Before the American Civil War
Why is the Cinco de Mayo so widely celebrated in twenty-first-century California, and across the entire United States, when it is scarcely celebrated in Mexico? If the Cinco de Mayo were primarily a Mexican holiday, then the U.S. version ought to be but a pale imitation of the Mexican original, yet it is the other way around. This fact provides the key. Although the holiday celebrates a Mexican victory over the French at Puebla on May 5, 1862, the answer to the question is not to be found in Mexico. It is found instead in California, Nevada, and Oregon during the Gold Rush and the American Civil War-for the Cinco de Mayo is not, in its origins, a Mexican holiday at all but rather an American one, created by Latinos in California in the middle of the nineteenth century.
To understand why Latinos in these western states in 1862 and later responded so passionately to a battle that took place fifteen hundred miles away, first one must understand the changes that took place in their population and culture as this territory evolved from being part of the Republic of Mexico to being part of the United States. It is also vital to understand how Latinos viewed the issues of the American Civil War-freedom versus slavery, broad-based democracy versus elitist oligarchy-through the lens of their experience in Gold Rush California and neighboring territories. Most of all, it is important to understand where Latinos of the time stood on issues of language, identity, citizenship, and political participation. In short, in order to understand why the Cinco de Mayo is celebrated today all across the United States, first the experience of Latinos in California and the far West during the crucial period from 1848 to 1861 must be understood, from the announcement of the discovery of gold in California to the moment Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
Latinos in California
The experience of the native-born Latinos of California, the Californios, may be exemplified by Francisco P. Ramírez, born in 1837 in the Mexican state of Alta California. On the night of February 1, 1848, when he went to bed at his parents' home on Aliso Street in Los Angeles, not far from the plaza around which that city had been founded in 1781, he was an eleven-year-old citizen of Mexico. Later, as an adult, he recalled childhood evenings at home while California was still part of Mexico. "Who does not sigh upon recalling the winter nights when, beside the hearth, we listened to the sad history of the Aztecs, the cruelty of the conquistadors, the deeds of our own parents?" He belonged to the regional variant of Mexican society and identity called Californio ("Californian"). His grandfather, Francisco Ramírez, had arrived in California from Tepic, via Sonora, in 1794. His father, Juan María Ramírez, had been born in Santa Barbara in 1801. Juan had married Petra Abila of the Abila family, who had been resident in Los Angeles since 1783; their family home, the Avila Adobe, still stands on Olvera Street. Young Francisco had Californio roots as deep as it was possible for a Latino to have in a state that had been settled by Latinos only in the late eighteenth century. But that night while he slept, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo took effect, formally ending hostilities between the United States and Mexico after the Mexican-American War and making California a territory of the United States, henceforward to be administered under U.S. law.
When Francisco Ramírez awoke on February 2, he was a citizen of the United States of America. At first, this might not have seemed to have had a significant effect on his daily life. He still spoke with his parents in Spanish, ate the same sort of morning meal-most likely including tortillas and beans-and probably learned his usual lessons and went out to play with his usual friends. The familiarity of daily life, however, changed radically later in 1848, when Sam Brannan brought to San Francisco samples of gold just discovered in the Sierra Nevada and news of the discovery spread around the world. Without leaving his native California, Ramírez would meet strange new people, learn new languages, and become acquainted with new laws, habits, and customs.
Tens of thousands of immigrants, the Forty-Niners, poured in from the Atlantic states of the United States in search of gold. Despite this relocation, they doggedly continued to define themselves in terms of the Atlantic coast. They awaited "news from the Atlantic" brought by ship and sent their correspondence back via "Mails for the Atlantic States." They complained that California did not have the amenities that "nearly every city on the Atlantic has" and shared fond "memories of omnibus riding in the cities of the Atlantic." Life in California frequently eroded their standards of behavior, leading the editor of an English-language newspaper to wonder, "Why is it that some men, when they come to California, throw off all the guards that surrounded them in Atlantic cities?" They assured themselves that they were eager to return to their "homes in the Atlantic States" when their sojourn in California was over, and indeed many of them did. Many others stayed. Their self-identification with the Atlantic region makes it logical to refer to these immigrants as Atlantic Americans, defined as people with origins in the historical experience begun by predominantly British settlers on the North Atlantic coast of the United States, which molded the socialization of people raised in that region, irrespective of race or ethnicity. Therefore, Atlantic American in this book refers to any and all non-Latinos from nonwestern states, including both Yankees and Southerners.
Moreover, tens of thousands of Latino miners and other immigrants came north at the same time, by land from Mexico or by sea up the Pacific Coast from Central and South America, bringing their own regional customs with them. For example, a little over a year after Ramírez awoke as a citizen of the United States, a young gentleman from Guadalajara, Mexico, Justo Veytia, had his first look at San Francisco from the deck of the Volante on April 1, 1849. Veytia had made the decision to travel to faraway California as a gambusino, a prospector looking for gold. He kept a diary of his journey, begun at his elegantly appointed home on the main plaza in Guadalajara. Traveling in the company of friends and relatives, he made his way through various towns in Jalisco to the seaport of San Blas, where he boarded a ship for San Francisco. After suffering four weeks of bad food and seasickness, he finally reached his destination and recorded his first glimpse of California through a traffic jam of ships. "Around ten in the morning, we anchored in the bay, where something like forty vessels, both large and small, swayed majestically up and down.... At last we had in our sight the much-desired Harbor of the Land of Gold, the object of so many hopes. We had finished that sea voyage, so arduous and never to be forgotten."
Veytia traveled in Northern California for nearly eighteen months. He never encountered Ramírez, who was then still living in Los Angeles. Yet although these two individuals never met, the presence of tens of thousands of gambusinos from Mexico and Central and South America helped shape the world of Ramírez and his Californio compatriots. Like Veytia, thousands of these Spanish-speaking gold seekers traveled from their homes to San Francisco, the international point of entry closest to the gold fields. Yet more would-be gambusinos trekked across the desert from northern Mexico to California, many motivated by economic hardship at home. Reports put their numbers in the tens of thousands. "A friend who has connections in Mexico ... says ... the crops have failed in Northern Mexico, and thousands of people have determined on leaving Sonora.... The people, to the number of twenty-five thousand, had determined on moving to this country. Eight thousand have already arrived at Los Angeles. The most of those people will settle about Sonora, near the Tuolumne, and that town will, of course, become a place of considerable importance. Many of them will settle also about the Mariposa, and perhaps farther South."
On the morning that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo took effect in 1848, there were an estimated seventy-five hundred Californios living in the new U.S. territory. Over the next thirteen years, thanks to the Gold Rush, the total number of Latinos in California increased by an estimated factor of five to ten, or possibly more. As a result of this large immigration, the Latino population changed dramatically, from being a small, culturally homogeneous, Californio population to a very large, heterogeneous one, including Latinos representing nearly every country in Latin America, as well as the New Mexico and Arizona Territories (which Mexico had also ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo). There were even immigrants from Spain. From 1848 to 1869, this mix of native Californios, Latino immigrants, and Atlantic Americans laid the foundations of Latino society and daily life in California in the centuries to come.
Several potential unifying factors served to bring this heterogeneous collection of Latinos together, but there also existed social factors working to divide them. Latinos in California between the time of Brannan's announcement in 1848 and the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861 were pulled back and forth between cohesion and division. A search for balance influenced the men and women who were to respond to the news of the first battle of Puebla in 1862 and thereby shaped what became the Cinco de Mayo holiday.
Language was an obvious unifying factor. The Californios and the immigrants who had just arrived from Mexico and Central and South America all spoke Spanish. Initially, therefore, communication among them would have been easy, even allowing for some variations in accent and vocabulary. During the Gold Rush, two developments particularly facilitated the use of Spanish as a tool of communication among far-flung settlements of Latinos: the establishment of Spanish-language newspapers and, as of 1850, the officially mandated use of the Spanish language by state and local government.
Spanish-language newspapers served to inform the Spanish-speaking public of events in California and beyond. The first publication began in 1851: the Spanish-language section of the Los Angeles Star (sometimes known by its Spanish name, La Estrella), whose pages often featured content and editorial direction independent of the English-language portion of the paper (see figure 1). The lawyer and poet Manuel Clemente Rojo, its first editor, announced that his publication was to be an advocate for Latinos against the problems besetting their community. "The press ... has inexhaustible resources for introducing reform; and when it is proper, it raises its majestic voice to petition for the redress of our ills." A year later in San Francisco, a daily French newspaper, L'Echo du Pacifique, dedicated one or two of its four pages per issue to a Spanish-language publication, called El Éco del Pacífico. As the Spanish-speaking population of the state grew, a third newspaper began in 1854: La Crónica was a four-page newspaper written entirely in Spanish, published three times a week in San Francisco. After two years, the editor of La Crónica, J. Jofre, was hired away by El Éco del Pacífico to head a new, expanded version of four pages a day in Spanish, essentially separate from the French paper. Santa Barbara also had a bilingual newspaper in English and Spanish, the Gazette or La Gazeta, begun in 1855. [FIGREF 1]
On taking up his editorship of El Éco, Jofre reaffirmed the view of the role of a Spanish-language newspaper as being an advocate for a community, which in typical nineteenth-century language he termed "our race": "As Americans and as members of the noble Spanish-speaking race to which we belong, we believe it to be our duty ... to denounce before the supreme tribunal of public opinion the injustices, the abuses, and the outrages to which individuals of our race too often have been, and continue to be, victim. We believe it our duty to station ourselves constantly as a watchtower, which may give our Spanish-speaking countries warning against those illegal aggressions by which people have tried, and are trying, to engulf them."
Francisco Ramírez had a role in the birth of the Spanish-language press in California. Shortly after his fourteenth birthday, he was employed by Rojo as an assistant at the Star, where he learned the basics of running a small newspaper. Ramírez later moved to San Francisco, where in 1853 he worked for the Catholic Standard, a religiously affiliated paper. When that paper declared bankruptcy in 1854, Ramírez traveled to the gold country and worked for an English-language paper, the Weekly California Express, for some months. He returned to Los Angeles later that year, an experienced newspaperman at the tender age of seventeen. He took over the editorship of the Star's Spanish-language pages, recently vacated by Rojo. In the spring of 1855, however, Ramírez decided it was time for him to become independent. He established a weekly four-page Spanish-language paper in his native Los Angeles, El Clamor Público ("The Public Outcry"). When he was criticized as being too young to run a paper, he answered proudly, "We are old enough to discover the needs of our brethren, to defend their interests, and to make them see what is best for them by maintaining the rights and privileges that the laws of this country give them."
While editors' voices were strong in frontier Spanish-language newspapers, the newspapers did not limit themselves entirely to those editors' perceptions of events in the state and the country. The nature of local journalism in the mid-nineteenth century meant they could not do so; most provincial newspapers, such as El Clamor Público, had too small a circulation to afford to employ reporters or even much in the way of staff. Most editors wrote articles, composed editorials, set type, and administered subscriptions singlehanded, or nearly so-and often had to maintain a sideline as job printers, to make ends meet. Consequently, they filled gaps by reprinting articles from other journals, especially to supply national and international news, and by soliciting material from just about anyone who wished to contribute. As a result, multiple voices spoke from the pages, at the editors' invitation. In keeping with this practice, Ramírez proclaimed in his inaugural edition that his paper was open to the general public, with a section titled Comunicados ("Communications")-an early form of a letters to the editor column-in which he would publish letters and other reader submissions. He added, however, the disclaimer that "here, each person expresses his own sentiments, and it will be obvious that we are not responsible for articles that appear under this heading." Communications poured in. A number of contributors were self-appointed, unpaid, semiregular correspondents writing from various locations, giving accounts of events that caught their attention. Most often these correspondents used pseudonyms, although they did occasionally sign their own names. In addition, there were plenty of letters from individuals who wrote only once or twice to the paper, seeking to bring specific matters to public attention; they sometimes signed their own names but not infrequently also resorted to pen names.
Although their absolute numbers of subscriptions were small by today's standards, such newspapers nonetheless circulated widely, in geographic terms, throughout California. One indication of this widespread circulation was the network of newspaper agents each paper used to recruit subscribers and distribute copies. Map 1 shows the location of agents for the Star, El Éco del Pacifico, La Crónica, La Gazeta, and El Clamor Público, from Shasta to San Diego and from Sonoma to Columbia. [MAPREF 1]
When California was admitted as a state of the United States in 1850, its first constitution mandated the use of Spanish along with English. Even while the constitutional convention was meeting, the delegates had resolved to make the proceedings available in both languages. In the original state constitution, Article XI, Section 21, specified, "All laws, decrees, regulations and provisions, which from their nature require publication, shall be published in English and Spanish." In September 1849, provisions were made for both the Spanish and the English version of the state's constitution to be printed and distributed, along with the proceedings of the entire convention leading up to the writing of the bilingual constitution. Once the state legislature began meeting in 1850, its proceedings were printed in both English and Spanish.
For the newspapers just beginning in California, a contract to publish laws and legislative proceedings in Spanish represented a sought-after steady source of income for those fortunate enough to secure it. The Los Angeles Star was among them.
The Los Angeles Star was selected by the last Legislature as the medium for the early publication of the laws of this State in the Spanish language.... When it is remembered that there are in this State at least 30,000 persons who speak no other than the Spanish language, and that the Judges of some of our Courts even are familiar only with that tongue, the importance of the early publication of the Laws in Spanish, must be manifest to all. The Convention which framed the Constitution, were aware of the necessity and provided that all laws which required publication should be published in the Spanish language.
Therefore, a good portion of the Star's Spanish-language page often was devoted to printing translations of laws newly passed by the state. Counties and cities were likewise required to publish their laws and regulations in Spanish.
After an initial burst of enthusiasm for the promulgation of state, county, and city ordinances in Spanish, however, such efforts began to lag; this deterioration was one of the first things Latinos began to complain about in their newspapers. In 1855, Ramírez, by then the editor of El Clamor Público, reminded state representatives of their duty to provide laws in Spanish. "We call the attention of our representatives to the lack which the Spanish-speaking population of California feels because the laws are not published in Castilian Spanish. One of the first articles of the State Constitution stipulates that 'all the laws will be published in English and in Spanish.'" Two years later, he revisited the theme: "We ask that our constitutional privileges be complied with. Article 11, Section 21: 'All the laws, decrees, and regulations whose publication may be necessary, will be published in English and in Spanish.'"
Culture also could be a unifying factor. The first settlers who came from Mexico to California in 1769 brought with them the customs and culture of the late-colonial Mexican frontier, specifically the northern regions of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Baja California Sur. These became an integral part of Latino society in California-reflected in particular tastes in food, clothing, housing, furnishings, and horse gear-which provided a good market for those with such items to sell. The arrival of miners during the Gold Rush would add new dimensions to this set of cultural norms.
Latino and other merchants provided goods and services that the Latino market wanted, and a number of Latino-owned businesses soon were established. One of the early retail stores set up by Latino merchants in San Francisco was the Tienda Española ("Spanish Shop"), founded by José Díaz and Juan Cima on Washington Street. By 1852 it was offering dry goods of particular interest to immigrants recently arrived from Mexico and other places in Latin America, including Mexican and Californian saddles, bits, and spurs, and Barcelona playing cards. As the Latino population grew, the Tienda Española began to offer services, including arranging passage for its customers on ships sailing for Mexico and brokering real estate deals, such as the sale of a ranch in Bodega Bay in Sonoma County and another one at Corral de Tierra in Monterey County. Another dry-goods store, La Amarilla, operated in the vicinity of the Tienda Española. Latino-owned hotels and restaurants also set up in business, such as Francisco Gonzáles's Hotel de la Aguila de Oro ("Golden Eagle Hotel"), at the corner of Montgomery and Pacific. Other professionals arrived to provide services. The Sánchez brothers-J. Ramón, Manuel, and Bernardino-were originally from Chile. They undertook business as commission merchants and general commercial agents.
Towns in the Central Valley served as jumping-off points for miners heading to the gold country, and a Latino business presence soon appeared in these locations. Once at the mines, a gambusino easily could find Latino-owned businesses. The town of Sonora had a large Latino population and consequently a number of Latino-owned businesses, such as Jacinto Barretto's store, restaurants like José María Cabezut's Sonora Restaurant, and the ubiquitous "fandango houses," as houses of ill repute were locally known. Similar mixes of Latino-owned businesses were described at Camp Calaveras, Mokelumne Hill, Vallecito, Rough and Ready, and Shasta.
Religious activities also played a unifying role in the social life of Latino California. The daily, weekly, and annual cycles of services and celebrations, including public processions and holy days, brought large portions of the community together on a regular basis. For example, the Mexican Día de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead") continued to be observed during the Gold Rush. In Los Angeles in November 1857, "the second day of the present month, the day devoted in the Catholic church to praying for the dead, was observed... . In the afternoon, a large crowd left the church for the cemetery, where they went in order to offer their prayers for the souls of their parents, siblings, relatives, and friends whose mortal remains rest in that sacred enclosure... . Everywhere, one could see women and men kneeling by graves." During Holy Week, Latino Catholics in California followed the old custom of burning Judas in effigy. As the English-language paper Alta California noted in 1853, "The Catholics of several countries, particularly Mexico, have a custom of making an effigy of Judas Iscariot every year, on Good Friday, which they trot about on an ass, with his face turned towards the tail of the animal. They make a great parade of it, after which they hang him. He is then cut down, his pockets and mouth stuffed with fire crackers and all sorts of combustibles, and he is then publicly burnt at the stake. During the process, men, women, and children follow after, beating and calling him all kinds of hard names."
The use of the Spanish language, shared customs and culture, and the influence of the Catholic religion all worked to unify the Latino community. There were, however, a number of potential divisions within this population as well. Some were endemic to all the societies of Mexico and Latin America, such as class, race, and regional identity, and indeed were hardly dissimilar to such divisive factors in any other contemporary society. New sources of potential fragmentation developed among Latinos in California as a result of its acquisition by the United States, including questions of national allegiance and Atlantic Americans' insistence on classifying people by race. The Spanish-language newspapers provide ample evidence of these potential dividers.
Among Latinos themselves, race had the potential to be a divisive factor. In the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, the Spanish crown had categorized individuals in its American colonies according to their race (e.g., Indian, African, European) or multiracial heritage (e.g., mestizos were of mixed Indian and European parentage; mulatos were of African and European parentage). This was known as the casta ("caste") system. The lighter-skinned castes were granted certain social privileges, while restrictions were placed on the darker-skinned ones. Once Mexico achieved independence, however, it abolished this system of racial identification. But while official racial classification thereafter was no longer legal, social consideration of a person's racial background nonetheless continued informally, and in fact continues in Mexico today.
Caste classifications quickly came to have little legal significance in California, although unofficial, social divisions based on ethnicity doubtless continued to some extent, as in Mexico. In the generations following the original settlements in the late eighteenth century, members of ethnically varied families intermarried and individuals held positions of social and political responsibility with little apparent consideration of racial heritage. By the early nineteenth century, caste terminology was being applied haphazardly at best or even abandoned altogether in favor of a simple binary distinction between gente de razón ("people of reason")-which is to say, anyone born a Catholic and culturally Latino, regardless of ethnicity-and unbaptized Indians.
With statehood, however, came the imposition of a U.S. legal system that made sharp distinctions between persons on the basis of race. Anyone of Indian, African, or other nonwhite descent-such heritage being calculated by the proportion of nonwhite ancestry in an individual's background (the "blood quantum") or sometimes simply presumed from the person's appearance-had no right to vote, hold political office, serve on a jury, or even give valid testimony for or against a white person in court. During the first years of statehood, this provision was in practice largely disregarded by Californios and elite Atlantic Americans, who apparently preferred to classify Californios according to their socioeconomic status rather than their ancestry or skin color, especially in the Californio-dominated south.
The first well-publicized debate on the subject of race and legal capacity in California occurred in the spring of 1857. Manuel Domínguez, a wealthy Los Angeles-area rancher who had helped to write the California constitution of 1849, was of Indian heritage and appearance, but this had been no bar to his being a respected member of Californio society before 1848 or even an elected official in his native county after that date. At some point before March 28, 1857, though, he had been scheduled to be a witness in a San Francisco trial, only to be unexpectedly denied the right to testify, "despite having been one of the men who signed the state constitution, because he had Indian blood in his veins." Assemblyman Pablo de la Guerra of Santa Barbara testified about Domínguez's racial background, pointing out that when that very constitution was being written, Domínguez's mixed-race heritage had been well known, but no one had raised any objections to his being a signatory to the document. "I know he has Indian blood in his veins, and I know that this came to the attention of the Constitutional Convention.... I have known Don Manuel Domínguez since he was a boy, and he held high office under the Mexican government. He also has enjoyed high office under our [present] government. I know that his character has no stain upon it; never has anything been said, nor can it be said, against him."
Editor Ramírez of El Clamor Público seized on the story with the vehemence he customarily displayed in denouncing Atlantic American assaults on Latinos' rights or dignity.
Señor de la Guerra ... knew that having Indian blood in one's veins was not disagreeable or disparaging to anybody. Señor Domínguez has occupied honorable posts in the state, in Mexican times. He frequently has been a witness in the courts, without opposition. He is highly esteemed, and at present is a supervisor of his county... . We think that, if it were possible to perform a chemical analysis of our brethren from the United States, there would be very few persons who would emerge as not having at least a drop of Indian or black blood. The age of bluebloods, if it ever existed, is assuredly not the present one.
Manuel Domínguez's ethnic heritage and appearance had been no barrier in the Mexican California of the 1830s and 1840s to his possession of wealth and social prominence or to his full participation in politics and legal matters. Only with the introduction of contemporary Atlantic American notions did race become a legally divisive issue.
Questions of national allegiance sometimes also were divisive, especially between Californios and people who emigrated from Mexico in the decade following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Prior to 1848, Californio culture had been merely a regional variant of Mexican society, just as Tapatíos from Jalisco and Jarochos from Veracruz enjoyed their own regional cultures. Thereafter, however, with the transference of California from Mexico to the United States, these feelings of regional identity threatened to divide Californios from Mexicans. Some Californios had not disapproved of this change of government, but many others had, and some of the latter group felt their former country had betrayed them in acquiescing to it.
As a result, a certain amount of name-calling went on between the Californios and the recent immigrants during the 1850s. A letter published in El Clamor Público in 1856, signed by Un Californio ("A Californian"), generally agreed with the editor Ramírez's earlier stated opinion that Californios had been better off under Mexican rule. But Un Californio reminded him that while Californios had actually fought the U.S. Army in defense of their homeland and won several engagements-albeit not the war-the Mexican government had meekly sold the state to the United States. "Who has caused this misfortune for us, and who gave us into foreign hands? In order to keep our situation and our happiness, we threw ourselves into the battles of the Gutiérrez, [Rancho] El Chino, and San Pascual; but our brethren sold us, just as Joseph's brothers did him." A correspondent identifying himself only as El Curioso ("The Curious Fellow") wrote a letter to El Clamor Público in 1857 in which he commented on tensions between Californios and other Mexicans. "It is very sad to see the indifference and antipathy that prevails amongst Mexicans in California ... and this is observed especially in the majority of the native sons of the country, who look upon those Mexicans who are not born in California with more scorn than they do the Indians."
Given the anti-Latino attitudes of many Atlantic Americans, some Latinos began to wonder whether they were better off remaining in California or emigrating to Mexico. A few individuals organized groups of Californios who decided to relocate to the Mexican state of Sonora, but most Californios opted to stay. The question of whether a "real" Latino born in the United States ought to feel loyalty to that country or to Mexico (or another Latin American country of parental origin) has been debated ever since.
As the Gold Rush continued, similarities of language, culture, and religion united California's burgeoning Latino population in significant respects, but that population also faced divisions created by socioeconomic factors, race, and national allegiance. Yet nearly all Latinos, Californio and immigrant alike, shared one overarching experience after 1848, which to one degree or another transcended whatever social or political differences might otherwise divide them. Characterized in 1856 by a representative of the Mexican government as the "experience of what has happened to them in California," it was the situation of being considered undesirable strangers in a society to which they did not belong and which did not want them. Nearly all Latinos shared it, to a greater or lesser extent, because it was essentially imposed upon them by the growing influence of Atlantic American culture, which on the whole did not trouble itself to distinguish between Latinos on the basis of their national allegiance but instead viewed them collectively through the prism of its own preconceptions about race. Because most Latinos were demonstrably of mixed-race origins, the majority of Atlantic Americans increasingly lumped them into the disparaged category "not white" and therefore considered them inherently inferior to themselves. Wealthy upper-class Latinos were to varying degrees spared some of the effects of this cultural and racial prejudice, but as the case of Manuel Domínguez shows, even they were not always immune. This rejection by Atlantic American whites was codified in governmental policy, as well as experienced in daily life by many Latinos. Yet for the most part, it did not move Latinos to leave California; instead they reacted against it, both by forming organizations devoted to self-help and political activity and in other ways.
President James K. Polk's secretary of state, James Buchanan, had promised Latinos in California that under the government of the United States, their lives and society would be better off than before. Some ten months after the ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Buchanan declared of these former Mexican citizens, "These our new citizens ought to be, and from the justice and generosity of the American character, the President is confident that they will be treated with respect and kindness, and thus be made to feel that by changing their allegiance they have become more prosperous and happy."
During the Mexican-American War, most of California's Latino inhabitants, as citizens of Mexico, had been the enemy. Viewed from this perspective, the Californios' defense of their homes and property had simply been enemy action. Following the United States' defeat of Mexico and acquisition of California, these former enemies now became the conquered. Initially, it was hoped that these conquered Californios would attain peaceful coexistence with their conquerors. Reporting on the signing of the state constitution in 1849, the San Francisco Alta California painted an idealized picture: "Those who had labored to lay the foundations of the new State-coming from different nations and climes-felt that, from that hour, they were one.... The American hearts beat strongly and proudly, as they felt that they had planted the flag under which they were born and reared upon this wild western shore of the new continent. ... The Californians were convinced that they were conquered but [were] to become the brothers and friends of the conquerors." This hopeful picture, however, was already being contradicted by the realities of life in the American West.
Whether they wanted to attain peaceful coexistence or not, Latinos more often than not found themselves treated as a conquered enemy, expected by the Atlantic American conquerors to behave as befitted a subjugated people in the new state of California instead of as "brothers and friends" and social equals in their native land. Most Atlantic Americans entertained no doubt that California had been acquired by conquest, and indeed they were rather proud of that fact. An 1849 speech by the state senator T. L. Vermeule of San Joaquin minced no words. "Mr. Chairman-this land of California was acquired to the American people,-how? Why, to use the least offensive form of speech, it was acquired by military occupation. In more glowing, but not less truthful phrase, it is a rich gift, bequeathed to the American people by the valor of their soldiers, their volunteers and their sailors." This consciousness of being conquerors, more than any high-minded public statements by politicians in Washington, DC, shaped Atlantic American attitudes toward how the newly acquired lands and their occupants should be treated.
Predictably, to those who saw California as conquered territory, the state's resources, particularly its gold fields and fertile soil, were spoils of war that now belonged to the winners. Accordingly, many Atlantic Americans newly arrived in California believed they somehow were owed land simply for taking the trouble to travel to the Pacific coast. "A large proportion of the emigrants who came into California last year, did so, under the expectation that the government existing here when they left their homes, would grant them lands for agricultural purposes. Most of them have exhausted all their means in the expenses incident to their long perilous journey, and are now here, without house home or lands.... Some provision or regulation, it seems to us, should be made immediately for these emigrants, by which they will be authorized to settle upon vacant lands."
Much of the land they desired, however, already belonged to Latinos, whose claims to ownership were seen as annoying obstacles that needed to be removed as expeditiously as possible. The recently elected U.S. senator from California, William McKendree Gwin, came to the Atlantic American settlers' rescue with a new land law that essentially called into question all land grants made in California under Spanish and Mexican rule. Once Congress passed Gwin's bill in 1851-in direct contravention of the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo-all those earlier land grants, without exception, now were required to be confirmed by a Land Commission. Thanks to substantial differences in U.S. and Mexican practices of surveying and establishing ownership, the commission retroactively required a higher standard of proof than the one in operation when the grants had been made under Spanish or Mexican law. The landowners who could not meet this new higher standard would not have their titles confirmed, and the lands in question would be declared to have no owner. Under U.S. law, the ownership of these "vacant" lands thereupon would default to the federal government, whose policy at this time was to consider them open for anyone to settle. This came as a shock to Californios, who had been assured by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and subsequently by various U.S. government officials that they would be treated with Buchanan's "respect and kindness" and their property rights respected.
Due to numerous rulings, appeals and higher court reviews, the Land Commission often took years, occasionally even decades, to determine the validity of any given title. In the end, the majority of Californio titles eventually were confirmed, but the expense of defending their property rights throughout this lengthy process often proved ruinous to the owners, who ended up selling some or all of their land to pay the lawyers' fees.
The legal process instituted by the Land Commission also seemed far too slow to some Atlantic American immigrants, who thought the state's lands ought to be immediately open to their settlement by right of conquest. Especially in Northern California, these new arrivals therefore simply entered a promising area of Latino-owned land, staked out or fenced off a portion of it, and declared this to be their homestead. In some cases, these squatters were encouraged by politicians who promised to support their claims and by attorneys who assured them that the Spanish or Mexican titles would not stand up in court. "Straightaway, troublemakers-pettifogging lawyers-are not lacking to assure the new arrivals that they may rightfully and with complete confidence squat wherever they please because the titles issued by previous governments are not worth a fig" (italics in original). Not surprisingly, Latino landowners objected to the squatters' behavior and were appalled that the political and legal systems appeared to be siding with the usurpers. "It is now proposed that this ignoble band known as squatters, who have committed all [manner] of pillaging, abuses, usurpations, and murders against the landowner for the past seven years, be covered with the mantle of justice, and be called 'occupants in good faith.'" While the new land laws and the squatting phenomenon directly affected only landowners, Latinos quickly and correctly came to see these problems as aspects of their general rejection by Atlantic Americans and resented them accordingly.
As if the squatter problem were not bad enough, a different sort of land dispute became endemic to the mining regions. When Forty-Niners arrived from the rest of the United States, they often were dismayed to discover that Latino miners, either Californios or immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, already had staked claims and had been working them for more than a year. Some Atlantic Americans resented the competition, and they sought to ban Latino immigrants from the mines. The resolutions of a self-appointed group of miners meeting in 1849 at the Mokelumne River declared, "It is vain to think that Americans that have conquered and own the soil, and under whose special legislation it must be ultimately ruled ... who wrested (or aided to wrest) it from Mexican misrule ... can ever hope to compete with the hordes of hired men who are weekly, nay, almost daily, flocking in upon them from the distant provinces of Mexico and South America."
The easiest expedient, for resentful parties who had sufficient capability for armed force and the will to use it, was physically to expel Latino miners and take over their claims, justifying the possession in the name of the American conquest of California. The Alta California documented this approach in a report derived from the Stockton Times about a conflict between Atlantic American and Mexican miners at Mormon Gulch (modern Tuttletown, in Tuolumne County) in 1850. "The miners are up in arms, irritated beyond endurance, and there is a universal sentiment of hatred against foreigners. At the Mormon Gulch resolutions have been passed to drive all Mexicans from the mines; they have received notice to quit in fifteen days, or they will be expelled by force."
The most sweeping and notorious means intended to limit Latinos' mining activities was the Foreign Miners' Tax. At the first legislative session of the new state in 1850, Senator Thomas Jefferson Greene of Sacramento invoked widespread Atlantic American fears that a wave of violent, dangerous Latinos was inundating California and in response proposed the Foreign Miners' Tax with the intent of discouraging such immigration-or at least profiting from it. "Tens of thousands have already arrived in our country, and they are the commencement of a vast multitude en route and preparing to come hither of the worst population of the Mexican and South American States. ... Pass this bill, and the foreign proprietor ... will have to pay some little tribute for this rich and unprecedented privilege." Quickly approved, the tax required that twenty dollars per month be levied on every foreign miner, although in practice attempts to collect it were overwhelmingly directed against Latinos rather than any other group. The average wage for a working man at the time was about a dollar a day, so twenty dollars a month was the rough equivalent of an income tax of 80 to 90 percent. If a miner struck it rich, the tax might seem manageable. But most miners did not make even the average daily wage, so this tax would have taken all they earned and even left them in debt.
The shift from Mexican to U.S. law introduced another unwelcome surprise for Californios: property taxes. Suddenly, holding land became an annual liability when the taxes, used to finance state and local government, came due. "In California, real property had never been assessed, nor had any sort of taxes been paid on them before." After the Gold Rush began, more than 90 percent of California's population lived in the north, where the gold fields were and where towns had sprung up to provide miners with goods and services. Therefore the northern counties easily dominated the state legislature, and it was in their interest to exempt gold mining from taxation. But the money had to come from somewhere, so the legislature decided to tax real estate. As a result, the bulk of state finance now was expected to come from landowners, the majority of whom, especially in politically feeble Southern California, were Californio cattle ranchers. "The representatives of the mining counties have exercised their power in a very unworthy way," complained Los Angeles' El Clamor Público, "casting the burden of taxes upon the counties dedicated to agriculture; and, as always, they have enjoyed that dominance in the Legislature, to succeed in exempting mineral lands, with all their riches, from paying tax.... So we ask that the southern counties' taxes be reduced, or else that mineral lands should pay tax according to their value."
Between simply not understanding the new property taxes and having their income-producing holdings tied up in title litigation, many Californio landowners gradually became tax delinquents, with the result that their lands eventually were sold at public auction to pay back taxes. Once again, Latinos felt persecuted by an Atlantic American government policy, although in this case their targeting was more or less inadvertent.
The experience of their conquest and subsequent treatment as second-class citizens appeared to Latinos in California to be part of a larger, fundamental pattern of deplorable and arrogant U.S. behavior with regard to Latino countries, characterized by the spate of filibustering expeditions mounted by U.S. citizens against Central American nations and portions of Mexico in the 1850s. Consequently, filibustering also received considerable negative attention in the Spanish-language press.
In one of the most notorious examples, William Walker gathered a small force of Atlantic Americans in San Francisco in 1853, traveled to Baja California, harassed and plundered local ranchers, then declared himself the governor of the "Republic of Baja California." Although the U.S. government gave no official support or countenance to filibustering, many Atlantic Americans in the United States, including some in California, applauded Walker. A public meeting held in Stockton, for example, ended in a resolution to send him supplies and recruits. Walker stayed in Baja California for three months, never controlling more than a small part of its territory, then attempted to take over the Mexican state of Sonora, where his expedition soon was defeated by Mexican irregulars and his own logistical incompetence, forcing him to return to California. Despite this failure, he raised another force two years later and sailed for Nicaragua, which was then wracked by civil war. The plan was similar to the one attempted in Baja California: invade part of a country, proclaim independence, then petition to be admitted to the United States. Although Walker had failed previously in this approach in Mexico, a similar plan had essentially succeeded in Texas in the 1840s and nearly had done so in the Bear Flag Revolt in California, in 1846.
In his editorials in El Clamor Público, Francisco Ramírez furiously denounced Walker and all other U.S. filibusters, especially for their specious claims of advancing the causes of human liberty and social progress. What made liberals like Ramírez even more outraged was that Walker sometimes represented his adventures as efforts to expand slaveholding territory. Accordingly, the filibuster enjoyed his greatest support in the South, the same region that was to rebel in 1861 as the Confederate States of America. Awareness of this fact would have a considerable influence on the political opinions of California's Latinos in the 1860s.
Legal redress seemed to be in short supply for Latinos. As citizens or as immigrants living under the protection of U.S. law, they should have been able to have crimes against them or their property resolved in the courts. But frequent failures to obtain justice from law enforcement officials and the legal system occurred, especially in the more populous and Atlantic American-dominated northern counties, and caused deep resentment among Latinos. The editor J. Jofre complained, "So the result of how things are in California is that when a Mexican is murdered-always provided the murderer is an American-there is no need for the authorities to bother themselves with the matter, for that's all right" (he used the italicized words in English for ironic emphasis in the Spanish original). San Francisco's La Crónica reported in 1855 that in San José, some Latino ranchers had arrested four squatters for killing two of their cows. The county judge, however, refused to hear the case because the low value of the destroyed property made the crime only a misdemeanor; the local justice of the peace tried to hear it, but the defendants' lawyer managed to disqualify all three juries the justice empaneled. Discussing this discouraging sequence of events in El Clamor Público, Ramírez gloomily concluded, "They certainly will not be punished, for the reason that the four thieves are Americans; for the judges pardon these gentlemen any crime." In the gold fields, one collector of the Foreign Miners' Tax, upon confronting a recalcitrant Latino miner, "drew his pistol and shot him, from the results of which the miner died a little while thereafter. The Mexican was a peaceable man, and an old resident of the place. Nothing is said with respect to the murderer, and we infer that he will go free, under the protection of being a Yankee." The legal system seemed to be so biased against Latinos that Ramírez fulminated, with perhaps pardonable hyperbole, "If a Mexican has the ill luck to have a lawsuit in the courts of this state, he is sure to lose it."
The political process that should have provided some check on the worst legal abuses sometimes itself seemed subject to exploitation by the abusers. For instance, in a public letter published on the Los Angeles Star's Spanish-language page in 1853, U.S.-citizen Latinos in Santa Barbara complained that an attempt had been made to disqualify their votes in the previous year's elections by a small group of Atlantic Americans who had opened an illegal polling place in the town and conspired to set their watches and clocks half an hour slow, so as to try to claim that the Latino steward of the official polling place had cheated by opening too early. When the county clerk refused to accept the votes from the illegal polling place and accepted those from the official polling place instead, he was threatened with personal harm and hastily relinquished his office. Fortunately, the county Court of Sessions named a new and braver county clerk, who duly dispatched the election results to the capital by mail.
Latinos Create Community
Faced with the general Atlantic American prejudice against nonwhites and in consequence often finding themselves subjected to social and legal abuses, Latinos of differing national origins to a certain extent came to identify with one another in California simply as fellow Latinos. Most usually did not completely subsume their original identities as Californios, Mexicans, Chileans, etc., into an artificial pan-Latino identity-although some idealists liked to talk about a "Latin race" that was, or in their opinion ought to be, unified-but rather expressed this sense of identification with their fellow Spanish speakers in terms of kinship, as "brotherhood" or other descent from common ancestors. A poignant reflection on this mutual identification came, in 1858, from the pen of a non-Mexican Latino correspondent of El Éco del Pacífico traveling in Calaveras County, after he had passed by the site of Atlantic American mob violence against Mexican miners seven years earlier. "In 1851, there were four thousand Mexicans in this camp, who were attacked by eight hundred Americans and completely ruined. Thirteen were killed, and various others wounded. The unfortunate men's graves are still visible on the hills today. ... A sad memory for our Mexican brethren." Yet many Latinos did not meekly acquiesce to their marginalization by Atlantic American society or to injustices perpetrated against them. Again and again, they defended their rights, sometimes in individual or spontaneous actions, at other times in deliberately organized group strategies.
Latinos in the gold-mining regions resisted the Foreign Miners' Tax and Atlantic American attempts at expulsion in a number of ways. The simplest and most straightforward approach was an individual decision simply to evade the tax or expulsion. Justo Veytia, on learning that the state legislature had passed the Foreign Miners' Tax, mused in his diary that he and his companions had no intention of paying it. "In recent days, a law has been passed that all foreigners who work in the mines must pay 20 dollars a month henceforward. We're all right; we already see how we shall avoid this fee." Evasion was a necessity in his case. Veytia admitted that he was not a very good miner, and paying the tax would not have left him much, if anything, to live on, let alone any hope of amassing a fortune to take back to Mexico. So he and his companions successfully pretended to be Californios, who as U.S. citizens were exempt from paying the tax. "At first the Americans prohibited us from working here, but not now, because of the identity we have here; we have said we are Californios."
As a result of such widespread dodges as Veytia's and surreptitious prospecting away from the tax collector's spying eye, the hated Foreign Miners' Tax could not be collected in any sort of effective fashion. Moreover, one town might be assiduous in its collections but the next lax or even incapable. The Argentine merchant Ramón Gil Navarro observed Latino prospectors evading the tax by voting with their feet, moving to locations that did not collect it. When enough of them adopted this measure, the effects amounted to a boycott, resulting in a serious economic downturn for the tax-collecting community. "I went to Stanislaus to sell my load of cereal but will have to return to Calaveras empty-handed. All of the encampments of Stanislaus have nearly been ruined by that darned tax law. Yesterday I met more than 300 men who were going to Calaveras because there they do not have to pay the tax. That means that there is no business at all for the merchants in Stanislaus." Having made their point by depriving local merchants of business by their absence, Latino miners often returned to their original diggings once the pressure to collect the tax had lessened. "Mexicans coming back.-Mr. McLean, of the Ferry, informs us that the Mexicans, inspired with new hope and confidence, are re-crossing his Ferry at the rate of forty or fifty a day. We observed that the gulches in the vicinity of Sonora are again lively with an industrious Mexican population."
Sometimes resistance assumed a more pugnacious stance, with Latinos openly defying collection or attempts at expulsion. On May 18, 1850, Navarro described a tax collection attempt the day before that had gone badly wrong for the collector. "Today all of Stanislaus is in a veritable uproar because of the $20 tax that foreigners are charged every month. Yesterday the collector came here, and, seeing that everyone was willing to greet him with guns and knives instead of with $20, he went to the new Bolivia camp." Although the Foreign Miners' Tax and acts of physical expulsion sought to drive Latinos out of the gold country, ultimately they did not succeed. The Land Commission reviewing Spanish- and Mexican-era titles was headquartered in San Francisco, which obliged landowners from Southern California to travel hundreds of miles by horseback or ship and find expensive lodgings in that city for indefinite periods in order to present their evidence to the commission. Annoyed, Los Angeles County landowners held a meeting at Ygnacio Coronel's house on February 23, 1852, to decide how they would proceed under the circumstances. Attendance at the meeting was considerable, with the owners of fifty-three separate land titles either present or represented. The English-language editors of the Star were struck by the fact that Californios had called such a meeting, as before then their political activism had been modest. "We notice the singular fact about this meeting, that it is the first public assembly which has convened in this county for many years, in which the Americans were not the active agents and participants; for although there were many American proprietors present, yet four-fifths of the meeting was composed of native Californian rancheros." The ranchers composed and signed a petition requesting that the commission hold meetings in Los Angeles as well, and they raised funds to carry the petition to Washington, DC, if necessary. Their efforts met with success.
When an Atlantic American vigilante group in the mining town of Columbia imprisoned four Mexican men in 1855, their fellow countrymen hired a lawyer, who obtained a writ of habeas corpus from the Tuolumne County Court against the vigilantes' leader. Similarly, when an Atlantic American justice of the peace in San Gabriel was accused of having abused his office by leading a vigilante group that lynched three innocent Latinos and shot a fourth to death, other local Latinos held a public meeting at which they formulated a request to higher authorities that he be arrested and tried. Clearly, California's Latinos, when effectively organized, could be a force to reckon with.
In spite of all the flaws in the contemporaneous electoral process, Latinos gradually discovered that they could empower themselves by participating in politics to respond to injustices. This was especially true in Southern California, where Latinos formed the majority of the local electorate in this period. In Santa Barbara County's June 1852 election, two ethnically based slates of candidates ran against each other, "one called the California [sic] and the other the American." This polarized electoral situation continued in the November 1852 elections, as discussed above. "We learn from Santa Barbara that at the general election on the 2nd instant, two polls were opened, and that the natives of the country deposited their ballots in one box, and the Americans voted in another."
A number of prominent Latino Barbareños, including J. M. Covarrubias, José Carrillo, Juan Camarillo, R. Carrillo, and José Lorenzana, sent a letter to the Spanish-language section of the Los Angeles Star explaining what lay behind the situation. First, they firmly dismissed reports that voting in their county occurred purely along ethnic lines:
We deny such an assertion most emphatically, and assure you that the only reason for spreading the rumor of such a division is that the Californios refuse to vote for certain Americans.... Founded on this, a rumor spread that the most hateful sentiments against Americans exist in Californios' hearts. Let us say, hypothetically, that Californios did refuse to vote for Americans... . Don't they [Californios] by chance enjoy the privilege of disposing their votes as they please, the same way as any other American citizen? But, we repeat, the Californios merely don't vote for certain Americans.... So, wouldn't it be good to find out why the Californios don't vote for certain Americans?
The writers then recounted several recent incidents of ill treatment by individual Atlantic Americans against prominent local Latinos, ending with a detailed account of attempted voter fraud, which fortunately had been prevented by the county Court of Sessions' prompt actions. Mocking prevailing Atlantic American beliefs about the supposed inferiority of nonwhite Latinos, the letter's signatories predicted sardonically, "If our opponents obtain their ends by basing themselves on such principles, we semi-civilized Californios will have learned from the politicians and legal experts of Santa Barbara that the election of a president of the U.S. could depend on half an inch in the position of the ballot box, or a second of time in the beginning of voting."
Santa Barbara County was not the only part of Southern California to experience the growing phenomenon of Latino voter awareness. In the 1857 gubernatorial election, Latino voters in Los Angeles County initially supported the Republican candidate, Edward Stanley. But when he expressed support for squatters, the Latino vote abruptly transferred to his opponent. Latino voters were learning to use the power of the ballot box to serve the interests of their communities and to resist Atlantic American efforts to marginalize them.
Lawlessness had been endemic in Northern California since 1849 and became a serious issue in Southern California in the mid-1850s. Beginning in late 1852 and 1853, there was a significant rise in the southern crime rate, much of it attributable to recent immigrants, Latino and non-Latino alike, who drifted predatorily through the region after failing to strike it rich in the gold country up north. While each county did have a sheriff, he was obliged in almost every case to rely on temporarily deputized volunteers for manpower. In this virtual absence of professional police, Latinos joined local militia units being organized by Atlantic Americans. The Santa Barbara Guards, formed in 1853, comprised about forty Atlantic Americans and Californios. In contrast, the Los Angeles Guards, organized in 1855, had only Atlantic American officers and men, although they made Ramírez an honorary member.
In 1857, an emergency situation developed in Los Angeles County that motivated the formation of an all-Latino militia. On January 22, Sheriff JamesR. Barton received word of the whereabouts of a band of outlaws wanted for several murders and robberies in the vicinity of San Juan Capistrano. Despite warnings that he should wait to gather a larger posse, he set out with only five men. The following day, they were ambushed by a group consisting of at least twice their number, who shot Barton and three of his men dead. When news reached Los Angeles city that the county's top law enforcement officer had been killed, nearly everyone was on the verge of panic.
Groups of volunteers-or perhaps more properly said, vigilantes-quickly organized to search for the outlaws. Local newspaper accounts referred to one of these groups, composed entirely of Latinos and led initially by Tomás Sánchez and Juan Sepúlveda, as the compañía de Californios (Californios' company). After a week, the various volunteer groups consolidated into four more or less official companies, one of which was commanded by the respected former Mexican general Andrés Pico. Pico's company came upon the bandits and cornered them in Santiago Canyon; several of the fugitives surrendered, in exchange for their lives. In company with a party of Atlantic Americans from the village of El Monte, Pico's men thereafter took five additional prisoners. Three of these, however, managed to escape from Atlantic American custody in Santa Ana that night and had to be pursued again; only one of the three, Juan Flores, subsequently was recaptured, in San Fernando, and taken to the Los Angeles jail. On hearing of the escape, Pico summarily hanged the two prisoners he and his men still had in their custody, to avoid a similar embarrassment.
Initially, the community was pleased at the close cooperation of Latinos and Atlantic Americans in this episode and felt this demonstration of civic duty proved that Latinos were worthy citizens. Ramírez editorialized, "The fine harmony that prevailed during the campaign, between the Californios under the command of Don Andrés Pico and the citizens of El Monte, is a matter worthy of being commended.... By this action they have performed, the Californios have vindicated their honor, and have shut the mouths of all the so-and-sos who are pleased to place them on a level with the wretches they went out in pursuit of." But these feelings of cooperation and goodwill were short-lived. While Pico and his Californio company were riding out after the outlaws in company with Atlantic Americans from El Monte, the justice of the peace at San Gabriel, William B. Osburn, gathered a party of Atlantic Americans who on their own initiative arrested fifty-two local men, indignantly described by Ramírez as "all the Mexicans, or individuals of the Spanish-speaking race, who were in San Gabriel" (emphasis in original). Osburn's vigilantes lynched three of the Latinos arrested in this sweep and shot a fourth to death on suspicion of belonging to the bandit gang that had killed the sheriff, although apparently there were scant grounds for this suspicion. So even as some Latinos were risking their lives as vigilantes to bring criminals to justice, other Latinos were being killed by Atlantic American vigilantes like those in Osburn's group.
In the wake of these incidents, a company of all-Latino mounted militia was formally constituted in Los Angeles County. On May 12, 1857, this militia met at the home of leading citizen Cristóbal Aguilar. It took the name Lanceros de Los Angeles (Los Angeles Lancers) and chose officers: Captain Juan Sepúlveda; First Lieutenant Ramón Carrillo; Second Lieutenants Gerónimo Ybarra and Mariano Alvarado; Sergeants Luis Bauchet, Justo Domínguez, Antonio Rocha, and Ylario Ybarra; and Corporals Rafael Bauchet, Francisco Sánchez, Francisco Alvarado y Ruiz, and José Dámas Talamantes. By early July, Sepúlveda was able to announce to the citizens of Los Angeles, "The volunteer company called the Los Angeles Lancers, of which I have the honor to be captain, now is duly formed; and its goal is to give assistance to the authorities in support of law and order."
Like most militias of this period, the Lanceros spent their time in a mixture of public ceremony and actual guard duty. They drilled throughout the summer, and on the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, honoring Los Angeles' patron saint, the Virgin Mary, they gave a demonstration of their small arms and artillery drill in the Plaza, outside the church. Since the spring of 1857, the so-called Utah War had been simmering in the Rocky Mountains, following President Buchanan's dispatch of troops to the Utah Territory to discourage a rumored rebellion by the Mormons there. Especially after the Mountain Meadows massacre in September 1857, awareness of this tension combined with Angelenos' anxiety over the ongoing crime wave to the point that serious (albeit unjustified) fears were expressed that vengeful Mormons might invade their town to carry out reprisals.
Despite the Lanceros' training and public armed presence, however, it seemed to some Latinos that certain Atlantic Americans discounted their military ability. In a petition requesting arms to form their own militia, a group of Atlantic American citizens, fearful of the anticipated Mormon invasion, described their situation in terms that took no cognizance of any Californio militia. "We are nearly unprovided with arms; and in the four southern counties scarcely four hundred Americans can be brought together who are determined to repel the invasion." This apparent oversight offended the editor of El Éco del Pacífico. "We have not ceased to be surprised that, in speaking of the scarce resources on which these counties can count in a matter of defense, the citizens have completely disregarded the native Californios and other citizens of the Spanish-speaking race who make up the majority of the population in Southern California."
Yet this seeming slight probably was more apparent than real. The San Francisco-based editor probably was unaware that the Lanceros initially had experienced difficulty raising the two-thousand-dollar bond necessary to register as an official company of state militia. It therefore had not been entirely unreasonable for another group to apply for formal militia status before the Lanceros were able to present their bond, because technically no other militia as yet existed in the county. On payment of their bond in February 1858, however, the Lanceros finally were formally recognized as a state militia unit, and they received government arms with which to help defend against a possible Mormon invasion of Southern California.In the very same issue of El Clamor Público that carried the reprinted protest by El Éco's editor, there appeared an account of a commemoration of the Battle of New Orleans by another Los Angeles County militia, the Southern Rifles. Among the toasts on that occasion, the Rifles drank one "to the California Lancers, of Los Angeles." A month later, the Lanceros, in solidarity with the Rifles and a company of Franco-American militiamen, kept the crowd in order at the execution of two convicted murderers in Los Angeles, one Latino and one Atlantic American.
Near the end of the Utah War, in 1858, new reports of robber bands circulated in Southern California. The Lanceros continued to be a visible presence, particularly reassuring to local Latinos. In the Corpus Christi procession on June 3, 1858, for instance, "on both sides [of the procession] marched the Lancers' Company, under the command of Don Juan Sepúlveda, and the Southern Rifles, under the leadership of Captain W. W. Twist, all dressed in their uniforms and armed with sabers and carbines." Sepúlveda also was among the members of that year's Arrangements Committee for Los Angeles' civic celebration of the Fourth of July.
Gradually a sense of community grew among many Latinos of disparate backgrounds. In 1857, a marginally literate young Salvadoran immigrant, Ángel Mora, labored to write a public farewell to his paisanos ("fellow countrymen") in Los Angeles, which he subsequently had published in El Clamor Público, unwittingly leaving behind for the twenty-first century a brief but discernable outline of the increasingly inclusive Latino society and identity coalescing in Gold Rush California. Although he had been "born in the state of San Salvador," he was "raised in the state of California, in the town of San José." As families of Californios, Mexicans, and other Latinos lived there, Mora declared, "I recognize everyone as my countrymen, since I have finished being raised on the foods of them all." Therefore when he took his leave of them, and of his fellow Latinos in Los Angeles, where he later resided, he addressed them as "all my fellow countrymen." The fact that he expected his farewell to reach them all via the pages of El Clamor Público implies that Latinos of every national origin found common ground in California's Spanish-language press. His letter also reveals that the concept of a Spanish-speaking race was not just the notion of a few liberal intellectual elites like Ramírez but could be shared even by poor, ill-educated immigrants like Mora.
In the decade and a half following the discovery of gold in California, Spanish-speaking immigrants in their thousands came to the state from all over Latin America. Initially they identified themselves by their country of origin, as Chileans, Argentines, Mexicans, Peruvians, Salvadorans, and so on, but the longer they remained in California, the more they came into contact with Latinos from other parts of the Americas and formed social bonds with them. The result was the formation of a uniquely Californian Latino society. For example, a gentleman Forty-Niner from Guadalajara, Justo Veytia, initially traveled with relatives and friends from Mexico to San Francisco aboard a ship, and thence to the San Joaquin Valley in company with a somewhat undependable oxcart. While crossing the valley, his party fell in with a group of Californios, members of the Arana family from Santa Cruz. They became friends, and for the rest of his sojourn in California, Veytia was never long out of touch with them. Indeed, the Aranas employed him in their shingle-making business on more than one occasion when Veytia's haplessness as a prospector brought him close to starvation. José Alcayaga came from Chile. By 1854 he had established a grocery store in San Francisco called the Estrella de Chile ("Star of Chile"), which advertised its wares as "a general assortment of groceries ... not just from Europe, but also from the United States of America, Chile, and Mexico." These included items in local demand such as "chilis, chocolate, [and] samot gum, a medicine widely known among the Mexicans." This shows Alcayaga recognized that his market was the Latino community as a whole, which necessarily implies the existence of such a community, instead of separate enclaves of Mexicans, Chileans, Californios, and so forth.
This mix of Latinos now residing in California increasingly mingled socially, and some began to marry one another. On June 30, 1858, in Los Angeles, a Californio named Carlos Cruz married the Mexican immigrant Martina Ochoa. Just prior to Cruz's marriage in June, Ygnacio Aguilar from New Mexico had married Cesaria Valenzuela from California. Six months later, on December 3, a Chilean immigrant, José López, married Francisca Blanco, a Californio. Over the same six months, half a dozen couples in which both partners were Californios also got married, as did five Mexican-Californio couples and three couples in which both husband and wife were Mexican. In inland Tuolumne County, on the other hand, immigrants far outnumbered Californios, who mostly had founded their population centers within a few miles of the coast. Between 1851 and 1853, there were twenty-two marriages in Tuolumne County in which both partners were Mexican immigrants, plus marriages of three Chilean couples, a Chilean-Mexican couple, a Bolivian-Chilean couple, a Spanish-Mexican couple, and an Argentine-Bolivian couple. Not one recorded marriage from Tuolumne County in this period involved a Californio partner.
Those individuals from Central and South America who chose to remain in California as the 1850s wore on no longer were merely visitors, wandering through the state in search of gold or adventure. They were becoming something new: Latino residents of the United States, leading lives different from those they would have lived had they stayed in their native countries. To a large extent, they formed this new society organically around the core of the already extant Californio society. As the new society developed, foods, accents, vocabulary, and social customs intermingled. The rapidly growing Atlantic American society that shared the state with this newly emergent society also influenced it to a notable degree. In turn, the new Latino society influenced that Atlantic American society as well.
The gradual formation of this new Latino culture in California inevitably raised the question of what to call its many and varied members. Self-evidently, they were not simply Mexican or Californio, as among them were individuals of far more diverse backgrounds than just those two nationalities. El Clamor Público's Ramírez was among those seeking an answer to the question. Ramírez's first mentor in journalism, Manuel Clemente Rojo, a Peruvian by birth, had explained to his readership in Los Angeles in 1853 that the Spanish-language page of the Star contained news about Mexico and other "Hispanic-American republics, so that their innumerable children who are found in this state may stay abreast of news of their respective countries." In San Francisco two years later, La Crónica's editor invoked the emerging theme of kinship when he referred to "the children of the various peoples of Spanish-speaking America-of those peoples whose individual members should be thought of by the North Americans as brethren, and children of the same family."
As a teenager, Ramírez lived for a time in cosmopolitan San Francisco, where he was exposed to a variety of Latin American origins and accents. Later he spent time in rural Marysville, witnessing often fraught interactions between Latinos and Atlantic Americans. Once he returned to Los Angeles and began his own newspaper, his local audience was composed mostly of California-born Latinos of Mexican ancestry, with a leavening of Mexican immigrants, all of whom he could comfortably and somewhat indiscriminately address as Californios, hijos del pais ("native sons of the country"), or Mejicanos (Mexicans). But how was he to refer to Latinos reading his paper in the northern mining counties, who were not hijos del pais and in many cases not even Mexicans? What terms would make sense to them as well as to his hometown readership?
One term that found some favor was Hispano-Americanos ("Hispanic-Americans"), which was applied to all Latinos from North or South America. In the first days of the Gold Rush, the owners of the quicksilver mine at New Almaden near San José sought workers from among the Latino population by advertising, in Spanish, in the English-language paper Alta California, for "Hispano-Americanos." In his 1859 farewell editorial on closing El Clamor Público, Ramírez included the hijos del pais in the Hispanic-American population when he sadly recounted his failure to be of "service to my native countrymen of California, and generally to all Hispanic-Americans."
Other collective terms in use at the time featured the word raza ("race") in combination with various descriptive adjectives. Collective terms for the various Latin American countries in nineteenth-century California included las Repúblicas Hispano-Americanas ("the Hispanic-American republics"), los Estados latinos ("Latin states"), and América latina ("Latin America"). The combination of these names with the concept of race led to use of the terms raza Hispano Americana ("Hispanic-American race") and raza latina ("Latin race") to designate Latinos collectively, especially when the intent was to contrast Latinos with some other group, such as Atlantic Americans. In remarks addressed to a purely Latino audience, this sometimes became, as a sort of shorthand, nuestra raza ("our race").
The various uses of these terms and the shades of meaning they contained may be seen in Spanish-language editorials of this period. For instance, in 1858 the editor of El Éco del Pacífico informed his readers that at his newspaper, "we are always ready to cooperate, by means of our services, with everything that could contribute to bettering the situation of the working class of our race," meaning all Latinos. In the same editorial, he described the "back to Mexico" movement to resettle Californios and Mexican immigrants in the state of Sonora as being "made up in its entirety of descendants of the Latin race." In 1858, Ramírez published an opinion piece by a correspondent in Havana who described the situation in the Americas: "two rival races are competing with each other ... , the Anglo-Saxon race and the Latin one."
While no academy of Spanish-language scholars ever met to define terms for the various Latino subpopulations in California, in the pages of the Spanish-language press, terms denoting regional origin-such as Californio, Sonorense, and Chileno-came to be thought of as delineating subsets of a larger collectivity, Hispano-Americanos or raza latina. So while every Peruvian, for instance, was a Hispanic-American, not every Hispanic-American was a Peruvian. The brief history of the Junta Colonizadora de Sonora ("Sonora Settlement Group") illustrates the use of these terms. Initially, a group of Californios, Sonorans, and Chileans, under the leadership of Jesús Islas, came up with the idea that Latinos disillusioned with life under Atlantic American rule in post-1848 California should go settle in Mexico, where their civil and property rights presumably would be better respected. Islas's proposal, published in El Clamor Público in 1855, collectively addressed prospective emigrants as Hispano-Americanos. As the group's few hundred recruits began to gather for the overland trek to Sonora, early in 1856, a public notice addressed them as "Mexicans, Hispanic-Americans, and Californios." When they set out in the fall, the participants were referred to again as Hispano-Americanos. Evidently Islas considered the specific and collective terms equally valid.
Born in California
Most of the Latino couples who had been married in California since 1848, as well as couples living in common-law marriages, produced offspring. Figure 2 shows the annual number of Latino and Atlantic American births in Los Angeles County from 1850 to 1869. Numbers of births increased in both groups, with a steep rise during the 1850s and a more modest increase in the 1860s. But Latino births outnumbered Atlantic American ones and by 1869 accounted for about two-thirds of all births in the county.
These Latino children formed the first cohort of second-generation, bicultural U.S. citizens born to Spanish-dominant immigrant parents. Although many of their parents might pine for the home country-or, in the case of the Californios, for the days before U.S. statehood-these children's home was California, and the United States. They tended to differ from their parents' generation in other key respects, particularly bilingual abilities and level of education (figure 3 shows a representative of this generation).
After California came under U.S. rule, some Spanish-language voices favored of instituting publicly supported education for the state's children. Manuel Clemente Rojo urged in 1852, "It is a truth known by all the world that public education is one of the goals to which every government should devote its attention with the greatest zeal, which considers the fulfillment of its obligations worth anything." Francisco Ramírez saw education as a bulwark against despotism and a tool of democracy. "Education for the people puts absolute governments in danger; their ignorance, in contrast, places representative governments in danger." In 1857, before conducting a requisite public examination of his pupils at a school in Contra Costa County, the Central American-born Santiago López delivered a speech in Spanish, telling his students' first-generation parents that education was the most valuable and enduring gift they could give their children. Against some parents' reluctance to send their children to school, he argued that the education of Latino children was critical to their future in the state. Without it, López declared, those children would be unable to compete with Atlantic American society, whose influence already was threatening to dominate Latino life.
In the late summer of 1852, the Los Angeles County supervisors named AntonioF. Coronel the superintendent of schools and formed a Board of Education whose membership included the local landowner Cristóbal Aguilar; Abel Stearns, an Atlantic American from Massachusetts married to native California daughter Arcadia Bandini; and the bilingual judge Benjamin I. Hayes. Funding and building a public school took some time, and the schoolhouse was not ready for use until January 1855, nearly three years after the County Board of Education had formed. As public schools made their appearance and education increasingly became mandatory, the issue of the language to be used in instruction caused many Latino parents concern that their children would be at a disadvantage. "Many parents don't send their children to the public schools because only English is taught there." As a result, some private bilingual schools opened after the public schools were established, such as the Instituto Patriótico ("Patriotic Institute") in Los Angeles in 1856; its advertising recommended it for "the native sons of the country, especially for those who wish to be educated in their native language, and also for those who may wish to learn the English language perfectly." Later the same year, another private bilingual school opened, called La Mexicanita ("the Little Mexican School"), which recruited pupils "de raza Española" ("of the Spanish-speaking race"). Those who took courses only in Spanish paid one dollar a month, while those who took courses in both English and Spanish were charged two dollars.
In the event, it turned out that most Latino parents did not need to worry about sending their sons and daughters to schools taught only in English, thanks to children's innate ability to acquire language quickly. In February 1858, a correspondent of El Clamor Público visited a Los Angeles public school attended by a "large number of Spanish-speaking children," as well as some French speakers, and noticed how swiftly the students had acquired English. Even in the case of those who continued to speak Spanish primarily, English words began to infiltrate their daily speech. Ramírez began to slip anglicisms casually into his newspaper columns, evidently confident that his Spanish-speaking readers would understand them. For example, in reporting on the U.S. Independence Day celebrations of 1855, he wrote, "The memorable Fourth of July took place in good order... . Several orators made their speeches, as is the custom on such great occasions; but none of them spoke in Castilian Spanish, as had occurred in years past" (emphasis in original, where the word is in English). On printing a notice of the marriage of an Atlantic American friend, Ramírez freely used another untranslated anglicism, indicated by single quotation marks: "On reporting the wedding of our friend Alonzo, we thank him for the piece of the 'wedding cake' that he had the goodness to send us, of which all the printers had a share."
Yet the borrowing of words from a new language did not go all one way. English speakers in the West began to use hispanisms in their daily conversations, many of which remain in use in the twenty-first century. One ubiquitous hispanism was the word vamos-often pronounced in English as vamoose-literally meaning "let's go." It acquired, when used by English speakers, the more general meaning of "to leave an area" or "to get out of town," often in an unceremonious fashion. For example, in 1852, "in consequence of the bad conduct of the prostitutes in Placerville, the citizens ... decided that they should all leave that town within forty-eight hours. On Friday, they were compelled to vamos, with strict injunctions not to return to that place." In fact, so much Spanish entered everyday English that in 1857, the Alta California ran an article listing terms and their meanings. It included several words and phrases commonly used in twenty-first century English, such as sierra, adios, Señorita, and Vaya con Dios ("mountain range," "good-bye," "Miss," and "Go with God"). An 1859 article pointed out yet more "Californianisms" derived from Spanish, defining for newcomers cañon ("canyon"), coyote, corral, plaza, rancho, and rodeo and indicating how to pronounce them.
Francisco Ramírez was eleven years old when the United States conquered California. This was old enough that he retained a feeling for California as a part of Mexico, although he quickly learned English and developed a pervasive enthusiasm for the democratic ideal of government espoused by the United States. But children born after 1848, the "young and rising generation," only knew life under the Stars and Stripes. As he made the transition from child to young adult, Ramírez witnessed many changes in the society around him. In 1859, only twenty-one years old but already with four rocky years of experience owning and publishing a Spanish-language newspaper in Los Angeles under his belt, he looked to the future and tried to discern what might become of him and his generation of bilingual, bicultural Latinos.
The occasion for this introspection was his decision to include an English-language page in his Spanish-language newspaper, just as the English-language Star, where he had cut his journalistic teeth, for several years had published a page in Spanish. On the inaugural page of this new section, he gave advice to his readers about the situation of young Latinos born in a land that had deep roots in Mexican society and history but was now part of the United States, urging them to learn English.
It must be apparent to our Castilian [Spanish-speaking] friends, that it is not only their interest but absolute duty to give their children an English education; and to learn, if possible, to read and speak the language themselves. We are now under the American Flag, whether of our own accord or per force, and there is every probability that we shall remain so for all time to come. Nothing is more certain than this; we are Americans in name and feeling... . We are Native California Americans born on the soil, and we can exclaim with the Poet, this is "OUR OWN, OUR NATIVE LAND." But the sooner we become "Americanized" ... the better it will be for us and our posterity.
This was why he had decided to add an English-language page to his newspaper. As do many Latinos in the twenty-first century, Ramírez believed that the acquisition of English did not have to entail the obliteration of Spanish; rather, fluency in both languages was desirable. "Let every family in Los Angeles county who can read (and they should be able to read and write), take El Clamor Publico from this time henceforward. Let them read the Spanish in their mother tongue; then let them strive to learn and read the English side by side. This will facilitate their progress, and they will never regret the time devoted to this highly essential and necessary pursuit."
For the next two decades, Ramírez was to grapple publicly, in newspaper columns and in speeches, with the issue of being Latino in U.S. society. In so doing, he was among those who helped shape the meaning of citizenship for Latinos in California, particularly during the crucial years of the Civil War and the French Intervention in Mexico.
Sliding toward Civil War
One of the major issues that resulted in the Civil War-the legal existence of slavery based exclusively on race-loomed large in the newspaper-reading Latino public's sight. Mexicans in particular contrasted how the republics of Mexico and the United States handled this issue. During three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, a diverse and racially mixed population emerged throughout Latin America, the result of the movement of people from Europe, Africa, and Asia into the Americas. One of the achievements of Mexican independence was the official rejection of colonial racial categorization, a stance reiterated in the country's 1857 constitution, portions of which were published in California's Spanish-language press. Racial categories already were being abandoned by Californios at the time of Mexican independence, and thereafter were not sustained by any legal framework under Mexican law. The sudden imposition by the United States Constitution of a legal system containing race-based provisions for citizenship and the exercise of civil rights therefore surprised and dismayed many Latinos. They were well aware that many Atlantic Americans did not hesitate to classify them too, derogatorily, as nonwhite. One of many examples appears in an 1858 editorial from the English-language Alta California, which uncomplimentarily describes Mexican-origin Latinos as "undoubtedly a mongrel race, of every hue and color."
It was not merely a theoretical concern. Latinos in post-1848 California already had had the experience of being legally separated from whites by the infamous "Greaser Act" of 1855, which authorized local sheriffs to disarm, arrest, and punish "all persons who are commonly known as 'Greasers' or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood ... who go armed and are not known to be peaceable and quiet persons, and who can give no good account of themselves." Nearly all adult males of every ethnic group in Gold Rush California habitually went armed, of course, and determining whether or not a Latino was able to give a good account of himself was left up to the individual lawman. The Greaser Act therefore effectively gave law enforcement personnel carte blanche to arrest almost any Latino man whenever they pleased. Notorious incidents like the refusal to allow Manuel Domínguez to testify in a San Francisco civil suit because he had Indian ancestry showed that even elite Latinos were not immune to the prejudicial effects of such race-based U.S. laws.
In the 1850s, the ultimate expression of racially based denial of civil rights in the United States was, of course, the "peculiar institution" of black slavery. Mexico, on the other hand, was one of the first countries to abolish slavery and had made this ban one of the key features of the Constitution de Chilpancingo, written in 1813. It was reiterated in the 1857 constitution, in Article 31, Section 5: "In no part of the Mexican Republic shall slavery be established. Slaves from other countries attain liberty by the act of stepping into this nation's territory." Therefore, when California was conquered by a country that loudly proclaimed freedom for all but allowed slavery to exist, Latinos could not help but note the obvious discrepancy between word and deed, especially when their own civil rights were placed in question on the grounds of race. Liberty was one of Francisco Ramírez's cherished ideals. In El Clamor Público's first year, he translated the Declaration of Independence into Spanish and published it on the Fourth of July. The denial of liberty to anyone on the basis of race caused him great concern. Three weeks after publishing his translation of the declaration, he observed:
The idea of liberty that is held in the United States is truly odd.... Some persons have no sort of liberty whatsoever-this liberty, we say, is that which is denied in the courts to anyone who is of color. Another great "liberty" that exists is that any individual has the liberty to buy a man for money, to arbitrarily hang him or burn him alive, as seems best to himself. This does happen in the states where slavery is tolerated, and there the most vile despotism reigns, without restraint-in the midst of a nation that calls itself the "model Republic."
By the 1850s, most other Latin American countries also had abolished slavery. This was one of the factors that made filibustering expeditions into Latin America particularly worrisome to Latinos in California. Filibusters from the United States wanted to add more slave territory to their native country so as to extend the peculiar institution that was so much a feature of life in the South and thereby increase the political power of that region in the face of efforts by the Northern states to abolish slavery entirely. Once he had established temporary control in Nicaragua, for instance, William Walker wrote a manifesto declaring the institution of slavery essential to good government. El Clamor Público published translations of passages from this manifesto. "General William Walker has written a curious manifesto concerning the enslavement of the blacks in Nicaragua. Born and raised in the Southern states, he has certain preoccupations, such that he has not the least scruple (as he has had none in worse cases) in insisting that a government without slavery is no government at all ... . 'The reintroduction of black slavery will be the surest means to establish the white race permanently in Central America... . It is therefore of great importance to the Southern states.'" Such proposals were of great importance in an entirely different sense to those who supported the abolition of slavery in the United States, in whose number the majority of California's Latinos could be counted.
From his first months as editor of El Clamor Público, Ramírez was among those U.S. citizens who feared, with reason, that their country might tear itself apart over the issue of slavery. "Yet there is a more immediate matter, whose end will be the division of the Union's territory, and which will tear the shining banner of the federation to bits. Everyone will fathom that we are talking about the system of slavery. Very little is known here in California about the strange amalgam that presents itself in the United States, of the liberty of individual persons and association and the slavery of the black race.... A spark of civil war would set alight the spirit of animosity that exists between the two sides." So it was not surprising that the Dred Scott decision struck Ramírez as especially significant. "The federal Supreme Court has decided, in the case of one Dred Scott, that blacks, be they slaves or free men, are not citizens of the United States, according to the Constitution." The grounds for this denial of citizenship had been based solely on race, as had Manuel Domínguez's disqualification as a witness just a month before. "It takes away, at least with respect to the national government, any manner of enfranchisement from every individual who may have the least drop of black blood in his veins, removing him from any protection afforded by the courts of the United States." Coming hard on the heels of the Domínguez incident, this was an ominous precedent indeed for almost every Latino in California.
In the following years, the struggle between abolitionists and upholders of slavery grew louder and more violent. The eastern United States increasingly took on the qualities of a tinderbox, ready to burst into flame once a spark should be applied. In November 1859, Ramírez was about to leave his native California for the Mexican state of Sonora, where he had been offered the job of editing La Estrella del Occidente, Sonora's government-backed newspaper. In one of the last issues of El Clamor Público, he reported that the messianic abolitionist John Brown had attacked the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, then in Virginia, hoping to incite a slave rebellion. The United States all too soon would descend into civil war.
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