Term Paper: Carey Mcwilliams Southern California an Island on the Land

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Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land

Southern California, Southern California: An Island on the Land

Carey McWilliams' title of his history of Southern California, Southern California: An Island on the Land, suggests that Southern California encapsulates a unique culture, as distinct from the rest of the United States, almost like an island nation. Although tied to the land, the colorful constellation of cultures, political personalities, and economic speculation that influenced the region caused it stand apart from the rest of the nation. McWilliams attempts to explain some of the extraordinary developments that occurred during the region's history, even before it became a state. However, rather than an affectionate tale, or a tale of adventure, or even a tale of history, McWilliams' work has a clear ideological thesis, namely that this golden state of great wealth was built by exploiting individuals who never enjoyed its riches, and were often unjustly denied the name or rights of Americans.

McWilliams concentrates on the period from the 1920s through the 1940s, when his book was written. However, he gives ample discussion of the exploitative origins of California, reminding the reader that California, although Caucasians may associate the territory with freedom, was a land ultimately founded upon eradicating the land's native inhabitants and culture. He calls the early missionary efforts of the Spanish conquistadors cultural genocide in unsparing terms. Later history was to eradicate the terrible cultural destruction and population decimation caused by the efforts to create Christian communities in the Carolinas, as the Franciscans called the Indians "poor, foolish, gentle, and lovable" dehumanizing them and forcing them to labor for a pittance, in exchange for the supposed benefits of having their souls 'saved' (22). The Indians provided the labor for mission enterprises, clearing the ground, building the structures themselves, and making the canals that would prove so critical in later efforts to transport goods across the region but their sacrifice went unremunerated and unrewarded (25).

From the exploitation of the Indians McWilliams moves on to discuss the exploitation of the Mexicans inhabits of Southern California. "I? A Mexican? I am Californo! said I" (49). The idea of a Californian was once a fused Anglo-Hispanic personality, but no more, now that American citizenship held sway over a state-centric identity. The war of cultures, of Anglo and Spanish was rewritten during the 19th century, but while the conquistador's faith and culture reigned supreme over the Indians, now the Anglos triumphed over the Mexican's influence in the region. This rivalry was sharpened by the conquest of Mexico by America, and cultural resentment grew, intensified by the class tensions between upper class and lower class Mexicans themselves, or "native Californians" from Mexicans who would later be derogatorily called wetbacks (53).

Crimes of violence between the Anglos and Mexicans had been unknown prior to the Mexican War, but Mexicans became increasingly disaffected, the result of political and economic discrimination (59). Crime began to rise, but even more pervasive than crime was the myth of the Mexican bandit, preying upon hapless gringos. McWilliams makes it clear that far more than actual violence, fear of violence in the Anglo community created the divide between white and brown peoples. As late as 1883, a tourist to the region sniffed that "the Spanish language is heard on all sides," yet in actual demographics the number of "swarthy faces" and broad-brimmed hats grew less numerous (67). Christian missionaries returned, and California became fully politically integrated into the nation, although still something of an American curiosity. By the eve of the first real estate boom in California, one of many economic fevers to hit the land, from the Gold Rush to the boom of the twenties, Mexicans and Mexican culture had been reduced to a picaresque element rather than a real, cultural force (69). Not until 1944 was Spanish taught as… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Carey Mcwilliams Southern California an Island on the Land.  (2007, May 21).  Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/carey-mcwilliams-southern-california/93211

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"Carey Mcwilliams Southern California an Island on the Land."  21 May 2007.  Web.  7 December 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/carey-mcwilliams-southern-california/93211>.

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"Carey Mcwilliams Southern California an Island on the Land."  Essaytown.com.  May 21, 2007.  Accessed December 7, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/carey-mcwilliams-southern-california/93211.