Today, the original context of the Spanish Colonial Mission system of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries has been fragmented by both politics and time. The system is located astride a contemporary international border created by treaty and purchase centuries after the mission system's initial establishment. Originally a unified entity within the boundaries of one nation, the buildings and archeological sites that comprise the Spanish Colonial Mission resource system are fragmented by multiple government, church, and private jurisdictions that exist in an international context. Former Spanish Colonial Mission sites exist on both sides of the international border, with 90% of the sites located in Mexico. Preservation interests in Mexico are faced with accounting for literally hundreds of former mission sites and evaluating the integrity of remaining mission structures.
As part of the Misión Para Chihuahua, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) has identified investigation, restoration, preservation, security, and diffusion of cultural resources as immediate priorities. The four U.S. mission parks administered by the National Park Service (NPS) are responsible for the preservation of 161 historic structures and approximately 9,000 acres of land. Other non-border Spanish mission sites also extend eastward across the Gulf Coast and southern U.S. states and into Florida. Forty-one mission sites are under multiple U.S. jurisdictions along the international border from California to Texas and include federal entities, state and local agencies, private historical societies, and Roman Catholic diocesan administration and religious orders.
At present, these historically and culturally significant are often experienced by visitors as isolated outposts, unrelated to other mission complexes, or to the larger context of Spanish colonization in the region. The various agencies charged with the management of these resources operate in similar isolation, implementing distinct research, preservation, and fundraising policies. This lack of coordination poses a significant challenge to the continued preservation of Spanish Colonial Mission resources.
Currently, federal, state, and local governments, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, private research organizations, and academic institutions claim a vested interest in managing the cultural resources that exist in former mission sites. Many local communities also protect and utilize these sites for religious services and other important civic activities. As committed stakeholders, these diverse groups have invested a great deal of time, effort and resources in cataloguing, interpreting, and preserving these vestiges of the Spanish Colonial period. Nonetheless, many mission sites have fallen into considerable disrepair and face pressures from development of surrounding lands. Further, relevant research data are often inconsistently collected, or inadequately shared, even among individual representatives within the same agency. Finally, uncertain funding and overlapping jurisdictional concerns challenge coordinated management of these unique cultural resources to the detriment of agencies, host communities, and visitors alike.