Living in California seems to require interaction with the state’s twenty-one historic Spanish missions, either by visiting them as a tourist, driving by a mission in one’s neighborhood, or learning about them as a schoolchild. While the missions ostensibly celebrate California’s history, many promote an anachronistic and dishonest re-telling of history that elides the devastating impact of the missions on Native communities (both historically and today). The missions operate as largely uncontested tourist attractions that promote self-serving collective memories about California’s founding narrative. Rhetorical analysis, I argue, can lead to a more honest engagement with the “hard truths” of their pasts, thus enabling a decolonizing paradigm (Lonetree). Toward this end, this essay focuses on the missions’ role in shaping public memory in California by comparing the rhetorical choices made at two locations: Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and La Purisima Mission State Park.


English Language and Literature

Number of Pages


Publisher statement

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Rhetoric Society Quarterly on November 12, 2019, available online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02773945.2019.1668048.



URL: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/engl_fac/110