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Three Decades of Engendering History

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Three Decades of Engendering History collects ten of Antonia I. Castañeda's best articles, including the widely circulated article "Engendering the History of Alta California, 1769-1848," in which Castañeda took a direct and honest look at sex and gender relations in colonial California, exposing stories of violence against women as well as stories of survival and resistance. Other articles included are the prize-winning "Women of Color and the Rewriting of Western History," and two recent articles, "Lullabies y Canciones de Cuna" and "La Despedida." The latter two represent Castañeda’s most recent work excavating, mapping, and bringing forth the long and strong post-WWII history of Tejanas. Finally, the volume includes three interviews with Antonia Castañeda that contribute the important narrative of her lived experience—the "theory in the flesh" and politics of necessity that fueled her commitment to transformative scholarship that highlights gender and Chicanas as a legitimate line of inquiry.

"Castañeda's work is important theoretical work on gender/race/sexuality especially in the Spanish colonial era in California."—Cynthia Orozco, author of No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed

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1. The Political Economy of Nineteenth-Century Stereotypes of Californianas

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Chapter 1

Recent scholarship in Chicano and women’s history has challenged the limited, stereotypic images of Mexicanos and women prevalent in the contemporary and historical literature of nineteenth-century California and the American west.1 In studying North American imperial expansion, Chicano and other scholars have concluded that pejorative, racist stereotypes of Mexicanos, in particular, were an integral part of an ideology that helped justify the Mexican-American War as well as subsequent repression in the conquered territory. One scholar persuasively argues that the notion of Manifest Destiny, which a priori assumed the inferiority of Mexicanos, was “the product of a campaign of ideological manipulation.”2

In addition, studies in women’s history, which tend to focus on the changing material reality and developing ideology of the United States, conclude that the constrictive, stereotypic molds into which women have been cast in the literature are sex- and class-based. The literature of the period was generally written by middle class, Anglo males who interpreted women’s experiences from their own gender and class perspective of women’s proper roles. In this way, these authors created sexist and unidimensional portrayals of women. Recent work has shown that even in the literature of the American West—where greater sexual equality allegedly existed—women are stereotyped into four sexually defined roles: gentle tamers, sun-bonneted helpmates, hell-raisers and bad women.3

 

2. Malinche, Calafia y Toypurina

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Chapter 2

“Péinate que pareces India.”

(Comb your hair, don’t be looking like an Indian.)

“Arreglate, que te toman por India.”

(Fix yourself up, lest you be mistaken for an Indian girl.)

Do this, that, or the other to your appearance to avoid being perceived as Indian—familiar, familial admonitions for Mexicana/Chicana (meaning mestiza), women and girls on the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Borderlands. Unspoken, but understood, in exhortations to mestizas to erase all cultural, and wherever possible, “racial,” traces of Indigenous ancestry, is the underlying equation of Indian womanhood with devalued sexuality.1

This equation, as historians, feminist theorists, and other scholars have shown, is rooted in the gendering of the “New World” as female, in the sexualizing and eroticizing of its exploration and conquest, and in the erasing of its subjugated indigenous populations.2 This equation is equally grounded in the gendered, sexualized, racialized, cultural, and economic violence of colonial domination. It is fixed in the history of Indian-woman-hating that Gloria Anzaldúa, Norma Alarcón, Deena González, and Inés Hernández-Avila theorize.3 It is premised in the multi-layered strategies of Mestizas’ survival, and in the practice of everyday life under conditions in which the Indian in us, always subject to attack, is to be denied, erased, extirpated.

 

Plática I

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Plática I

When the hop harvest was over, we’d lived seven months there, the boys had gotten sick, I’d gotten pneumonia and had to go to the doctor. Well—with the fright we’d had on the road, we didn’t feel like returning [to Texas] and we decided to stay in Washington. The work ended in Brownstown and we came to Toppenish. Then we went to live at the Golding hop farm—this was made up of rows of shacks—without doors and all falling apart—there was only a wall between the next unit where another person lived. The houses weren’t insulated—they didn’t have floors, and we worked in the hop. They paid us women $.75 per hour and $.85 for the men.1

Irene Castañeda, “Personal Chronicle of Crystal City.”2

Out in the empty fields near Crystal City and in front of recording devices, Castañeda recreated movements that as a young woman she repeatedly performed while picking potatoes. Dr. Castañeda’s anachronistic “danza del jale,” her rhythmically graceful though punishing movements, represented a sense of dignity and accomplishment of the body as well as a sense of sensuality and sexuality—the miracle of a gendered social, cultural and political resistance.

 

3. Women of Color and the Rewriting of Western History

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Chapter 3

Historians have long struggled with the need to rewrite western history and to articulate a new, inclusive synthesis that fully incorporates the history of women of color.1 In her concluding remarks at the Women’s West Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1983, Suzan Shown Harjo (identifying herself culturally as Cheyenne and Creek and politically as Cheyenne and Arapaho) charged that women of the West

are still possessed of inaccurate information about who we are collectively, who we are individually, and who we have been. We view each other through layers of racial, ethnic, and class biases, perpetuated by the white, male ruling institutions, such as the educational system that teaches in the early years and controls later research in the history of women in the West.2

This critique of the reigning historiography has changed little since then or since Joan Jensen and Darlis Miller first called for a multicultural, or intercultural, approach in their essay, “The Gentle Tamers Revisited: New Approaches to the History of Women in the American West.”3 A decade of “multicultural” historiography has still not come to terms with the historical, theoretical, political, and ideological issues raised by Harjo at Sun Valley.

 

4. Gender, Race, and Culture

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Chapter 4

Historians, whether writing for a popular or a scholarly audience, reflect contemporary ideology with respect to sex, race, and culture. Until the mid-1970s, when significant revisionist work in social, women’s, and Chicano history began to appear, the writing of California history reflected an ideology that ascribed racial and cultural inferiority to Mexicans and sexual inferiority to women.1 Not only do ideas about women form an integral part of the ideological universe of all societies, but the position of women in society is one measure by which civilizations have historically been judged.2 Accordingly, California historians applied Anglo, middle-class norms of women’s proper behavior to Mexican women’s comportment and judged them according to their own perceptions of Mexican culture and of women’s positions within that culture.

This essay pays a good deal of attention to the popular histories of frontier California because of the inordinate influence they have had on the more scholarly studies. In particular, the factual errors and stereotypes in the work of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Theodore H. Hittell, and Zoeth Skinner Eldredge have been propagated not only by other nineteenth- and twentieth-century popularizers but also by scholars—in the few instances where they include women at all. Although historians of the Teutonic, frontier hypothesis, and Spanish borderlands schools barely mention women, an implicit gender ideology influences their discussions of race, national character, and culture. The more recent literature in social, women’s, and Chicano history breaks sharply with the earlier ideology and corollary interpretations with respect to race and culture or gender and culture, but it has yet to construct an integrative interpretation that incorporates sexgender, race, and culture.

 

Part Three

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Part Three

Engendering the history of Alta California, moving gender and the body to the center of historical inquiry, challenges us to rethink our conceptual, empirical, analytic and interpretive categories. It challenges us to question and reevaluate extant sources and our own assumptions as we approach them, and further summons us to expand the sources we use to study nonwritten text and other constructs of history.

“Engendering History”

“Sexual Violence in the Politics and Policies of Conquest: Amerindian Women and the Spanish Conquest of Alta California” (1993)

“Engendering the History of Alta California, 1769-1848: Gender, Sexuality and the Family” (1997)

Answering her own call, as well as that of other Chicana historians, to shift the frames and categories in which we study history, in both “Sexual Violence in the Politics and Policies of Conquest,” and “Engendering the History of Alta California,” Castañeda moves the body, sex and gender to the center of historical analysis. Thus, in the following essays, sexual violence and the patriarchal family structure women’s lives, evoke resistance, and frame the world in which they live.

 

5. Sexual Violence in the Politics and Policies of Conquest

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Chapter 5

In the morning, six or seven soldiers would set out together . . . and go to the distant rancherias [villages] even many leagues away. When both men and women at the sight of them would take off running . . . the soldiers, adept as they are at lassoing cows and mules, would lasso Indian women—who then became prey to their unbridled lust. Several Indian men who tried to defend the women were shot to death.

Junipero Serra, 1773

In words reminiscent of sixteenth-century chroniclers Bernal Díaz del Castillo and Bartolomé de las Casas, the father president of the California missions, Junipero Serra, described the depredations of the soldiers against Indian women in his reports and letters to Viceroy Antonio María Bucareli and the father guardian of the College of San Fernando, Rafael Verger. Sexual assaults against native women began shortly after the founding of the presidio and mission at Monterey in June 1770, wrote Serra, and continued throughout the length of California. The founding of each new mission and presidio brought new reports of sexual violence.

 

6. Engendering the History of Alta California, 1769–1848

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Chapter 6

The frontier is a liminal zone . . . its subjects, interstitial beings. . . . For more than two centuries the North was a society organized for warfare.

Ana María Alonso1

From 1769, when the first entrada (incursion) of soldiers and priests arrived in California to extend Spanish colonial hegemony to the farthest reaches of the northern frontier, women and girls were the target of sexual violence and brutal attacks. In the San Gabriel region, for example, soldiers on horseback swooped into villages, chased, lassoed, raped, beat, and sometimes killed women.2 As had occurred in successive incursions into new territory since the fifteenth century, sexual aggression against native women was among the first recorded acts of Spanish colonial domination in Alta California. This political violence effected on the bodies of women made colonial California a land of endemic warfare.

 

Plática III

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Plática III

Antonia, in taking what was happening in those conferences, in those venues, and then not losing sight of the fact that people are people and that the layers of misunderstanding were human misunderstandings—that the interactions were human interactions and that no person deserved to be silenced or misconstrued or put down or hurt, but the purpose was really bigger than any of us—that’s what she really has taught me. She taught me this in those years, and then in subsequent years.Because it’s not as if Antonia only did that in 1990. She’s doing that in 2011 as well.

Deena González1

Antonia’s been instrumental in being supportive academically, emotionally, psychically. Just knowing she’s there. You know? In the world. With her strength. With her courage. With her warriorship. With her psychic self. With her emotional self. With her beauty. That long black hair I remember still…. and those leather boots. And she’s a lovely woman inside and out.

 

7. “Que Se Pudieran Defender (So You Could Defend Yourselves)”

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Chapter 7

Chicana lives, inscribed on roadways and waterways, link people, rivers, communities, valleys, and regions in histories embedded, since long before the sixteenth century, in northward migrations from Mesoamerican valleys to Inuit shores.1 Where and how do these lives, linked across time, space, and place, fit into regional histories that, at best, reinforce a fragmented understanding of a Chicana/o presence in the region as well as in US history? This fragmented understanding is rooted in a historiography that has excluded Chicanos, a population annexed to the United States by military conquest and international treaty in the mid-nineteenth century, from the conceptualization of both region and nation.

The power of place is in its ordering, and the ordering of space entails the operation of gender, race, and class. In this context, how does a history that recognizes the presence and continuity of Chicanas in these landscapes long before the nineteenth-century annexation reorder the regional and national space that has rendered their historical experience invisible?2 The presence and migrations of Chicanas challenge current constructs of regional history and speak to larger epistemological, methodological, analytical, and interpretive questions and categories in the construction of US history. How do we conceptualize, tell, and write the story of the United States and its regions? Who tells the story and how? Who is authorized to tell the story? Whose story gets told? Who controls the ordering of time, space, and place?

 

8. Language and Other Lethal Weapons

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Chapter 8

Age 7: El Doctor1

“Dile que no puedo respirar—que se me atora el aire. Dile…” How do I say “atora”? (Tell him that I can’t breathe that the air gets stuck. Tell him …)

“Tell your mother that she has to stop and place this hose in her mouth and press this pump or else she will suffocate.”

“Qué dice? Qué dice?” (What is he saying? What is he saying?)

He is sitting behind this big desk, and my mother was sitting beside me and holding on to my hand very tightly.

I... what does suffocate mean? How do I translate this? I don’t have the words.

“Qué dice? Qué dice?” (What is he saying? What is he saying?)

“I... uh... Dice que... uh ... Dice que si no haces lo que te dice te mueres.”

(He says... He says... He says that if you don’t do what he says you will die.)

“Dile que cuando me acuesto por la noche que no puedo resollar.” (Tell him that when I lay down at night, I can’t breathe.)

“Resollar,” what does that mean?

 

9. Lullabies y Canciones de Cuna

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Chapter 9

I am interested in lullabies because the concepts, words, ideas, and emotions conveyed in these earliest, most basic forms of communication we hear as children, and that our mothers may have sung while we are still in the womb, form the subsoil of our own sense of being and, from earliest childhood, communicate, among many other sentiments, a sense of place, of identity, of memory. Here I work with lullabies, or cradle songs in English, canciones de cuna and nanas as they are known in Spanish, as a source of memory and history.

“The world’s earliest archives or libraries were memories of women.”1 So observes noted film scholar Trinh T. Minh-ha. Memories, she continues, “patiently transmitted from mouth to ear, body to body, hand to hand. In the process of storytelling, speaking and listening refer to realities that do not involve the imagination alone. The speech is seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched. Every woman partakes in the chain of guardianship and transmission. Phrases like “I sucked it at my mother’s breast, I heard it from our mother, I learned it on my mother’s knee,” to express what has been passed down, are commonplace”2 and universal.

 

10. “La Despedida”

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Chapter 10

“Se murió Doña Chelo,” I heard my mother say when Doña Fina opened the door.

“Noooo. ¿Cómo? Ay, Virgen santísima. ¿Y la criatura. . .?”

“La salvaron.”

“¿Pero cómo, si todo iba bien? Todavía andaba trabajando en el jape. Le faltaba otra semana para aliviarse. ¿Qué pasó?

“No sé. Doña Lupe está furiosa. Que la pobre de Chelo estaba hecha garras con tanto embarazo. Lupe culpa a Don Juan—que no le tuvo compasión. Pos, ya sabes. . .hombres brutos.”

“¿Y el entierro?

“No sé. Están haciendo los arreglos. Vamos. Hay que ayudarle a Doña Lupe con preparar a Chelo para el velorio esta noche antes de que se la lleven a la funeraria. Tráete trapos limpios y alcohol si lo tienes. Ya les pedí sábanas a Zenaida y a Rosario. Diamantina mandó tres botellas de Agua Florida.”

That was not the first time I saw death, who was not an infrequent visitor to the camp. Don Macedonio keeled over in the hop yard; Beto, Martina’s brother, died from a ruptured appendix soon after they arrived from Texas; Juanita’s baby was stillborn. But it was the first time I saw the preparation of a body.

 

Conclusion to Three Decades of Engendering History

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Conclusion to Three Decades of Engendering History

At UC, Berkeley in the 1970s, fewer than 500 Chicanos and Chicanas, graduate and undergraduate, attended the university—a university whose reputation was both liberal and trendsetting. Often, underrepresented minorities were able to find one another because we were so few. In most graduate departments, we were the first Mexican-origin admitted; on the entire campus, there was one pre-tenured faculty member. Stanford University was not in any better shape, as Antonia Castañeda would recite to our gatherings; other campuses in northern California were just awakening to the strange disjuncture between the state’s honored Spanish-Mexican heritage and its failures to provide that ethnic group upward mobility through education. In the more Latino populated areas of southern California, and at UCLA where Emma Pérez received her undergraduate degree and enrolled in a graduate program, the gaps were also evident between our presence in academe and the demographic realities outside the university. As graduate students and undergraduates, we were forced to deal with this reality in whatever unstructured ways we could; organizing seemed a logical outcome.

 

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