This article presents an overlooked chapter in San Gabriel’s history as it examines the Mexican experience in the historic mission city during the early twentieth century. In the 1910s, enterprising Anglo-American commercial and civic leaders romanticized the city’s Spanish heritage, especially in the area around old Mission San Gabriel, hoping to draw tourists to the newly incorporated city. Simultaneously, the arrival of Mexican immigrants to San Gabriel sparked concern among local leaders who, ironically, viewed the growing Mexican population as a threat to the city’s Spanish fantasy heritage. This article reveals how San Gabriel’s Mexican community harnessed civic leaders’ merchandizing of the city’s history, subverting the Spanish fantasy narrative to celebrate their Mexican history and presence in a city seemingly determined to deny both. It uses Spanish-language accounts, church records, and contemporary local histories to reveal a Mexican community asserting pride in its culture and history. In the process, it illustrates the interplay between San Gabriel’s Mexican community and the Roman Catholic parish at Mission San Gabriel, and the ways in which Mexican radicalism and grassroots mutualistas (mutual-aid societies) shaped the colonia (Mexican neighborhood).
In the Shadow of the Spanish Fantasy Heritage: The Mexican Experience in a Historic Southern California City, 1910s–1930s
JOHN J. MACIAS is an assistant professor of history at Cerritos College, in Norwalk, California. He earned his doctorate in history at Claremont Graduate University. He has previously presented at conferences of the American Catholic Historical Association and the Western History Association, on topics pertaining to the history of Mission San Gabriel as well as relationships between the Mexican community and the Catholic Church in the Los Angeles region during the early twentieth century. His first article, “In the Name of Spanish Colonization: Formulating Race and Identity in a Southern California Mission, 1769–1803,” appeared in the summer 2021 edition of the Southern California Quarterly. He is currently working on a book manuscript that explores the evolution of Mission Indian and Mexican identities in the Los Angeles region, utilizing the history of San Gabriel as a case study from the mission period to the early twentieth century.
John J. Macias; In the Shadow of the Spanish Fantasy Heritage: The Mexican Experience in a Historic Southern California City, 1910s–1930s. California History 1 May 2023; 100 (2): 31–61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2023.100.2.31
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