Testimonios: Early California Through the Eyes of Women, 1815-1848.
Translated with introduction and commentary by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz (Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2007, 512 pp., illus., $27.50 cloth, $18.95 paper)
MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED years after a number of Spanish-speaking women recorded their histories, or testimonios, with Hubert Howe Bancroft and his staff do we have a published collection of their narratives. Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815-1848 provides the recollections of thirteen Spanish-Mexican women who witnessed one of the most tumultuous periods in California history. In their lifetimes, most of these women saw the governance of the territory change hands twice, from Spanish to Mexican and then from Mexican to federal rule as part of the United States. They also viewed dramatic transformations in economy, law, and culture and experienced firsthand the impact of these changes on their personal lives, their family relations, and their ability to survive and prosper. As these documents demonstrate, most women learned how to adapt to their changing circumstances, yet ultimately, as the editors make clear, their strategies could not fend off the implications of impoverishment and marginalization in an increasingly capitalist, Protestant, Euro-American-dominated society. Tragically, most women passed away in anonymity and as paupers.
These testimonios are available to us as a result of Hubert Howe Bancroft's interest in compiling a history of California. Bancroft and his staff were not particularly interested in using women as informants; they interviewed sixty-five men and only thirteen women, seeking out politically and economically influential individuals who could speak to the history of California under Spanish and Mexican rule. Although, like most historians, Bancroft privileged the written word, he and his staff recognized the value of oral tradition, particularly in a society where literacy was not well established and where few documents of historical interest survived. These reminiscences, then, provided an invaluable alternative source from which to gather historical insight, though much of it was based on what the male interviewers deemed significant, for they formulated the questions, controlled the conversations, and transcribed the women's words. Yet, as Rosaura Sanchez and other scholars have argued, these women did not simply recount "historical facts" as Bancroft wished to gather them but, rather, inserted themselves as significant agents in history. Eulalia Perez, for example, the famed llavera, or key-keeper, at Mission San Gabriel, inscribed herself in the mission's history as vital to the daily operations and, ultimately, the success of that colonizing institution. Her testimonio, while seemingly acquiescent to Bancroft's larger project, is resistant to the master/masculine narrative.
The diligence in collecting, translating, and publishing the testimonios is a testament to the efforts of the editors in assembling a treasure many people--scholars, students, and armchair historians--will appreciate. Historians of California's native, Chicana/o, and women's populations will find the testimonios informative and flesh in perspective, as well as practical for use in the classroom as primary sources. The editors also have provided a well-researched introduction framing the collection and mini-introductions to each narrative. Though only the English-language translations are presented, the editors indicate that the Bancroft Library will soon place the Spanish-language originals on the Web. As a student of nineteenth-century Mexican women's history in California, this reader was fascinated with the testimonios, as they pay tribute to the legacy of women and of the state's Spanish-speaking peoples.
REVIEWED BY MIROSLAVA CHAVEZ-GARCIA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF CHICANA/O STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS, AND AUTHOR OF NEGOTIATING CONQUEST: GENDER AND POWER IN CALIFORNIA, 1770S TO 1880S
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2007|
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