Toll Road Rage: What About the Juaneno?

Judeo-Christian holidays are coming, and it's time for us to come together. Right now. Over me. And over the San Mateo Creek as well. You see, I've got a sure-fire formula for a little holiday togetherness, and it's called the Foothill-South toll road. Anyone remotely acquainted with the Transportation Corridor Agencies' plan to extend Foothill-South along San Mateo Creek knows it'll wipe out endangered species (steelhead trout, arroyo toad, a buncha others) and destroy nearby Trestles, known worldwide (if you're a surfer) as the Yosemite of Surfing. But we've had a change of heart lately. Rare animals with funny names? World-class surf spots? Who needs them? Also: archaeology. If it's so important, why is it underground?

On Cristianitos Road just inside Camp Pendleton, protected by a wooden shelter with flaking maroon paint, lies a small pool (no bigger than a bathtub, really) next to a plaque in danger of becoming weedy. According to the plaque, one ominous June day in 1769 (heh—69), Gaspar de Portola and friends stumbled into a village of 50 heathen souls on this spot. Legend has it the locals begged for the Spaniards to baptize two sick young girls, which is amazing not because of its unbelievability (missionaries predominantly baptized children because they were easier to catch than their parents), but because the native populace generally became sick after contact with Europeans. But why bother rehashing the past? So what if it looks like the missions were more about forced labor and cultural indoctrination than devotion to God? There's so much more history in the San Mateo Canyon that hasn't even been identified yet, and it would be such a pain to study it all. Let's just pave over the past and lay a foundation for a bright, progressive future.

At the baptismal site, the plaque needs polishing, weeds need pulling and steps need clearing. Clearly no one is concerned with the sanctity of this monument to the conversion of dirty animists, and it's obvious why—the silence. Who can meditate on their god's greatness with no auditory or olfactory stimuli demonstrating his holiness? With an eight-lane toll road just the other side of Cristianitos Creek, visitors to this sanctified ground will be in the constant presence of the sound and smell of pure, unadulterated progress. Complex roads, the intricate machinery of automobiles and whatever the developers dream up to line the road (please, God, let it be a Dippity Donuts!) will demonstrate intelligent design—and cunning engineering as well!

Cristianitos translates to little Christians. Similarly, the local tribe became known as the Juaneo for their proximity to Mission San Juan Capistrano. Also because they built the mission. Over the course of centuries, the little Christians—who prefer their original name, Acjachemen ("A-ha'-chay-men")—moved their village around the San Mateo Creek watershed every 50 or so years; today, their remains and artifacts are scattered across the canyon. Nowadays, unearthed remains and ashes have been reburied in a five-acre fenced area between San Mateo Campground and I-5. Toll-road construction would come within 50 feet of the burial ground. "We're like strangers in our own land," said Rebecca Robles, my guide through the site that once was the Acjachemen village of Panhe. The land beneath her was maintained by her people, made by them, and now it is made of them, maintaining their remains for future generations. Or for the TCA to unearth and throw into a display case in the Irvine Ranch Water District. Really, who wants to tread on earth that's chock-full of body parts?


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