traits, the strategies used to convince the reader of the author's objectivity and reliability.
There is also the similarity to the writing on the lives of the saints. Students might consider which virtues are held up for imitation in different settings and times.
Readers then were much closer to the ideals expressed by Palou, probably coming from the novices of religious orders. They were much more willing to believe in the values reflected in the life of Serra. Now there is little sense of divine mission in life nor of the virtue of extreme sacrifice for the common good. Students must be urged to comprehend the energy of societies in expansion.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Compare this to Cotton Mather, as the headnote mentions. Both writers attempt to create models for new generations who have forgotten their founding fathers. One could also pick a favorite section from John F. Kennedy's portraits of courage to compare with Serra.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing
Pose the question of role models in society in different periods. Ask students to consider where the models come from and what purpose they fulfill. How do they differ then and now? They can be asked to write an essay about someone they would want to be the role model for their generation.