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Don Garate

Chief of Interpretation
Arizona, USA

Where did you grow up and what were your favorite activities as a young boy?

I grew up on a cattle ranch in the northeastern corner of California just south of the Oregon border and just west of the Nevada border.  I liked ice-skating in the winter after we had fed the cattle, and in the summer it was mostly work, but I enjoyed working in the hay and working with the cattle and sheep.

What were your favorite subjects in school?

History was always my favorite subject in school.  I attended a one-room schoolhouse with all eight grades in one room.  The most students we had was twenty-five one year and the fewest was the year we had eight.  About a quarter of our student body was always Mexican students, whose parents worked on the railroad.  Often, when the Mexican children started school they did not speak English so we had a great opportunity to learn Spanish while they were learning English.  Over my eight years there, I had three teachers of whom Mr. Cecil Rice was my favorite.  When I entered high school I had to travel 60 miles to Susanville, California every day on a bus.  The 120-mile round trip took three hours, but I considered myself fortunate because my older brother and sisters did not have a school bus and had to board in town during the week and could only come home on week-ends.  I was very active in the Future Farmers of America program during my high school years and especially enjoyed participating in livestock judging and parliamentary procedure contests throughout the State of California.

What were your least favorite or most difficult subjects in school?

My least favorite subject in high school was math.  Although I had always enjoyed basic math in grade school, I found algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus boring because the teachers never taught us any practical use for any of it.

When did history become a career option for you?

Although I was always interested in history, and have published numerous local history books, I never looked upon it as a career while in school or even until I was forty years old.  I studied animal science at the University of Nevada in Reno, Nevada and had always planned on ranching for a livelihood.  Historical research and writing was something I did during my spare time.  However, because of back surgery I had to change careers because I cannot do the heavy manual labor required in ranching.  I got involved, with the Park Service as an Interpretive Ranger at Zion National Park and thoroughly enjoyed the work.  I watched for the opportunity to go to a park that was historical, rather than natural, however.  When the job at Tumacácori became available I applied and was successful.   My job requires me to be able to speak Spanish because we are situated so closely to Mexico.  I had learned my Spanish both in the one-room grade school mentioned above, and at home because my grandparents were from the Basque country in Spain.  Although Basque is a completely different language than Spanish, many of my relatives also spoke Spanish.  And, Spanish was the language that was used when writing.  I still correspond with cousins in Spain and we, of course, write in Spanish.  Besides having the ability to speak Spanish, my background of research, writing, and publishing history also qualified me for the job of historian at Tumacácori.

How did you become interested in doing living history presentations?

I first saw the value in living history and became interested in it when I saw James Whitmore portray Theodore Roosevelt, Will Rogers, and Harry Truman all in one evening's performance.  I first attempted to do it myself when I worked at Zion National Park.  I first portrayed Isaac Behunin, who named Zion Canyon.  I was overwhelmed at how well the program was accepted and was amazed at how effective living history is in teaching the subject to an audience.  I then developed programs of explorers Silvestre Velez Escalante and John Wesley Powell.  When I came to Tumacácori I developed a character for one of the missionaries who served here, Pedro Antonio de Arriquibar.  Because of the National Historic Trail, I developed a living history program of Juan Bautista de Anza, which has been performed in five states in the United States and two states in Mexico.  I also do a living history presentation of Manuel José de Sosa, who taught Juan Bautista de Anza to read and write and who is indirectly responsible for the State of Arizona having its name.  I enjoy putting on these programs because I see people enjoying the history and retaining it after the program.  The difference in acting and portraying an actual, historic person on stage, is that you have to know more about the person you are portraying than anyone else on earth.  Can you imaging being asked a question about yourself (the person you are portraying) and not being able to answer it?

What is a typical day (or week) like for you on your job?

I spend most of my time managing the interpretation program at Tumacácori which involves a great deal of interacting with other people – in the Park, on the phone, through email, etc., helping them to understand the history of the Mission and the Spanish colonial era.  I probably spend about a quarter of my time doing research and writing.  Because of the newly established (1990) Juan Bautista de Anza National Historical Trail, of which Tumacácori National Historical Park is a part, much research needed to be done to understand his expedition to found the city of San Francisco, California.  I wrote a small booklet telling the story which is sold throughout the length of the 1200-mile trail.  I have translated and published two volumes of his letters and finishing up a third volume as this is being written.  I have been working for over twelve years on a biography of him and his father, who had the same name.  It also will be a three-volume set.  The first volume is in print and the second manuscript should be finished and ready for the publisher by September, 2005.

Did you ever wish to follow a different career path?

I had always planned to be a cattle rancher and history was my hobby.  If I had it to do over again, I might choose history as my first option because I very much enjoy my work.

Do you travel as part of your job?

I travel quite a bit in putting on living history programs in the western United States and northern Mexico.  In my historical research and interpretation I also have the opportunity to travel quite a lot, especially to northern Mexico.  In researching Juan Bautista de Anza I have traveled to archives and historical sites in the United States, Mexico, Spain, and France.

Do you speak other languages?

I speak Spanish and some Basque, although I have not had anyone to speak Basque to for many years, other then on the few occasions I have been in Spain, so I am out of practice with it.  Many of the interpretive programs at Tumacácori, including the Anza and Sosa living history presentations, are presented in Spanish when the audience are Spanish speakers.  This happen regularly because of our close proximity to Mexico.  All of my research at Tumacácori is done reading old documents written in Spanish.

What is the geographical area around Tubac and Tumacácori National Historical Park like?

Tumacácori is in an area we call the upper Sonoran desert.  Although we are in the desert, the elevation is high enough and cool enough that plants like the Saguaro cactus and chapperal do not grow here.  We have lots of other kinds of cacti and an abundance of Mesquite trees.  The people who live here come from many backgrounds but a large percentage are of Mexican heritage.  We also have numerous Indian tribes who live in this area, including, O'odham, Yaqui, Seri, Opata, and Apache.  Although the area is rural, we are only fifty miles south of Tucson, Arizona, which is a city of 300,000 people.  Every year on the first week end of December, we put on "La Fiesta de Tumacácori."  There is all-day entertainment on stage, some 50 food and historic crafts booths, and activities for everyone.  All of the Indian tribes participate as do Mexican folkloricos and mariachis.  It is a great time to visit Tumacácori because it is usually still warm, but Tumacácori can be visited any time of the year and gives people an understanding of a history they are usually not familiar with.  Tumacácori was established as a mission in January 1691 at an Indian village that may have been pronounced more like "Chuma-ga-gor-i."  The name means something like "rocky, flat place."

Do you have a favorite quote?

I have a photocopy of a statement that some Spanish scribe wrote in 1767 in the margin of a document I was translating posted on the wall in my office.  It says:

"Estando siempre acompañado los juicios temerarios de ignorancia y de falta de luces."

In English it means:

"Rash judgments are always accompanied by ignorance and absence of light."

To me, it means that we should always learn all the facts before making a judgment about anything.

What advice do you have for students to help them make their educational career as rewarding as it can possibly be?

Find what you like to do and pursue it with everything you have - don't worry about just making money.  Find the job you love to do because you are going to be doing it for a long time.

- 25 August 2005


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Last Updated:
25 August 2005

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