The Role of Women in the Transition from Spanish Colonial Rule to Mexican California

Spanish and Mexican California

Spanish conquest of present-day California was specifically active during the eighteenth century up to 1821. Spanish settlers built fortifications in order to protect themselves from indigenous people and the British. The Spanish traded with First People and gradually occupied their lands (Starr, 54). They brought diseases indigenous people could not resist due to the lack of immunity, so the population of Native Americans reduced at a high pace. Advanced technology was also instrumental in Spanish settlers’ dominance in the area. Spanish settlers, as well as the Spanish government, had to repel the attacks of the British forces, as well as indigenous people. The territory was seen as a major fortification against the attacks of other empires.

California’s transition from the Spanish to Mexican rule was rather swift and comparatively peaceful. The main reason for that was the limited population and quite insignificant resources found in the region at that time. For Mexico, the area was land rather than a fortification against enemies. Mexico won its independence during the Mexican War of Independence in 1821 (Starr, 54). Mexicans did not invest considerable funds to maintain the fortifications created previously, so they gradually deteriorated. The lands were mainly given to large landowners and smaller farmers. Immigrants from North America and different European countries came to California and engaged in farming and trade. The lack of political stability in Mexico prevented the region’s economic development. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Mexico lost its power over California, and the territory became a new state of the USA.

Women in California

The history of women of the West is characterized by historiographic approaches. Initially, females were almost completely excluded from historiography and occasionally mentioned by male historians (Castañeda, 14). In these stories, females were described in terms of Anglo-Saxon values where women had to be submissive and concentrated on their family and household tasks. Later, feminists managed to voice their concerns, and the role of females in the history of California, as well as the USA, became more visible. Female input in the development of settlements and the wars for independence (first from the Spanish and then from the Mexicans) received certain attention. The issues related to gender were mainly discussed, and the oppression White women faced was the focus of the research of that period.

However, those were the voices of White women, so Anglo-Saxon values prevailed. The experience of women of color and their contribution to the development of the region remained largely undiscovered. It was not until the 1990s when this topic earned some attention, and historians started exploring the matter. Those historians were women of color who wrote about Chicanos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans (Castañeda, 14). These researchers did not concentrate on gender inequity as they raised questions concerning class oppression as well. Race, gender, and class were the areas under consideration, and authors highlighted the wrongs of the society of the past and present. Modern research is characterized by certain diversity as all the aspects mentioned above are explored in detail, but there is still a lack of studies linked to race and class.

References

Castañeda, A. (1990). Gender, race, and culture: Spanish-Mexican women in the historiography of frontier California. Frontiers, XI(1), 8–20.

Starr, K. (2007). California: A history. Modern Library.

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