What my Junior High, High School, College, bank, liquor store, dentist, grocery store, DMV, dispensary, coffee shop and Taco Bell look like.
The fantasy that transformed California and made me a real mouse in Disneyland
The lad returned for a Fin de siècle visit.
Ramona is next in line on speaking on my research done for my novel The Ramona Diary of SRD. And it’s fitting as her story comes after Joaquin and there would be no Zorro without her. My novel speaks to some of this information, history is the biggest spoiler, isn’t it?
Like Joaquin, Ramona isn’t real.
(Though a little bit real.)
Just another, perhaps the biggest, fictional character that transformed the state of California through fantasy. You could say my novel The Ramona Diary of SRD wanders through the spider web of this fantasy and tries to pull its cobwebs from its eyes. You might ask, what is a Ramona Diary? I’ll get to that.
Ramona is also the place I grew up, a little mountain town once called Nuevo near San Diego. At least it was the place I grew up the longest. Longer than LA and El Monte, in California and in Texas, Dallas, Plano, Garland and Richardson. But mostly Ramona is where I grew from a child to a teenager. Ramona put who I was in my face all the time and made me question it.
Whai lahdee with the fever. Gracias a Wikipedia
Before this gets too much like my novel written over, Ramona, a story was written by Helen Hunt Jackson in 1884. She was a proto suffragette. While dealing with some trauma of loss of her family, she was inspired by the presentation of a native leader making his case for native rights. She was a yankee…she heard about the Temecula displacement and convinced a publisher to send her way out west and make a report on the situation there. (Gringos got all the grants and fellowships then, too). She went to California and spent two months there. It’s good she sought to advocate for native people. At that point the gringo nation was still seeking vengeance for Custer’s defeat (you know where he lost a battle where he was going to remove/kill people for defending their sacred hills from gringo gold miners...sounds familiar, doesn’t it). The thing is that Helen didn’t care to learn much of native people. The Temecula nation wouldn’t talk to her nor other people around.
She stayed at Californio ranches. 1880 was when the last of the legislation, murder, partitions etc. were happening, so Californios had a lot to bitch about. We still had bits of our ranches still and kept up with the parties. It must have been the first time Helen saw a Mexican. She loved the dancing and maybe got some deep loving (who knows on that last part). She wrote her report which gringa second wave feminists love to use as an example of proto-suffragettes, while ignoring the importance of native issues. Her report, A Century of Dishonor came out 1881 to the masses to really get the point that Indians in California are people and are deserving of pity.
Except she knew nothing about them. She wore that owl hat, symbol of death, and didn’t care they didn’t like it. Likewise the Anglo nation didn’t care about what she found out about the status of California Mission Indians.
Helen wanted to energize the people to her cause! She wrote a Romance novel with a purpose. And Helen believed the left over mixed bloods from the previous colonial power in California when they said they were Spanish. (The gringo invasion laid an identity crisis on an identity crisis). She wrote of simple peasants and Catholic lords who danced the day away and lived in homoerotic friendship with strong Indians eager to prove their worth. And a tragic mestiza (not me) cursed by her native blood she named Ramona. Then Helen shoehorns the Temecula displacement into it. A big tribute book to white paternalism, white guilt, which at the time in 1884 was preferable to Gatling guns, beheadings, and robbery.
She might have heard of a native lady whose husband got murdered. Ramona Lubo. Maybe. Helen stayed at many Californio ranches, making a circle around my family’s ranch. She might not have met my family, but her book certainly affected us, our portrayals and how our dead bodies get treated. My great great grandfather refused for his photo to be taken, but he was a Spanish Don! Like in Ramona! When he died, he lost his choice. Take that dead beaner’s photo! Even today our dead bodies sometimes get picked up by the paper saying our ancestors had huge ranches, indulging in some strange fallen house nostalgia.
Dutiful Catholic girl porn for back in the day. She both clutches her chest and shows her faith!!! HOT.
Ramona, the book, a proto American Dirt with no one around respected enough to decry it, caught on. People didn’t give a damn about suffering red men. But Spaniards? Peasants dancing in gaudy outfits as Catholics do? Lemme read! Romanticism with a big R infantilizes the other. This tourist view provides those pale enough to bear the white man’s burden post manifest destiny to connect with MAGIC.
Magic being the idle, childish rural life rapidly disappearing in the face of inevitable industrialism and white superiority. Plus California is far, yo, the end of the empire. It’s like Hobbiton or some shit out there.
Helen died soon after, super-duper dismayed her book didn’t help Indians. Forget those fucking spics, she screamed from her death bed to no avail. The noble savage needs you now! She died. Ramona didn’t.
Shit. Got. Crazy.
How could some trashy romance novel make things get crazy, Scott, really? We know you wrote a book about this, but come on, mi amigo. Someone Anglo Saxon better back up whatever you are about to say. If you were Californio and struggling around the 1880s, you’d be sitting at home thinking I don’t want to go to no barrio, but they are taking my ranch, they stole more than half already. My sister already married a gringo and my wife ran off with one. Pinche kids speak English but they can’t read what the court sent--…a gringo then runs in screetching, “Eeeeeeeeeeeee!”
“Ramona lived here!”
“De que, guero?”
Gringo sits down on the chair bouncing.
“She done sat here!”
Mr. Californio hears noise in the bedroom. “Oye, que es la…”
Little teenage yanqui junior is pulling himself off on the bed.
“Ramony used to sleep here, oh, oh Ramony!!!”
There’s a crash from the kitchen.
“No mas!” he sighs. But there is mas. There’s ma even. She’s putting all this poor guys dishes in a sack.
“I’ll have Ramona's plate and one for sissy and one for ma too!”
A surreal scene for a Chicano just barely able to make it economically and mentally. But there’s more.
Once they settled down, the gringos had a question: “What ya got ta eat?”
Californios were supposed to be hospitable, even to rude and insane gringos. The book said so!
Then another question: “Okay, thanks for the grub, mi amigo. Where do we sleep?”
They would come all across the continent, no food, no hotel, and bust in a stranger’s house and demand they take care of them. Often in the out of the way places where ranches tend to be. Sometimes it would be a horde of gringos, rushing in and grabbing what trinket they could, and rushing out.
Check it out if you don’t believe me.
Local gringos got a little angry. I mean they took everything from Californios, but there still culture left to exploit out of those beaners! And everyone wants to cash in on a dumb tourist, better the local gringos than the overpawed and robbed Californio ranchers with packs of yanquis who overstayed their welcome.
Ramona got swallowed up by the tourism industry. Ramona kissed here! Ramona used the bathroom there! Never mind she never existed…
Except there was Ramona Lubo, the broke native woman with a similar story. Like with Joaquin, they were many Ramonas. They propped up this one or that as the real Ramona, but it was a letdown to yanquis ready to toss cash around. Ramona Lubo was an overworked and destitute woman getting on in years and not a mixed-race super babe of the imagination that sucked those tourists into the state. If I'm not being clear, exotic sexism is all a part of conquest and tourism. The local gringos had “Spanish times" fair where they had a younger native model to titillate imaginations. Oh, more on the Spanish times. If you see anything to do with “Spanish California” realize it’s probably more akin to a “Medieval Times” restaurant’s relation to the Middle Ages than with anything historically Spanish.
California indeed was colonized by Spanish backed colonists. Those from the lowest orders of Sonoran society and those from Mexico City, too. In colonial terms, they were indios, mestizos, and afromestizos. The few Spaniards were the priests a few mission guards and the governor appointed from Mexico City. Soldiers were often criminals from Mexico City, and most Californios hid from them at night as well as from attacks, rebellions from native nations that outnumbered them.
Most of the crap my native “neophyte” Mexicanized Native Californian ancestor built returned to crap. They were amazed by the new tech and building and had no idea how to build it, nor did the priests who ordered them. California had very few skilled workers like blacksmiths and bricklayers and governors writing Mexico for a “better quality of colonists and soldiers" was a constant.
Ramona Lubo, one of the many native women propped up as a Ramona that someone else got rich off of. Wikipedia.
Gringos and Ramona came and most of the missions and places mentioned in the book were fallen to rubble and sometimes had a few very poor and scared native people living in them. Gringos shooed them away or to death and decided to make California match the fantasy depicted in Ramona.
Almost ALL of the missions, presidios, and OG ranch houses are rebuilt by gringos looking to worship or cash in on the Ramona fantasy, if they articulate that or not.
The glamour! The nobility! The ruins of the walls of Mission Santa Margarita, California, ca.1906 Wikipedia!
And many more things were built rather than rebuilt. San Diego lost out for the world fair to San Francisco, but had a Spanish Times fair where they had plenty of natives on display, Ramona Lubo and her sexy sexy stand in as well. They built those Spanishy buildings in Balboa park with the hollow columns.
This kind of architecture you’ll see everywhere in California. It’s called Spanish Mission Revival style. Like I’ve been saying, it caught on. Spanish tile. Faux adobe walls. Arches. Fake and for tourists. Ramona transformed the state.
Big nosed film making asshole. Wikipedia.
There is a divorce or disconnect between this built Californio fantasy and the local Mexican Americans and even the Californios who are still around and kicking. It’s more like a Disneyland castle than something standing and functioning in England. In other words, it’s for white people, everyone else just happens to be standing in it.
In New Mexico, sometimes there is that connect, often native and/or hispano artisans and culture gets preserved by and for the same people…and for tourists. Don’t get me wrong, there is deep problems with tourism and the tourist view in NM, but in California, gringos have made Californios their hobby in a large and erasing way that surpasses the retirees with headdresses and dream catchers choking on xmas chili sauce in the land of enchantment.
Speaking of tourists, they didn’t just carry the Ramona novel as a bible and guide to the Spanishy land of Fantasy California, looking for pinche Hogwarts ranch. Not to say there were not many and divers strange ass guide books. More than those guide books, one was expected to record the trip in a diary for touristy elucidation, the Hero's Journey into a Magical Realm: A Ramona diary.
Look it up.
These Ramona diaries were done even into the 1950s when people learned about the beach and forgot everything else about California. I talked to a few old southerners and yankee gringos who wrote Ramona Diaries. They were awkward about it, I mean they were in the same room as a brown guy, who could blame them? Plus I knew a few more things about it than they did, which upended the natural order.
Things like a Ramona movie was the first Hollywood movie.
They didn’t believe me.
Old California was the first Hollywood film made. The guy who did one of the most American and hence, made one of the most racist movies ever, The Birth of a Nation, also did the first Ramona movie. It’s mostly gone, but there’s 15 minutes of film still viewable. If you like people flinging themselves on each other in a garden, get to it.
I spoof the movies a bit in my novel. They are singing and dancing simple and passionate ethnic people movies. Ramona later becomes a character in some TV shows. My grandmother’s cousin was a B movie actress who at some point has a character mention in a movie about how huge her family’s rancho was. I mention in my story Mexican American Psycho is in Your Dreams about seeing her in film clips in a Morrissey concern screen in London. It tripped me out.
Babes dancing was the plot for this and other Ramona movies.
Despite Ramona, invasion, genocide, colonization, and docents who believe Californios went the way of the dodo, we are still here. There are organizations, family getogethers, some preservations societies to save a wall, a family home, etc. We often aren’t considered real Mexicans from those who rocket from Mexico into the Mexican American experience and think they are Mexie Polo, nor are we often seen as natives despite our intermixing from meso and local native people. I’ll leave American, it’s another colonial term, to the others to say if they feel included or excluded from that, it gets complicated for me as I’m half gringo and for another reason:
If someone like me with California Native and Meso American ties, “Spanish” colonial and English colonial roots isn’t American than who is? What is this nation’s project, as they say? And how can it change? The Ramona Diary of SRD is my answer.
If the corona virus proves too much for Vics and ginger ale, I’ll leave my answer in a nutshell here for the aliens:
Tune in next week, frontier cadets, for my musings upon both Zorro and the character nicknamed Zorro in my novel. The guy I based Zorro upon was a strange dude who made the boy scouts and helped natives sell tourist crap and was a creepy creepy fan of Ramona. Reality is stranger than fiction. Biggest reason I had to make things up was to seem at least partially believable.
Thomas Armstrong, published in the Sacramento Union Steamer Edition on April 22, 1853.
A very bored Quasi-Vato
Thoughts on Joaquin Murrieta, his history and having carried him in life and fiction
My novel is finished and looking to make a landing in the world. I have thoughts on finishing, writing, the emotional cost of looking at the social waves that flushed up and made me, and the publishing world and how that world is for a cis hetro man of color, especially one of mixed Euro and Native descent.
But that’s for later.
Much of the research into the history of the southwest and how it is received, how it is meant to be viewed and how one is meant to view oneself in relations to it, I found to be tawdry and incredible, that is, hardly to be believed. Manifest Destiny, the Black Legend, the erasure, the White Man’s burden of Romanticism all meet greed and the tourist’s slack jawed pointing when it comes to history. So I mixed "recorded farce" of the conqueror, voice of the conquered, and ridiculousness and low pop culture to better view the material in proper terms. That is, I made up a lot.
But I did research and much of what I researched and the questions that had for what is real, how it relates to identity and morality made it into the novel.
I’m going to share the background on some characters pretty central to what I wrote. Ramona (of course) the fictional woman created by a white woman who studied native and "Spanish" California for two months before writing a story to advocate for us (robbing the breath from our mouths and creating a fantasy around us). This is a trend still active today, I had to turn down reading someone’s “Ramona 2: The White Girl in a Headdress." I place myself as a mixed breed, a coconut, I do not understand why others think it’s okay to continue the practice of robbing Native people’s stories and attempt to define them. Not to mention the recent book that shall not be mention, Americano Dirto.
Then there is Zorro, whom everyone claims to be based on one of seven dudes. He’s a gringo geek in my book, a kind of expression of my own gringo geeky fanboy self and distance from my subverted cultures. And an expression on how outsiders control the narrative, how from how they feel a dearth in their own society, they infantilize and make a collector’s hobby of others. I’ll go into how Zorro’s government name, his daylight name, secret identity, was perhaps based upon my ancestor.
And finally Joaquin, bless his zombie soul. I studied him quite a bit and traveled with him all these years. The metaphor for my Xicanoness, our zombified and embattled and tattered history and identity. Our trickster inheritance. In the book, I carry his head until..well read it. Joaquin has been one of the biggest folk heroes for Chicanos and perhaps not the best fitting one. It is fitting, however I start with him as one of the first bits I wrote were on Joaquin (Check out a chapter over at Label Me Latina/o HERE).
Joaquin is fiction.
Chu still here, vata/o/xs?
So a guy named Joaquin did exist during the Gold Rush (Genocide Rush really) and soon after became a bandit. In fact, a bunch of Mexicans named Joaquin were running around California robbing and killing. One thing you gotta know about Joaquin.
They don’t know shit about him.
Well, they do, but no one listens.
If you don’t know, Texas Rangers were war criminals against Native people and in the Mexican American War. LA was the murder capital of the US in the 1850s. Because of the many bandits robbing people of their gold, their food, their money, their blood and life, some judge decided to invite some Texas Rangers, namely a guy named Harry Love, to bring justice to the land, that is, to gringos. Because we must remember during this time you could kill a native person and get five whole dollars for their head. You could also enslave, I mean hire a native person (many en masse declared their Mexicanness so they could try to confuse the laws) since they were jailed for vagrancy after being forcibly removed from their villages and homes. As Americans killed, robbed Native people and Californios for their land, they killed and robbed all Mexican Americans and Latina/o/xs (a problematic word, but I'll leave it) for their gold mining operations and claims. Justice for the American Californian government meant going after those Latina/o/x and desperate, the desperados, who had nothing left to lose enough to join in the robbing and killing.
Joaquin Murrieta was one of these guys. There were wanted posters, but no one really differentiated him from the other guys. I’m pretty sure he was random Mexican Joaquin they said to get. Or just a Joaquin they caught.
They made a big reward for catching Joaquin. The very next thing you know, the Texas Ranger shows up with his head in a jar of whiskey and the hand of his buddy in another jar of whiskey. The infamous (for a short time, out of a lot of infamous dudes) dude was dead! Did I mention the judge was friends with the Texas Ranger?
Did I mention a white man could kill who he wanted? That no Black, Native, nor Mexican could testify against him in court? And though these Mexican American gangstas weren't revolutionary, the Americans were definitely an occupying force and they enforced their new power and law (calling it law misleads as it seems as if it were just; remember the law allowed you to hunt human beings who's only crime was living someplace someone white wanted).
The story of Joaquin has a lot to do with a self hating half breed. Not me. A reporter. A half white, half Cherokee named John Rollin Ridge or Yellow Bird who was meant to be the boy done good lawyer for the Cherokee Nation (you know the Cherokees, the one everyone thinks their grandmother was and thus makes them more native than I am). Instead, he was involved in vengeance murders in the Cherokee Civil War. He fled west like many people and landed in the biggest city in California in the Genocide Rush, a city teeming with gringos of every stripe and sellouts of many creeds: San Francisco.
And Yellow Bird swallowed the cold in the summer San Francisco Kool-aid. He thought all these people needed a unifying story, you know a story in this "new" city plastered over a town occupied since 1776 over a land occupied for thousands of years. He thought of Robin Hood. He thought of the story of Joaquin and his death. He created Joaquin Murrieta in a book called The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit .
But before that, Joaquin was a real dude and I’ll tell a bit what’s known.
He wasn’t Californio as people say, but a Sonoran. Sonorans were the first in the Gold Rush to show up, they didn't come far as Sonora is close and they knew how to mine. They became targets for angry gringos who did not know how to mine and didn’t like seeing a brown man doing well.
No one knows why Joaquin became a bandit.
His girlfriend had a look at his head in the jar as many people did (more on that later) and said it wasn’t him. Drawings of Joaquin’s wanted poster (really based off the book) make him seem native or mixed blood. Drawings of the head in the jar look like a mixed blooded Mexican, but this can be deceiving. The dude was dead.
His nephew became a bandit, Procopio. Fair skinned red haired dude who used his uncle's fame and rode with the better choice for a folk hero, Tiburcio Vasquez (who almost sneaked into my book).
(A Spanishy looking dude. Heck I don’t look like all my uncles though. I used to help my Uncle Billybob in Texas with his house inspecting and all the realtors would look at me and ask, does he speak English? My uncle would say that is my nephew, Scott. The look on their face was sure, right, boy toy or Mexican slave or both).
Many northern Mexicans are of more Spanish descent (not the frontier like CA, Tejas, or NM). It could be Joaquin was a light skinned vato, not a stereotypical mestizo or Native flavor. It might not be him in that jar, the Ranger probably just killed someone random for the money.
Some think Joaquin returned to Sonora and lived his life, but no one knows. They have festivals for him in CA and he is the town saint of his hometown in Sonora. They praise him as a Chilean (gringos fucked up Chileans good just like they did Sonorans). Chileans got a hold of the book and liked it enough to inspire Pablo Neruda to write a play on Joaquin called Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquín Murieta.
Back to SF.
The half breed Yellow Bird was a reporter and later the first editor in chief for the Sacramento paper. From reading The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta, it’s pretty clear the dude had PTSD from killing his papi’s killers. He was not writing for Chileans, Sonorans, Californios, Native Americans on the run from beheaders, or Mexicans. He was writing for gringos. And he was mad at his fellow Cherokee. Native people don’t come out too well in his book, the first Native American novel, and he even indulged in the names Anglos used for the "lesser" natives here out west “dirt grubbers.” He wrote a story about a man out for vengeance against gringos for the rape and murder of his wife and…I can hear y’all. “Whoah there bro, I know you are a super woke snowflake, but it sounds to me like he was advocating against all the bad things going on, I know best, I’m full blooded.” Nope, you don't person with brother-sister parents!
Know the story of King Arthur? The story of Jesus? Both stories of suppressed people rising against a populace who ultimately take the story for themselves. Arthur was Welsh, as English as a non English, English battling thing striding the land (gracias a la Víbora Negra). Jesus was from a Jewish community the Romans did wrong to and oppressed. Similarly with Mexican Americans and the story of Joaquin in his book. That is, no one gave a damn and came to the story like the stories before for the action and the blood. If the people are submitted and you have robbed everything, the land, the tacos, the places names, you can even rob their stories of resistance, an ultimate display of power. So it caught on. And so there it was, the story of Joaquin, nothing but fiction but the name, the fact he was a bandit and he was of Mexican descent and in California. Quick, what did Joaquin real or fictional say in opposition of the US occupation? What did he say about the injustices of the Gold Rush? Yup, not really a real dude or real resistance minded man. Not woke, bruh.
Back to the head. The head went on tour. See the celebrated bandit, two bits! It went on display in a fair in San Francisco, becoming a trophy of the defeat of Mexican California, and some kind of proof that the book on Joaquin that started it all was real. "The Mexican Robin Hood!" Who knows what poor guy got pickled and displayed for decades for Anglos on dates to be grossed out before finding dark corners or for children to run up to and touch before running away.
There is a Joaquin PBS documentary by some New Yorker who investigated the white guy up in Northern California who claimed to have bought the head, which was saved from the rubble of the San Francisco earthquake. The documentary ain’t out yet (I met the documentarian, he did a good one called The Longoria Affair about a civil rights fight to allow vets to be buried in white cemeteries). It’s spurious, but not unheard of that someone took the head from the rubble, though many accounts said it was destroyed with everything else. Remember there were many people of Native descent beheaded at this time and this may be a case for a stand in for the stand in for Joaquin's head.
Years after the destroyed sideshow and the book, Joaquin shows up now and then to be a villain in a TV show or western novel. They say his story inspired Zorro, which would be fiction derived from fiction, but whatever, they say many dudes were the basis. Often fiction comes from slivers of this and that and bam presto.
Then we get to the Chicano Movement. Did you remember Joaquin was a real dude (and a not real dude)? The real dude had a family.
A family who was proud he had such a big story. Somehow this fictional story based on one buckwildin’ little known gangsta got confounded with history, especially since the story which started it was got written and published way back in the 1850s in the far off city of San Francisco. Some relatives of Joaquin told people in the movement of Joaquin. Remember, Mexican Americans don’t get much visibility in fiction, media, movies, government, school, CEOs, etc.
"Hey I know that vato! That’s that old book they based Zorro off!!"
And so we all became Joaquin with the poem “Yo Soy Joaquin.”
And I carry his zombie head in a jar as he whispers the mysteries of who I am and what I was born into.
Tune in next time for some discussion on my thoughts on Zorro and Ramona, both built off the Romantic tourist dream of Spanish California. Cabo before Cabo, a place of ease and magic you can drive to, remember to bring your sunscreen and leave the damn kids!
The editors at Solstice Magazine selected my non-fiction piece “Mexican American Psycho is in Your Dreams” as first place. Thanks to the judge Alex Marzano-Lesnevich and to the editors, especially Richard Hoffman for his kind words. (In case any of you have forgotten the movie, check the clip).
I mention Richard Ramirez, Night Stalker in the essay. My cousin Vicki recently reminded me she and a friend actually saw the Night Stalker the day before he got captured (or rather, a group of gente beat his ass as he tried to get away on a bus after being recognized again). I remember either my mother or aunt speaking with my grandmother talking about Vicki. Was my cousin hit by a car or something? Was she dying? Should I have been nicer? No, Vicki saw the killer. What killer? The killer, the Night Stalker. She’s upset, don’t ask her about it, cabron. Why not? He’s escary.
I was 9 years old so I might have asked why not a few more times. Of course I asked Vicki and don’t remember what exactly what she said. I pestered her a bit (I was her little cousin after all). That summer, and especially when she was telling me what he looked like, I expected a guy carrying a machete to ooze over the fence and be ready to hack us up like Jason from Friday the 13th. Do you think he knows where you live? I don’t know. I tried to remember when me and my sister were heading back to Texas. Maybe if Vicki stayed with us, she’d be okay. Or would the Night Stalker would run all the way there to find her? What if the Night Stalker did come around? Would my grandfather with muscles from welding have beat him up and locked him up in a shed? Would anyone call the cops? I could imagine the neighborhood coming around poking him with sharp sticks or wanting light the shed on fire with him in it. Or would we tie him up for a one way trip to the desert, the repository for forgetfulness, the underworld and recreation area for the minds of many Angelinos? Would an entire train of cars follow out to see a monster suffer some fairy tale justice (making us all a bit monstrous ourselves)? Monsters make the imagination go. We could have easily been one of the ones and I’m glad we slipped away, were missed, looked over, survived. Check out the Solstice issue and subscribe: Summer 2019
and as long as your listening, check out Somos en escrito Literary Magazine. We had recently updated our site and it looks great. The editor is Armando Rendon, author of Chicano Manifesto and Noldoand his Magic Scooter, a dual langue YA series. Jenny Irizary, a poet, novelist and friend is the assistant editor. We are building up some aspects so subscribe and stay tuned. www.somosenescrito.com