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Book Chapter

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Arte Público Press


The transformation of Alta California was as sudden as it was unexpected. From a population of less than 15,000 gente de razón [literally, people with the capacity to reason, meaning people born into Christianity; that is, any non-Indian people] in the mid-1840s, it contained over 100,000 inhabitants in 1850 and almost a quarter of a million two years later. Swarming over the landscape, hostile to the system of land ownership and use that had developed over the previous half century, the newcomers, imbued with their longstanding belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority, went where they willed and took what they wanted.

The Californios [any Mexican raised, or later, born and raised in California] adopted various strategies to meet this invasion. Some participated in the institutions set up by the conquerors, sitting in the 1849 Constitutional Convention and in the early state legislatures. Others prepared to defend themselves through North American courts and land commissions. Others withdrew from public life and public view, in the hope that they would be left alone. Others left and returned to Mexico.

This paper tells the story of another strategy, one man's attempt to preserve a world through the creation of history and autobiography. On April 4, 1851, in the city of Santa Clara, Antonio María Osio, who had been a bureaucratic functionary and officeholder in Mexican California for two decades, presented Father José María Suárez del Real with a densely written one hundred and ten page manuscript. In a cover letter, Osio told Suarez del Real that what the priest had asked him to do, "write the history of California," was beyond his ability. But he had decided, Osio said, to write a letter, a "relación" of events since 1815 and especially of "what I have known and seen since 1825."

Chapter of

Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, Vol. II


Erlinda Gonzales-Berry
Chuck Tatum

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History Commons



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