For the Record: Contesting and Recuperating Historical Narratives of Identity and Place

Endorsed by SHGAPE and the Western History Association

Thursday, March 30, 2023, 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Ethnicity; Gender and Sexuality; Public History and Memory


Built upon Manifest Destiny’s patriarchal, White Supremacist ideals, the retellings of the American Southwest’s nineteenth and twentieth centuries dominant histories (re)impose and perpetuate the colonialist discourses that define place, space, and identity. These dominant narratives and the subsequent collective historical memory they produce serve as the official colonial record that marginalized the identities and attempted to quiet the voices of the people living in these contested spaces. By excavating masculinist, racialized, and patriarchal histories of place Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez illustrates women’s role in creating space and identity in eastern Arizona. Erika Pérez interrogates the role racialized sexuality played in the sensationalist narratives of violence against Mexican American women and children in California. Engaging the legacies of colonialist discourses Daisy Ocampo centers Indigenous voices of former students of the Sherman Indian Boarding School in Riverside, California, as a way to decolonize settler-colonial historical narratives. Yvette Saavedra examines how a popular 1940s radio show about the California ranchos, utilized imperialist nostalgia as a means to bolster American masculinity during the crisis of World War II. Collectively, by examining nineteenth and twentieth century newspapers, radio shows, histories of place, and public history exhibits this panel disrupts the colonial record by reclaiming and centering the marginalized voices of Indigenous, Hispano, and Mexican American peoples in the California and Arizona borderlands. Together, these papers draw attention to how marginalized communities use their agency to tell their stories, for the record.

Papers Presented

“‘Almost a Slave’: Constructions of Ethnic and Gendered Victimhood and Cultures of Sensationalism in Nineteenth-Century California”

From the mid-to-late 19th century, newspaper chronicles of crime in California sensationalized the murders, assaults, and other acts of violence committed by or against adolescents and children from ethnic groups such as Mexican Americans in disturbing ways. While some victims were named in such accounts, other reports rendered ethnic women and girls as anonymous figures in violent crimes. By circulating accounts of adolescents and children and acts of trafficking or violence committed upon them, California newspapers created a culture of coercion and control, telling young women and girls that wherever they lived and worked, no place was safe for them. From carriage rides, to public streets, and even domestic spaces such as family homes, newspapers depicted certain ethnic groups as constantly vulnerable to attack, rendering bodies, especially female bodies of color, hyper-visible and anonymized simultaneously. California’s popular press mirrored other parts of the country, demonstrating a growing appetite for true crime and titillating stories about violence against women and children. But how did California differ from other regions? What role did the presence of Mormons, Catholics, and certain ethnic groups play in constructing an image of California as a modern state in line with national developments but also a unique region? While America’s fascination with true crime is not just a recent phenomenon, this paper aims to investigate California’s role in shaping the boundaries of sensationalism and taste at the turn-of-the-century.

Presented By
Erika Perez, University of Arizona

Recuperating Refugio: The Woman behind the Barth Legacy in Eastern Arizona

The town of St. John’s, Arizona was allegedly founded by Solomon Barth in 1873. He was an outsider, a Jewish pioneer who made his way to Arizona through his various ventures in the U.S. West after migrating from Prussia in the mid 1800s. Barth rose to political prominence during his lifetime and developed fraught relationships with Mormon settlers whose arrival to eastern Arizona coincided with the Barth’s expansion of the mostly Hispano community. While many scholars and community historians have documented Barth’s contributions, albeit contentious, to the settlement of the U.S. Southwest, particularly the town of San Juan, or St. Johns, far less attention has been given to his wife, Refugio Landavazo y Sánchez. This presentation decenters the story of Solomon Barth and, instead, privileges la mujer que manda. Refugio was born to a prominent Hispano family with ties to the sheepherding industry and whose economic status allowed for Solomon to inherit 4,000 head of sheep given to him by the Landavazo family as dowry. This marriage not only allowed for Barth’s economic success in Arizona, but also highly encouraged him to protect the interests of Hispano settlers. Refugio’s identity as a Catholic Hispana from New Mexico, for example, was key to understanding the motivations behind Barth’s anti-Mormon sentiments. Refugio’s story is an important narrative to uncover, because it ultimately demonstrates the power that Hispana women wielded in the politics of eastern Arizona and reveals the ways in which women were able to influence decision-making processes through unofficial means.

Presented By
Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, Arizona State University

Truth Telling in the creation of the virtual exhibit “Brave Hearts”

The virtual museum, “Brave Hearts: A Virtual History of Sherman Indian Boarding School,” features the history of Sherman Indian Boarding School, the students who attended, and its legacy in Native communities as well as the larger Inland Empire. “Brave Hearts” is a yearlong collaborative partnership between students of Cal State San Bernardino’s Public History Program, the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, Calif., and Sherman community members. The community partner is Sherman Indian Museum which was established to document and disseminate the history of the Perris Indian School (1892-1902), Sherman Institute (1902-1970), and Sherman Indian High School (1970-present). Drawing from Amy Lonetree’s work in Decolonizing Museums, this project approached this virtual museum as a site for decolonization, truth telling and service. Engaging topics such as gender, racialized labor, violence, death, and activism, highlighted the complex histories associated with generationally situated family memories. These nuanced memories of the school revealed a difficult grapple between fond memories of placemaking at Sherman and the reality of its assimilationist infrastructure. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which will investigate this period of the 19th and 20th century. Sherman Indian Cemetery, located near the school, is included as a site for investigation. This presentation outlines the pedagogical frameworks which birthed this exhibition, the precarious decision making of the exhibit designers, contemporary climate of accountability and the role this museum plays in shifting historical narratives in history classes throughout California.

Presented By
Daisy Ocampo, CSU San Bernardino

Romancing the Rancho: Imperialist Nostalgia, Masculinity, and Historical Narratives

During 1941 and 1942, California’s Title Insurance and Trust Company sponsored a weekly program tracing the ownership of Los Angeles’ ranchos throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Adapted from a 1929 pamphlet of the same name, the Romance of the Ranchos radio program sought to transport its listeners to California’s “colorful'' “bygone days of the Mexican Dons.” Dramatized for effect and imperialist nostalgic entertainment, the narration’s depictions of Mexicans played into a variety of Manifest Destiny’s racialized and gendered ideals and protocols justifying the region’s conquest. This paper examines how the Romance of the Ranchos show’s imperialist nostalgia privileged masculinist narratives of military and socio-cultural conquest to delimit a hegemonic American masculinity that defined American men as economic and cultural saviors, while representing Californio men as romantic and noble “ghosts of the past'' who valiantly fought a losing battle against American colonization’s juggernauts of modernity and progress.

Presented By
Yvette J. Saavedra, University of Oregon

Session Participants

Chair and Presenter: Daisy Ocampo, CSU San Bernardino
Daisy Ocampo (Caxcan, Indigenous Nation of Zacatecas, Mexico) is an Assistant Professor of History at CSU San Bernardino. She is part of the Native American Initiative on her campus and similtaenously works with her Caxcan community and local tribes in the region. Her research in Native and Public History informs her work with museum exhibits, historical preservation projects, and community-based archives. Her research integrates critical race theory, decolonial praxis of tribal sovereignty, and community traditions to create a new direction of inclusivity in Public History that visibilizes Indigenous people, voices and community narratives. Her first book tentatively titled Where we Belong: A History of Indigenous Preservation Practices will be published in 2023 with the University of Arizona Press. This work offers an Indigenous comparative approach of two Public History projects within the field of historic preservation. This research juxtaposes two sets of relationships: the Chemehuevi people and their ties with Mamapukaib (Old Woman Mountains of the Eastern Mojave Desert), and the Caxcan people and their relationship with Tlachialoyantepec (Cerro de las Ventanas of southern Zacatecas). This work centers Indigenous Preservation Practices as contested spaces where Indigenous people assert themselves as caretakers of their sacred sites, visibilize the ways in which colonization severed their caretaking role and how both communities are reclaiming authority through Indigenous preservation practices.

Presenter: Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, Arizona State University
Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez is an Associate Professor of English and an Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Fonseca-Chávez's research focuses on the contentions and legacies of colonialism in the southwest United States and how Chicanx and Indigenous communities navigate and contest violence and power in literary and cultural production. Her book, Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture: Looking through the Kaleidoscope was published by the University of Arizona Press in 2020. Another important area of research for Fonseca-Chávez is understanding how rural communities in the southwest United States narrate a sense of belonging through economic migrations. She is currently working on a project funded by the Whiting Foundation that centers the stories of Hispano residents of eastern Arizona and how they understand and communicate their querencia - a word that invokes a desire (querer) to embody one's individual and communal heritage/inheritance (herencia). In 2020, she co-edited Querencia: Reflections on the New Mexico Homeland (University of New Mexico Press) with Levi Romero and Spencer R. Herrera.
At ASU, Fonseca-Chávez teaches courses on film in the American Southwest, Indigenous literature, Chicana/o literature, and American ethnic literature. She is a core faculty member of the M.A. in Narrative Studies program where she teaches courses on Conquest Narratives, Writing the Southwest, and Narrating the Archives. She also is an affiliate faculty member of the School of Transborder Studies, the School of International Letters and Cultures and the Department of English at ASU Tempe. Fonseca-Chávez co-directs the Following the Manito Trail project, which looks at the Hispanic New Mexican, or Manito, diaspora from the mid 19th century to the present.

Presenter: Erika Perez, University of Arizona
Erika Pérez is an associate professor of history at the University of Arizona and affiliate faculty in Gender and Women’s Studies, Latin American Studies, Mexican American Studies, and the Institute for LGBT Studies. Her most recent publications include: “The Dalton-Zamoranos: Intimacy, Intermarriage, and Conquest in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” Pacific Historical Review (2020) and her first monograph Colonial Intimacies: Interethnic Kinship, Sexuality, and Marriage in Southern California, 1869-1885 by the University of Oklahoma Press, 2018, which won the Armitage-Jameson Book Prize for the most outstanding monograph in western women’s, gender, and sexuality history from the Coalition for Western Women’s History. Her current project is a legal history of rape and incest cases, seduction and breach of marriage promises, age of consent debates, and vice and sexuality in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century California. She is an interim chair of the Western History Associations Committee on Assault Response and Educational Strategies, which drafted the WHA’s sexual harassment and Code of Conduct policy. She is also a member of the Western History Association’s Committee on Race in the American West, the Coalition for Western Women’s History LGBTQIA+/Two Spirit caucus, and is now on the OAH’s Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American Historians and ALANA Histories.

Presenter: Yvette J. Saavedra, University of Oregon
Yvette J. Saavedra is an Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Oregon. Her first book entitled Pasadena Before the Roses: Race, Identity, and Land Use in Southern California, 1771-1890 was published with the University of Arizona Press was published in 2018. She has published on topics ranging from Chicana/o History, LGBTQ History, and Borderlands History. Her current research includes a book length study examining gender, and sexuality within Mexican nationalism and concepts of political and social citizenship in early 19th century California. Her article, “Of Chicana Lesbian Terrorists and Lesberadas: Recuperating the Lesbian/Queer Roots of Chicana Feminism, 1970-2000” is forthcoming in Feminist Formations. Saavedra is a co-editor of BorderVisions, a new borderlands studies series with the University of Arizona Press. She is the 2019 Western History Association -Huntington Library Martin Ridge Fellowship, a 2021 Oregon Humanities Fellow, and recipient of a 2021 Research Grant from the Center for the Study of Women in Society.