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 Dallas, Plano, Garland and Richardson in Texas. 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, mis amigos, exotic sexism is all a part of conquest and tourism. This lead to the local gringos holding a “Spanish times" fair with 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 ancestors 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.