This week, poet, performance artist and educator Christa Forster, who I met in Houston more than two decades ago and have remained friends with ever since, visited her hometown San Juan Capistrano, where her mother still resides. Undaunted by the sixty miles between Pasadena and Orange County, René, Minal and I head south, so we can spend some time with Christa and her family. After catch-up conversations, Christa gives us a tour of Mission San Juan Capistrano, a site that one of Christa’s California friends tells me I must visit with Christa.
The mission, which was founded in 1776 by Spaniards, was largely successful in its goals to convert members of the indigenous community, and remained active until 1821 when Mexico gained independence from Spain. Once the mission system was dissolved by the Mexican government, Mission San Juan Capistrano—like other missions around California—was abandoned, changing owners several times.
In 1844, the Mission property was purchased at a public auction by Christa’s ancestor, Englishman John (Don Juan) Forster, brother-in-law of California’s governor, Pio Pico. Using the Mission as a ranch, John (Don Juan) Forster and his family resided in the building for twenty years until 1864 when Abraham Lincoln reclaimed the property and returned the site to the Catholic Church. (Today, Mission San Juan Capistrano operates as a non-profit organization, offering tours and exhibitions and running a chapel.) Inside the Mission property, a room is dedicated to Christa’s family, showcasing photographs of John (Don Juan) Forster, his wife Ysidora Pico and California governor Pio Pico. After our Mission tour, Christa walks us to the O’Neill Museum where a plaque honors her father, Tomas “Tony” Forster.
Though Christa has conducted research and created a performance piece about her ancestor Ysidora Pico—which I experienced several years ago—I didn’t comprehend her background until I witnessed how deeply her family roots are intertwined with San Juan Capistrano’s history. Given my own family’s movement from India to Pakistan—and now to different parts of the world—I’m especially appreciative of how Christa’s family history is preserved in one region.
The Mission courtyard
29 Dec 2016 · 10:08:14 PM
Note added on 16 Jan, 2017 When I tell my cousin Samina Hasan, who used to live in Dana Point (a beachtown close to San Juan Capistrano), about our visit, she sends me an email: OMG! Zoha [my daughter] went to Marco Forster Middle School, probably named after a relative of your friend.
And sure enough, a few hours later, Christa confirms by email: Marco Forster MS is named for my grandfather (my dad’s dad).