Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848-1960

Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848-1960

Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848-1960

Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848-1960

Synopsis

One method of American territory expansion in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands was the denial of property rights to Mexican landowners, which led to dispossession. Many historical accounts overlook this colonial impact on Indigenous and Mexican peoples, and existing studies that do tackle this subject tend to privilege the male experience. Here, Karen R. Roybal recenters the focus of dispossession on women, arguing that gender, sometimes more than race, dictated legal concepts of property ownership and individual autonomy. Drawing on a diverse source base--legal land records, personal letters, and literature--Roybal locates voices of Mexican American women in the Southwest to show how they fought against the erasure of their rights, both as women and as landowners. Woven throughout Roybal's analysis are these women's testimonios --their stories focusing on inheritance, property rights, and shifts in power. Roybal positions these testimonios as an alternate archive that illustrates the myriad ways in which multiple layers of dispossession--and the changes of property ownership in Mexican law--affected the formation of Mexicana identity.

Excerpt

On July 15, 1878, in San Diego, California, the author María Amparo Ruiz de Burton penned a letter to the eminent historian Hubert Howe Bancroft. At the time, the historian was crafting his extensive History of California (1884–89) project, alongside another text, California Pastoral (1888). the History of California project included testimonios from nearly one hundred Californios such as Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a prominent Californio politician and the confidant and close friend of Ruiz de Burton, and a select group of Californianas. Though the project would be significant to Californio history, particularly as it relates to Mexican American history, the collector of information was known by those from whom he sought this information as someone who appropriated the accounts written by the participants themselves. Thus Bancroft did not have a genuinely honorable reputation (Beebe and Senkewicz 1996, 12).

Of the testimonios collected by Bancroft and his assistants, twelve were women’s contributions. Some of the women shared their own experiences, while others supplemented broader Californio historical information. As part of a landed family (similar to Vallejo), Ruiz de Burton had been asked by Bancroft to provide details about her family’s legacy in California. Specifically, he wanted to include the biography of her grandfather, Don Manuel Ruiz, in the collection of Californio narratives. As an officer in the army, Ruiz had founded a number of the early California missions and was later granted a parcel of land by the Spanish/Mexican government for his military service. Undoubtedly, Ruiz de Burton had mixed feelings about handing over the details of her grandfather’s life to an Anglo historian whose reputation she knew well. On the one hand, her grandfather would be recognized for his important role as a military officer and as a property owner along the United States/Mexico . . .

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