There are so many books out on Serra. Why another one? What did you think you might find out that would be different? Rose Marie Beebe and I were doing some work on early California, and the missions always kept coming up. We’d consult the translations out there of Serra’s letters, and they were really, really stiff. So we began to wonder, “Serra can’t be that stiff.” We started wondering what a different translation of Serra’s letters would look like. That was the main thing. A lot of stuff on Serra, he’s presented in one extreme or the other: selfless, magnanimous saint or genocidal-maniac-type person. We thought let’s try to avoid the extremes and take him on his own terms and see where that leads us. That turned out to be something that hadn’t been done about Serra.
How did your translation differ than what had been done before? How does Serra shine through the ages in a different way? What happens is his emotions tend to come out more openly in the translation that Rose Marie did. He’s an administrator, so he writes a lot of boring bureaucratic stuff. Unfortunately, that tone in previous translations seeps into letters that are personal. We tried to separate those so when he’s writing another missionary or the governor, his emotions come out. This allows us to see him as a much more complicated, complex kind of figure.
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