In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I share an excerpt from my newest novel, Kit’s Mine, the story of how a native Californio dealt with the changing times of 1870 California. Rarely understood is the role of the Spanish culture in California beyond the numerous Catholic Missions dotting the coastal regions. However, Miquel Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a centuries-long bestseller, stands the test of time:
Kit sighed. “I want a chance—just a single chance—to work for myself and succeed by doing my best. I have to own my property, so a landlord or employer or the government cannot take it from me by force, or by edict, or by an awful law targeting me or my family.” She paused, searching for the precise words.
“There was a book Papa read every day for inspiration,” she continued. “There was one line it he loved, and I memorized it. ‘I was born free, and that I might live in freedom I chose the solitude of the fields.’”
“That’s from Don Quixote! How did your father know of a book written by a Spaniard?”
“I guess because Spanish missionaries educated him. I’m glad you know it in such detail, too.” Kit recalled her whispered response to Mama on her deathbed, her promise to resurrect Mama’s dream of a home, and the addition of her private quest.
“I crave true freedom and working among people I respect,” she said. “I thought the modern laws of California and America would protect me and give me that opportunity. Is that such a far-fetched possibility, or must I choose solitude, too?”
Her somber question drifted into the night.
“No matter the good intentions, the laws in this state don’t work,” he said. “They’ve created a lot of chaos and grabbing, with the strongest man winning.”
“And what happens to women?”
He interlinked her fingers with his. “Usually women win less than men. I’ve seen it work through marriage, though Mother’s experience was horrendous.”
Michael remembered the rest of the novel’s passage. ‘My taste is for freedom…’ Father had drilled Michael in detail on that fundamental reason behind Mexico’s declaration of independence from Spain, and lauded America’s Constitution as the noblest framework to ensure freedom for all its citizens. Undoubtedly, Father would be outraged at the poor treatment of the Spanish and Mexicans, as well as Chinese.
“Each of us comes from a unique background,” he said. “Our values conflict at times. It’s simply a matter of who’s writing the rules today. When my parents married, being a Californio was a matter of pride, combining the finest of Spanish and Mexican. After thousands of white people settled from the East, our heritage became a matter of shame. My parents didn’t change—the social norm did.”
Image courtesy of Project Gutenberg.