In this era of high property values and the chase of the traditional American Dream of home ownership, it is always good to check our premises, and the veracity of our school textbooks.
California’s rapid path to statehood in the mid-19th century came at the expense of many of the original settlers here. Spanish and Mexican “Californios” migrated north when this land was neither your land, nor my land—but rather their land. The Spanish crown granted huge tracts to favored families, who joined with the Catholic missionaries to develop California’s promise.
When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, it encouraged additional northern exploration and migration, especially since Spain understandably withdrew its support of the missions and their surrounding communities. The more moderate weather and vast ranch land proved bountiful for those who chose to stay, and the search for a new supply of quicksilver and gold attracted geologists and speculators.
The Mexican-American War, 1846-1848, ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 just nine days after the famous gold find in Sutter’s Mill, California. The 19th century Gold Rush began, and soon California’s original settlers lost their ancestral lands to a new wave of immigrants through unfair laws, drawn-out trials, and even armed seizures. Rebellions rose and were soon squelched, including a famous one in San Jose not far from my home.
I explore the questionable process for determining property rights of these Californios and other non-white immigrants in Kit’s Mine: A Daring California Novel. The male protagonist, born Miguel de Los Rios, changes his name to Michael Rivers to adapt to the new era of being part of the United States of America. Like Kit, a Chinese-American young woman, Michael confronts prejudice and legal barriers in his quest to claim his family’s property as his own. Together, they doggedly pursue justice, and form the beginning of the true melting pot of today’s California.
Thanks to the Calisphere Project, you can search out photos and new facts about California’s colorful and tumultuous history.