Conservation Diaries: Cristóbal López , Cultural Resources Intern
Listen to this episode of Conservation Diaries as Cristóbal López shares his perspective as a Latino Cultural Resource Management Intern for the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
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Nicole: I am Nicole Segnini and you are listening to Conservation Diaries, a new National Park Service podcast series. In these episodes we are showcasing some of the Latinx interns who are working on amazing projects at the National Park Service.
There are several youth programs designed to connect kids, teens and young adults with opportunities at national park sites to contribute to our nations natural, cultural, historical, and recreational resources in their own way. Like the Latino Heritage Internship Program, or LHIP.
In this episode I spoke with Cristóbal López, who is from the small town of Dublin, Texas, and is currently a graduate student at the University of Texas San Antonio working on his M.A. in History.
Cristóbal began telling me that what motivates him throughout his academic and professional career is his parents.
Cristóbal: My parents are both immigrants from Mexico. Both of them came in the 1980s. So they've been here for a while. And they just they kind of left everything behind to try to establish a home here and try to find a new life here. So I'm really motivated through them and kind of everything that I do is for them. So when it comes to history, I like to study and to write about kind of like those underrepresented classes that don't fit the grand narrative, that don’t fit the bigger narrative, usually overshadowed by other histories.
Nicole: During the summer, Cristóbal worked as a Cultural Resource Management Intern at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Along with the Alamo—the missions in this park have been designated as World Heritage sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as UNESCO, recognizing their outstanding universal or global value for history and culture.
The park consists of four Spanish colonial missions: Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, Mission San José, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada.
These missions were established over 300 years ago and served as a tool for the Spanish empire to colonize what became New Spain. They made a lasting impact on San Antonio culture and the park’s goal is to tell these stories of colonization, acculturation, and survival.
Cristóbal’s work there was researching the origins of a small cemetery located in front of the church at Mission San José.
That mission is the most restored mission site offering a glimpse of what the mission sites would’ve looked like during the mission period. The walls, part of the church, and granary were all restored in the 1930’s by the Works Progress Administration. And the mission was also moved twice before it found its current site.
The goal of this project was to figure out what happened to the rest of that cemetery and find out if there were more burials.
Cristóbal: There's always there's always been rumors and everyone in the community kinda has different rumors of different stories of what they've heard. And everyone thinks that...oh, you know they reburied, like they took these and reburied them at a different cemetery. Then here's like two cemeteries where people think that they were reburied. I heard another story that says that people were reburied under the church during the restoration projects. So it’s kinda my goal to figure out what happened to that, orwhat happened to those burials and try to figure out their outcome.
Nicole: There are two graves in front of the church. You can read what's written in one of the headstones and it is known who is buried there. That is Juan J. Huizar, a descendant of a man named Pedro Huizar who is really famous in the history of Mission San José .
Cristóbal: It’s like reported that he was one of the ones who the carving, and that carved the famous Rose Window that became really well known here in San Antonio.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to read the second headstone because it’s been weathered down.
Throughout the summer Cristóbal did a lot of archives research and used online databases which are extremely useful tools for conducting genealogical research.
In his search he found several photographs of Mission San José from the late 1800s that depicted multiple burial plots in front of the church. The plots in the pictures were surrounded by little wooden fences that were common in Hispanic cemeteries found across the American Southwest.
Cristóbal: I started finding pictures of that, and that was like, great. I saw him and I was like ‘ok, there's these pictures, there's a cemetery, now we know it was a cemetery. There was people buried there, like quite a few people buried there.’ So that was really cool. That was kind of like one of those big steps in my research.
Nicole: Another discovery during his research was finding Mission Espada church records written by a priest named Father Francis Bouchu, also from the late 1800s. In those records Cristóbal found evidence of burials being conducted at San José.
Cristóbal: I went to his uh like the book of, like the burial book or the book of burials. That’s where they kind of list all the burials they were conducting. And I started noticing he would list the name and then he would put “at San José”. And then I found there was twenty-one entries in total from 1880 to like 1902 I believe, or around that time. So, there's about twenty-one entries that he recorded to have been buried at San Jose. And that coincides with the pictures that I found of burials there in front of Mission San José. So and the coolest part about it was that the person, Juan Huizar, his name was recorded in that book too. There’s a high possibility, but is just one of those things that we can’t say 100% these people were buried there, but I think that it’s likely.
Nicole: A lot of mission descendants don’t know where their ancestors are buried. Cristóbal believes doing this sort of work is important because it brings closure to them.
A few older cemeteries can be found in the area, including one specifically for people from the missions, their families and descendants. That one is calledcalled San Jose Mission Cemetery. But many descendants don’t know where their ancestors are, beyond that cemetery.
Cristóbal: They have stories, one of them told me my great-great-great grandfather is buried there in front of the church, but we don’t know. So I think on a local level I think this project was really important to try and find that out, try to find out where those burials were. And I wish I would’ve found where the outcome or like what happened to them, but unfortunately, I never did. I never found those records. But at least just being able to say, hey, you know, they might have been here or we do have evidence that there were here at some point...I think that's important. And I think that just gives the families a lot of answers and a lot of closure.
Nicole: With projects like this one, that involves the community and mission descendants, not everyone is going to relate to the work and the stories of these people. And given his background, Cristóbal talked about why he thinks it is so important to have diversity at the parks and within the National Park Service . And why he believes having people from different backgrounds, who bring different perspectives, is vital...especially when trying to make sense of complex stories.
Cristóbal: It’s the different perspectives that take into the park, especially for a historical park like this one, because not everyone's going to view that history the same and not everyone's going to be the outcome of that history the same. Those are two completely different perspectives that someone might have and a minority might have the different perspectives as a non-minority would. So it's having those different perspectives in the park and those different interpretations and just kind of seeing what we can come of it, what we can make of it. How can we try not to prioritize one over the other, but as a way to kind of bring them together and see what we can create to just kind of produce the best story, the best projection of the park in its history.
Nicole: With currently only between 5 to 6 percent of the employees at the National Park Service being Hispanic, Cristóbal has some advice for the Latinx youth and other underrepresented communities trying to get into the conservation and historical preservation fields.
Cristóbal: Like I told you earlier, my parents really motivate what I do, and it's kind of that that preservation and conservation of the Hispanic heritage culture and stuff like that. And I think that the park service is a really good avenue to do that, specifically with conservation. So I think for Latinos or for any just underrepresented community, it's just kind of find that that niche that that you like kind of what motivates you, what you're interested in when it comes to conservation and preservation. And it can just run with it. Just go for it.
Nicole: Many questions remain unanswered regarding the cemetery that Cristóbal had been researching. He believes it is important for the park to continue researching these, and other grave sites throughout the park.
A detailed report of Cristóbal research will be housed at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park’s library. If you want to learn more about the missions and their history, you can visit the park’s website at www.nps.gov/saan.
And remember, there are many opportunities for youth and young adults 15-30 years old and veterans 35 years old and younger to work with the National Park Service.
To learn more about these jobs, internships and volunteering opportunities...you can go to nps.gov/youthprograms.
Thanks for listening!
During the summer of 2021, Cristóbal López worked as a Cultural Resource Management Intern for the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in San Antonio, Texas, under the Latino Heritage Internship Program. He is from the small town of Dublin, Texas, and is currently a graduate student at the University of Texas San Antonio working on his M.A. in History.
Both of his parents are immigrants from Mexico. Cristóbal says he wants to preserve the rich history and heritage of people such as his parents, whose stories tend to be lost, forgotten, or not included in certain narratives.
“I like to study and to write about kind of like the underrepresented classes that don't fit the grand narrative, the bigger narrative, usually overshadowed by other histories.”
Cristóbal’s job during the summer was to research the origins of the cemetery located in front of the church at Mission San José, one of the four missions of the park. The other missions are: Mission Concepción, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada.
Mission San José is the most restored mission site offering a glimpse at what the mission sites would have looked like during the mission period. Cristóbal’s goal was to try and figure out what happened to the rest of the cemetery and if there were more burials.
Right now there are only two graves. You can only read one of the headstones, because the other one has been weathered down. Juan J. Huizar is buried there. He is a descendant of a man named Pedro Huizar, the artist who is widely believed by the community to have carved the famous Rose Window.
Throughout the summer, Cristóbal conducted archival research at repositories in San Antonio such as the Texas A&M-San Antonio Archives, San Antonio Conservation Society Library, Bexar County Spanish Archives, and the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park’s library.
“I started finding photographs of Mission San José from the late 1800s that depicted multiple burial plots in front of the church. The plots in the pictures were surrounded by little wooden fences that were common in Hispanic cemeteries found across the American Southwest. That was kind of like one of those big steps in my in my research.”
Another discovery during his research was finding Mission Espada’s church records written by Father Francis Bouchu in the late 1800s. In those records Cristobal found evidence of burials being conducted at San José.
"There's about 21 entries that he recorded to have been buried at San José, including the name of Juan Huizar, and that coincides with the pictures that I found of burials there in front of Mission San José.”
Cristóbal believes doing this sort of work is important because it brings closure to the descendants of those people, the mission descendants who do not know where their ancestors are buried.
“At least just being able to say, ‘Hey, you know, they might have been here, or we do have evidence that they were here at some point...’ I think that's important. And I think that just gives the families a lot of answers and a lot of closure.”
With projects like this one, that involves the community and mission descendants, not everyone is going to relate to the work and the stories of these people. Cristóbal believes having people from different backgrounds who bring different perspectives, is important, especially when researching complex stories.
“It's important to have those different perspectives in the park and the different interpretations to see what we can come of it. How can we try not to prioritize one over the other and instead bring them together to produce the best projection of the park in its history.”
Cristóbal’s advice for the Latinx youth and other underrepresented communities trying to get into the conservation and historic preservation fields: find a path that best suits you, your skills, and your passions, and have fun with it. He also wants young people to know that it’s okay to reach out to people when you have questions. Whether it be your professors, supervisors, family, friends, or even himself, reaching out shows interest and helps establish the building blocks to wonderful relationships.
Cristóbal says he has learned the hard way that plans don’t always go the way we would like. But in those moments, it is important to keep looking forward and to keep reaching for your goals.
“Find that niche that that you like, that motivates you, that you're interested in when it comes to conservation and preservation. And just run with it. Just go for it.”
Many questions remain unanswered regarding the cemetery that Cristóbal had been researching. He believes it is important for the park to continue researching these, and other graves throughout the park. A detailed report of his research will be housed at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park’s library.
Meet the Host
Nicole Segnini created the Conservation Diaries podcast series in 2021 during her Latino Heritage Internship Program internship with the National Park Service's Office of Communications in 2021. Venezuelan-born, she knows firsthand Latinx communities' passion and commitment to conservation and wanted to engage the rising generation of stewards—of all cultural backgrounds—to picture themselves in conservation careers or working in the National Park Service. Nicole used her background and experience in journalism, social media influencer, and television news producer to create the Conservation Diaries podcast series to bring out the stories of youth in the National Park Service from their own perspectives.
"There are so many young people in underrepresented and minority communities across the country who care so much about conservation, historical preservation, nature, wildlife, the outdoors, and our beautiful parks, and I think it's important that we elevate and amplify their voices and their important work. They are working hard to protect and preserve our natural, cultural, historical, and recreational resources and I believe that work is usually overlooked. That's why I wanted to start something like this." - Nicole Segnini