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Monica Orozco, Executive Director at Old Mission Santa Barbara

Paul Wellman

Monica Orozco, Executive Director at Old Mission Santa Barbara


The S.B. Questionnaire: Monica Orozco

Chatting History and Change with Old Mission Santa Barbara’s Executive Director


“After a lot of years spent in academia, it feels great to have a view of the world,” exclaims Monica Orozco with a warm smile while looking out of the window of her new office, where she now sits as the recently appointed executive director of Old Mission Santa Barbara. “I never planned this for myself. I thought I’d be teaching.”

For the past seven years, Monica had no office windows as the director of the Santa Barbara Mission Archive Library, where she oversaw the caretaking of more than 4,000 books, documents, and other artifacts produced and used by the mission’s Franciscan friars as well as other historical researchers around the world. The Santa Barbara native had studied at UCSB, where she got a Ph.D. based on her thesis, “The Effort of US Protestants Missionaries in Mexico in the late 1870’s-1970.” But then she wound up as a board member of the Mission Archive Library, and was eventually hired full-time.

“I find myself in a state flux,” she explained of her recent transition to the much bigger position at the Old Mission, in charge of that institution’s administration, finances, and outreach, among other duties. She’s eager to find more ways to connect with the community, to showcase the variety of activities that take place at the Mission, and to find ways that the Mission and greater Santa Barbara can mutually benefit each other.

“I’m very fortunate to find a place for myself here,” she said. “It’s an honorable job and I work with honorable people.” So how does it feel to be a woman as a leader of an organization that’s often perceived of as a fraternity? “Being a woman is not an issue,” she answered without hesitation. “I understand their culture, and we trust each other.”

Monica is also an avid quilter, a hobby she took up for relaxation and to do something artistic. “It’s almost like painting,” she says. “I love the feel of fabric and putting pieces of fabric together.”

Speaking of painting, on September 24, there will be an opening at the Mission Archive Library for 21 paintings of the California Missions by Edward Deakin that have been meticulously restored. The evening affair will celebrate art conservation and feature a lecture by Frank Goss at 6:30 p.m.

Here, Dr. Orozco answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think of the line from Splendor in the Grass: I don’t think about happiness much. I’m content. I have a job I love, a home, family and good friends. What more do I need?

What do you like most about your job?

I like the people I work with and I like the work we are doing. The friars, the staff, and the volunteers are all energetic, creative, and committed to what they do, whether it’s is participating in some ministry, giving visitors a tour, or just making sure that we are good stewards of this Mission, which is an historical, spiritual, and cultural center.

What is your greatest fear?

I fear letting people down. I am serious about my commitments and I want to make sure that I fulfill them to the best of my ability.

Who do you most admire?

I admire my mother. She left high school in her senior year to work and help out her family. And yet without a high school diploma she managed to make a career working on some fairly sophisticated electronic systems for Raytheon and managed to keep us fed and clothed. She’s awesome.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Fabric. I took up quilting my last year of graduate school and have indecent amounts of fabric stockpiled. I’m especially fond of Japanese fabrics made by hand.

What is your current state of mind?

I’m excited and tired. I’m facing many transitions and new challenges.

What is the quality you most like in people?

I appreciate people with integrity in their work and in their relationships. I’m fortunate to have so many people with integrity in my life.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

I have difficulty with people who blame others for their own shortcomings. Part of life is making mistakes and learning from them. We can’t learn if we can’t recognize when we can do something better or when we need to ask for help from someone else with the expertise.

What do you most value in friends?

I admire loyalty. I don’t mean blind loyalty, but rather those who stick it out with you when you are going through tough times and will hold your hand literally or figuratively.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I guess it’s my smile. I am quick to laugh and smile.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I tend to use air quotes a lot. It makes me feel like Austin Powers sometimes. But the historian in me feels the need to do this.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I wish I could sing! I admire any musical talents, but singing especially.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’m a “worse case scenario” person. I wish I didn’t always think of the 10 different ways something could go wrong. There are so many things in life out of our control no matter how what we do to prepare.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I suppose I should say getting my doctorate, but it’s really what that process taught me about myself and what I am capable of doing rather than what the degree itself. The experience also brought me great mentors and friends.

Where would you most like to live?

Here, of course! Seriously, why would I want to live anywhere else? There are lots of places I’d like to visit, but this is where I want to live.

What is your most treasured possession?

I have a statue of San Martín de Porres that belonged to my grandmother. She had an altar with him at the end of her hallway and the statue brings back memories of her, my grandfather, and my childhood with them.

What makes you laugh the most?

I’m a sucker for British comedies such as Absolutely Fabulous, Are You Being Served?, Black Adder, and The Young Ones. And when I’m with my good friends we usually manage to laugh ourselves silly.

What is your motto?

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”—St. Francis of Assisi and “Be the change you wish to see in the world”—Mahatma Ghandi

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I sometimes feel a bit like Gilgamesh going through life assuming I know what’s important only to have life teach me otherwise. Sometimes it takes a great journey to realize that it’s the everyday things of life that are in fact very precious.

On what occasion do you lie?

I lie when I’m playing poker.



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