Colonization Part I

Missionization and Spanish Rule 1771-1780

As an effort to establish control over lands north of the capital of the colony of New Spain, the Spanish launched an effort to missionize Alta California (which is modern day California) in 1769. This project of missionization was headed by Father Junipero Serra of the Franciscan Catholic order.1 The first mission was established in San Diego in 1769 and the final mission was established in San Francisco in 1823. The missions were strategically established working north from modern day San Diego all the way through modern day San Francisco.2 The location of each new mission was carefully selected to ensure that it took no more than one day’s travel from the closest previously existing mission, the locale had plentiful natural resources, and that it had a population of indigenous people who could be enslaved as sources of free labor.4

The two missions that most dramatically impacted the lives of the Tongva people were the San Gabriel and San Fernando missions established in 1771 and 1797 respectively.2 Neither the California Missions Foundation website nor the current website of the San Gabriel mission mention the enslavement of the Tongva people that had to occur for the construction of these colonial projects.3 The Spanish crown, short on funds and desperate for power, sent few Spanish nationals to establish these missions relying on the forced labor of the indigenous peoples of these regions to construct and maintain each mission compound.4 

Spanish missionization formally began the process of cultural destruction and erasure of the indigenous peoples of modern day California. The Hahamogna tribe of the Tongva nation who inhabited modern day South Pasadena was not an exception to this enslavement. Families were torn apart, their language erased, and cultural practices snuffed out and punished by Spanish Catholic hegemony. This scar of colonization remains visible in our street names, monuments, and educational curriculum; the San Pascual stables bear the name of a Spanish saint whose religious symbolism was used to justify the colonization of the indigenous Californian people; the region in which the stables are situated is referred to as Arroyo Seco which is a name given by Spanish colonizers to the valley that the Tongva people referred to as Akuvranga; fourth grade students in California are still taught that the missionization of the indigenous people was a mutually beneficial relationship when in reality it was economically beneficial for the colonizers and detrimental in most ways for the indigenous peoples.4


1. Thompson, Edward Grant. “The History and Development of South Pasadena to 1917,” Department of History, University of Southern California. June, 1938.

2. California Missions Foundation, “The California Missions.” California Missions Foundation.

3. Gabrielino – Tongva Tribe, “Tribal History.” Gabrielino Tribe.

4. Russell, Philip L. The History of Mexico: from Pre-Conquest to Present. Routledge, 2010.