Hired Chilean laborers who ventured to California during the early years of the gold rush rarely appear in the historical record. However, notarized contracts signed in the cities of Valparaíso and Santiago between 1848 and 1852 illuminate how hired laborers, mostly illiterate peons, actively shaped companies and expeditions bound for California. By reading these for evidence of what the Latin Americanist Arnold Bauer has identified as a "system" of "give and take, choice and accommodation,"¹ we can better understand how even the most marginalized workers made the transnational spaces of the North American West and the Pacific world comprehensible within their own schemas and patterns. This paper proposes that hired laborers were central to the organization of Chileans' emigration patterns in the California gold rush; that their relations were far more complex than the "free" or "unfree" binary representations supposed; that they actively mapped the relations of production they expected to deploy in California's physical and social spaces; and that by turning to alternative archival sources, U.S.-based historians can better link the histories of the Pacific world to those of the North American West.
Research Article| October 01 2008
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Kelly J. Sisson; Bound for California: Chilean Contract Laborers and "Patrones" in the California Gold Rush, 1848-1852. Southern California Quarterly 1 October 2008; 90 (3): 259–305. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/41172431
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