Alta California - A Movie Script

Lynn H. Elliott

"To justify their plans, they took preexisting notions of their own centrality reinforced by their self-interested interpretation of the bible [my emphasis], and created a hierarchy of who could do what, who could own what, who was on top ["upper rung peoples from Europe"] and who was on the bottom and who was in between."  (Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, p. 23)

I am an immigrant, coming to the United States to gain higher degrees.  

Why I became interested in the California Indians of the "Mission Era" is explained on my vimeo:

3-minute Vimeo of ALTA CALIFORNIA

https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/715066748

Even that name, "the Mission Period," overlays a time of violence and enforced religion.  It was a time when a single-minded and resolute priest (Serra, whose name is identified with early California history), reinforced  a particuar interpretration of the Bible upon the indigenous peoples.  Given this, established Spanish priests and soldiers on the top rung were able to do whatsoever they wanted to those on the lowest rung, the indigenous peoples of California.  

The "Mission Period" also negates any reference to Captain Felipe de Neve, California's forgotten hero, and Serra's opponent. 

The Canonization of Padre Junipero Serra by Pope Francis in 2015 was met with a violent reaction by the indigenous peoples of California: statues were torn down and defaced, and one mission, San Gabriel, was torched.

California Assembly Bill 338 9/27/2021 authorizes the removal of a statue of Padre Juniper Serra in the Capitol Grounds to be replaced by an homage to the indigenous peoples of California.  Serra's statue was replaced by that of William Franklin, Sr. who worked to preserve the [Miwok] culture including its traditional dances.

"Serra's legacy in California has been reevaluated in recent decades in light of the many native peoples who were forced to live and work at the missions where they endured physical abuse.  Thousands died."  (Adam Beam, Associated Press, Chico E-R, November 15, 2022)

In 2022 land was returned to the Mechoopda tribe, "Hastings" law school was renamed (Serranus Clinton Hastings authorized the killing of Yuki Indians in Mendocino County), and nearly 650 offensive terms for Native American women were removed from geographical features and place names in California.

 

You can read more about my other works at my website - https://lynnelliott47.com

 

THE STORY

In the foreground of ALTA CALIFORNIA is the fictional account of a young man Paco Palido's, existential quest for a home, a place he belongs, amidst the horrors of a dominating, foreign power whose enforced "religion" has assigned his unbaptized mother to their Hell.

PACO:  Remind me, padre, that no matter how much the neophytes study the scriptures,

how many times they fall on their knees and pray, how many ‘Hail Marys,’ they say,

how many times they confess and beg forgiveness,

for you the heathen is here, inside--always!

 

When Paco Palido's mother is slaughtered and his tribe wiped out, the half-breed boy is “saved” by a Franciscan priest.  His years in the mission school and attempts to Christianize him are unsuccessful.  The necklace his mother gave him is more powerful than any Christian symbol.  Throughout Paco has a choice: rediscover the life and religion of his indigenous mother, or accept the enforced religion and lifestyle of the European, Catholic conquerors whose religion condemns his mother to Hell.

Now a mission guard, Paco denies continued to reject any attempts to convert him.  Witnessing repeated whippings, treatment of “neophytes” (baptized heathens) as animals, the haunting words of a local chief, and the recurrent ghostly visions of his mother "now in Christian Hell"—all reinforce Paco’s inner struggle: “civilized” versus “heathen.”

Throughout Paco tries  to find his people, those with whom he belongs.   Eventually, after being captured by the “wild” Chumash of the Santa Barbara area, Paco is saved from death by a traditional necklace given him by his mother.  In a powerful scene during a “Big Meeting Celebration,” Paco talks with the ghost of his mother.  He has finally found her, among his people.  He also finds a new love interest, Ifapi, a “wild” native, so different from the passive “neophytes” (baptized natives) of the missions.

Woven into Paco's story as setting and background  is historical truth: 

  1. the Christianization and eventual demise of California Indians,
  2. The repeated clashes--true but conveniently forgotten in many history books--between the secular authority (Captain Felipe de Never), and religious authority (Padre Junipero Serra).   
  3. Captain Felipe de Neve was the third governor to confront Serra.  The first two were ineffectual.  Captain de Neve, a favorite of King Carlos, was excellent both as a military man and bureaucrat.
  4. With the white men racing from the East, drawn by gold, and the Spaniards preparing to leave California, there was a question of what to do with the "neophytes" (baptized mission indians).  Captain Felipe De Neve and King Carlos, the secular authorities, have one solution: return them to their tribal ways.  Padre Serra has another: leave them in the mission; God will protect them there.  How Serra won that battle is both conveniently forgotten, masterful and intriguing.  He won, De Neve, King Carlos and, eventually, the mission indians lost--with devastating consequences.   (see Edwin A. Beilharz, Felipe de Neve: First Governor of California, California Historical Society, 1971, and A Cross of Thorns, Elias Castello, Craven Street Books, 2015).

We live in challenging times.  Political, economic, religious, historical, and scientific questions abound in our changing world.  Amidst these demands, we all seek a home, a place we belong.