Dr. Rubén Mendoza is Director of the Institute for Archaeological Science, Technology, and Visualization at California State University, Monterey Bay. He is an influential scholar, a much-loved professor, and a tireless explorer of past eras whose work has earned him numerous awards, honors, and major grants. Dr. Mendoza’s expertise ranges far in time and space, with notable research conducted in California, the Southwest, and throughout Mesoamerica. At the California missions alone, he has led major investigations in Soledad, Carmel, San Miguel, and San Juan Bautista, where he also serves as the mission’s Curator. Read our interview of Dr. Mendoza to discover more about his extraordinary life and work, and a bit about mission “ghosts” as well!
How did you decide to become an archaeologist?
My interest in becoming an archaeologist was first kindled in grade school as the result of a 4thgrade fieldtrip from Fresno, California, to Old Mission San Juan Bautista and Monterey. During that excursion, my interest in early California history was born. I saw ancient buildings, cowboys on horseback, and Indians afoot in the Plaza [of San Juan Bautista], not to mention my first ever sighting of the Pacific Ocean with its marine life. Upon returning from that field trip to San Juan Bautista, I developed an unusual obsession with tracking down and reading history magazines devoted to the old West. Before that time, I had little interest in school, and as there was little in the way of reading materials in my childhood home, I didn’t have much of an interest in reading either.
San Juan Bautista, as such, awakened in me an intense interest in historic photographs and stories about Cowboys and Indians, and this in turn led me to build a scale model replica of the Old Mission community in the form of twenty-two wooden buildings crafted from tomato boxes collected in the alleys and landfills of Bakersfield, California. Each of the diminutive buildings was fully furnished, and detailed to approximate what I remembered of the Old Mission town. Some three years later, a chance trip to Mexico City and the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan, Mexico redirected my interest in California history into one devoted almost entirely to the art history and architecture of ancient Mexico and the US Southwest.