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Elias Castillo

1939 - 2020
Elias Castillo Obituary
Elias Castillo
Dec. 13, 1939 ~ Feb. 11, 2020
Redwood City
Elias Castillo, author of the book A Cross of Thorns: Enslavement of California Indians by the Spanish Missions, and an award-winning news reporter, died Feb. 11 in Redwood City following a brief illness. He was 80.
An opinion piece by Castillo, published in the San Francisco Chronicle Nov. 8, 2004, was the inspiration for the book. Castillo's piece, "The Dark, Terrible Secret of California's Missions," was printed after California Sen. Barbara Boxer proposed legislation to provide $10 million in federal funds to restore California's missions, which the legislation described as places where Indians and the friars lived in harmony. Castillo's piece refuting that description was read into the Congressional Record.
After nearly 10 years of research A Cross of Thorns—detailing how harsh treatment by Junipero Serra and the Franciscan missions led to the deaths of more than 60,000 of California's indigenous people—was published in 2015, just days after Pope Francis had taken steps to declare Serra a saint. Native groups cited the book in opposing the beatification and sent copies to the Vatican in an unsuccessful effort to head off the move. The New York Times, pointing to the efforts, cited Castillo's book as providing details to support those arguments.
Earlier, as a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News and Associated Press, Castillo had won numerous awards including a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award as co-author of a series detailing Mexican immigration into Silicon Valley.
Under a grant from National Geographic Society he led a scientific exploration of Mexico's Copper Canyon, documenting ecological changes and threats and published several pieces about the expedition.
Born in Mexicali, Mex., Castillo received bachelor's and master's degrees from San Jose State University.
He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years Cathy Neville Castillo, his brother Frank Abundis, sister Patricia Connor, and six nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held when conditions permit.

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Published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on Mar. 29, 2020
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