Californio – identity history at a glance + Poem

“Prior to 1854 California wasn’t even part of the United States, it belonged to Mexico. And the people who lived there were the Californios. A Californio was a Spanish speaking, Catholic person of Latin American descent born in Alta California between 1769 and 1848”

see also –[Californiano]

Those who came before
Those who were born
Mixed, brown, searching.
Planted the seeds and sowed the fields
Who felt proud to be Mexican but not strictly “Mexican”
This new land called home,
I feel much the same.
Fledgling republic of California
When U.S. posses, pioneers, soldiers, and trappers
Rung the flag of Bear flag revolt on high
Imprisoning the affluent Californio families
The Mexican American War soon followed
Taking of land, the stealing of property vested in families for generations
The lynchings of Mexicans that are not taught about in public schools
Hangings of Mexican Americans from trees that followed
Minorities have always been lynched in the United States
To send a message
Of fear and terror
A message that these Mexican-Americans
These outsiders
These Californios do not belong
Foreigners in their own land.
Californios no son EstadoUnidense ni Mexicano
No soy de estos tiempos
Ni del destino hecho por lagrimas,
Soy tecero generacion; aqui de este tierra
Tierra del sal y sangre
No soy Mexicano-Mexicano,
Pero no soy puro EstadoUnidense
Soy mezclado
Soy Latino
Soy indio y Blanco
Soy Californio
Photo via Pixabay (ExplorersInternational)

I recently viewed part one of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in the US learning an awful lot about Mexican-American history that had only been glossed over previously or completely left out through my education. This video brought into question “what is our history-what is our past?” for me. There has been a great deal of erasure of Latina/o narratives throughout our history within the Spanish/American Imperial-Colonial context. The history revealed through this video shows a people who have always resisted, made foreigners in their own land. The video pinned 1565. Settlement at St. Augustin as being prior to that of Jamestown in 1607. The presence of the Spanish and their colonizing efforts there after place Latina/o folks clearly on the North American context continent before any sizable amount of British pioneers. This video brought up questions of nationhood, borders, map making , identity and empire for me. 

The video paints the picture of the oligarchy-lite system that the Californios had in California. A system rooted in land ownership (at least for the wealthy). I am particularly interested in how the United States foreigners swept in, basically invaded, kidnapped many affluent Californios and stole property. I am interested in this because it is an aspect of robbery conducted on our peoples,  illustrating that Mexicans in California have had affluent backgrounds and vast land holdings and education in the past and that these facts have been in many ways stolen, coerced or taken by force by the structures of power at play. The Mexican-American minority within the United States empire project has been systematically and historically painted as less than, as greedy, lazy, dangerous, savage or promiscuous. I am of the belief that we must understand the truths rooted in our history to learn and champion our sense of identity and self-determination. I am very interested personally in the Californio identity. This is less from a historical-social context although that is important to understand. I am interested in “Californios” as distinctly Latina/o identity rooted here in this land, something different and apart in spirit from both the United States or Mexico. When I lived abroad I introduced myself as being from California rather than from the United States. The reactions I received from foreigners were much warmer when introduced as Californian then from the United States alone. Interestingly I also introduced myself as ethnically Mexican rather than American or White per se. Yet Mexican peoples from Mexico view me and have told me that I am clearly different from themselves. Soy “pocho”, my Spanish is spotty, beaten out of my family over generations. I’m also ethnically mixed and perhaps a bit ambiguous, I don’t talk or walk the way they do, try to define me within a square space at your own peril,  something different- something new. Rooted in the geography of my conception and birth is a crossroads of identity, class struggle and power dynamics. I am too white to ever truly belong in the eyes of Mexico but I am just white enough in many eyes to “pass” in this country, but not always. I say to hell with passing as White in the United States. I am proud to identify as “Latino”, as being of mixed race, as being from this red earth. I do not strive to be American and yet here I am born into it, with inherited privileges and access tied to this status, I do not strive to be from Mexico either, a country which I know and love dearly, but troubled by certain forms of violence and corruption I can not reconcile. No, I choose a different path, a path of this earth I call “home” where both my grandmothers were born. I am Californio.

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