"This Land Was Mexican Once": Histories of Resistance from Northern California

"This Land Was Mexican Once": Histories of Resistance from Northern California

"This Land Was Mexican Once": Histories of Resistance from Northern California

"This Land Was Mexican Once": Histories of Resistance from Northern California


The territory of Napa County, California, contains more than grapevines. The deepest roots belong to Wappo-speaking peoples, a group whose history has since been buried by the stories of Spanish colonizers, Californios (today's Latinos), African Americans, Chinese immigrants, and Euro Americans. Napa's history clearly is one of co-existence; yet, its schoolbooks tell a linear story that climaxes with the arrival of Euro Americans. In"This Land was Mexican Once,"Linda Heidenreich excavates Napa's subaltern voices and histories to tell a complex, textured local history with important implications for the larger American West, as well.

Heidenreich is part of a new generation of scholars who are challenging not only the old, Euro-American depiction of California, but also the linear method of historical storytelling- a method that inevitably favors the last man writing. She first maps the overlapping histories that comprise Napa's past, then examines how the current version came to dominate- or even erase- earlier events. So while history, in Heidenreich's words, may be "the stuff of nation-building," it can also be "the stuff of resistance." Chapters are interspersed with "source breaks"- raw primary sources that speak for themselves and interrupt the linear, Euro-American telling of Napa's history. Such an inclusive approach inherently acknowledges the connections Napa's peoples have to the rest of the region, for the linear history that marginalizes minorities is not unique to Napa. Latinos, for instance, have populated the American West for centuries, and are still shaping its future. In the end,"This Land was Mexican Once"is more than the story of Napa, it is a multidimensional model for reflecting a multicultural past.


Among the students of Beatrice Pita, there is a saying that all history is really me story, and so it goes. This me story is very much about the contradictions of a small American town in the mid-twentieth century. the text itself traces the histories of a much earlier time, but the questions it addresses originated in the twentieth century, in the gut of a young mixed Euro-Latina girl in “Down-Valley Napa.” the questions that we encounter in our childhoods resonate throughout this nation-state, and so we re-encounter them in our graduate studies, in our jobs, and, for those of us from bi-national families, in other countries having strong ties to the United States.

As will be discussed in detail in the Introduction to this book, Napa has a very complicated past. Its Indigenous history can be traced back for thousands of years; Mexican culture dominated the region for a large portion of the nineteenth century. By the time that the United States invaded in 1846, Napa held a richly layered history, and that history had to be subjugated in order for the white supremacist order of the twentieth century to be established and normalized.

As young people, growing up in Napa, we seldom questioned the order of things. As an adult, I question why it was that we could not find the tools to do so. and so this book is very much about asking uncomfortable questions about the histories of small-town America, but also about the ways that social systems are established and normalized throughout the nation-state and through the use of history. the text attempts to de-stabilize white supremacist narratives; and so it is also about recentering Wappo histories, Chicana and Chicano histories, and immigrant histories. in the course of writing the text, my partner often teased that I would become “the dirty girl” of the Napa Valley. Perhaps so. But as this country becomes increasingly diverse, there are more and more people who are raising similar questions, and more and more people attempting to write decolonial histories. If we are ever to successfully dismantle white supremacy and its cousin, imperialist militarism . . .

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