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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

The Forgotten People of Spanish California   Crystal Pak


Virginia M. Bouvier is a graduate of Wellesley College and holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in Latin American studies. From 1982 to 1989, Bouvier served as senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America. Bouvier has also served as a consultant and research director for the Women¡¦s Leadership Conference of the Americas. She is currently a senior program officer in the Grants & Fellowships program.



Most history textbooks acknowledge the great efforts of the Spanish explorers, conquistadores, and friars in colonizing early America. However, despite their distinct marks in the Spanish missions, the explorers¡¦ travel logs, and the soldiers¡¦ diaries, women and their roles in Spanish California was largely ignored. As she toured the missions in Monterey, California, Virginia Bouvier was shocked to discover that while the tour guide could prattle on about the soldiers¡¦ and the priests¡¦ heroic achievements, he could only speculate about ¡§the Indian women at the missions¡Kor the Hispanic women whose pictures were on the wall.¡¨1 As a result, she began a grueling search to articulate a female presence on the early frontier and, after painstakingly tying together the bits and pieces of different accounts and reports, completed her journey with her book, Women and the Conquest of California, 1542-1840: Codes of Silence.

            Bouvier opens her books with the motivations behind California¡¦s conquest before describing the state¡¦s exploration in the next chapter. Bouvier claims California¡¦s story began with myths. Although multiple myths of immeasurable wealth and treasures motivated many explorers, it was the ¡§myth of the Amazons¡¨ that ¡§held a special place in Spanish culture.¡¨2 Supposedly a female utopia, the Amazon community fed the imaginations of Spanish monarchs, explorers, and writers and reinforced the Spaniards¡¦ fabricated superiority¡Xthis female community would willingly submit to the Europeans¡¦ ¡§correct¡¨ civilization. Thus, explorers sailed to California, their minds overflowing with fantasies about lands filled with docile, eager women. However, in chapter two, the explorers discovered a highly diverse indigenous population with attitudes and cultures diametric to those of the Hispanics. Father Antonio de la Ascension, one of the chroniclers of the Vizcaino expedition, especially noted the ¡§indigenous generosity with women.¡¨3 The Spaniards viewed this generosity as an offense to their moral codes of honor which demanded chivalrous treatment towards women. Therefore, in addition to acquiring untold riches, the Hispanics gained a moral reason to conquer California¡Xteaching the natives chivalry codes.

            Chapter three discusses an important part of Spanish conquest¡Xevangelization. Catholic Spain found it absolutely necessary to carry their religion into the New World. However, the religious necessity served as a façade for the political gains; ¡§military men and missionaries would join forces¡¨ to subjugate the Native Americans and the missions ¡§would be the Crown¡¦s primary instrument for this control.¡¨4 The preceding encomienda system¡Xa system of perpetual Indian labor and tribute¡Xproved to be too weak and too open to abuse to effectively control the indigenous people in Mexico and the West Indies. Therefore, in the new mission organization, the missionaries would focus on Christianizing the natives to secure their allegiance and Spanish access to their territory while the soldiers would reinforce the priests¡¦ efforts. However, tensions formed and deepened between the friars and the soldiers as the militiamen¡¦s frequent exploitation of the indigenous people was seen as a hindrance to the missionaries¡¦ conversion efforts. Chapter four describes the consequence of the tensions: a major colonization project that would ¡§send more Christianized Indian families north¡¨5 and would require ¡§troops [to] be married and with families.¡¨6 All the ruling frontier men believed that the presence of stable family units¡Xparticularly, Christianized women¡Xwould benefit the conquest. Not only would the Indian families mean more laborers, the women¡¦s presence would also ease the natives who found it strange and suspicious to see men without women. Also, the leaders hoped that a female presence would assuage the tensions between the friars and the soldiers by lessening the soldiers¡¦ exploitation of the Indians. Unfortunately, these colonization projects were shortlived for the harshness of the uncharted frontier sent the families back to the more established Baja California.

             In chapter five, Bouvier, finished with discussing the three phases of California¡¦s conquest, writes about the still-standing monuments of Spanish California: the missions. Everything about California¡¦s missions, all the way down to their architecture, signaled a new way of life for the Native Americans, ¡§[disrupting] indigenous survival patterns and [transforming] some aspects of gender roles.¡¨7 The missions embodied the Spanish culture that was forced upon the indigenous people, requiring that they give up all aspects of their former lifestyle from their diet to their spiritual beliefs. Therefore, the Native American men and women were coerced into taking on different societal roles¡Xthe men became laborers while the women became teachers or students¡Xto fit their new Hispanicized lifestyles. Chapter six analyzed the one aspect of indigenous culture that especially bothered the Spaniards: sexuality and marriage. Horrified by the Native Americans¡¦ openly loose sexual relations and marriages, the Spanish authorities considered ¡§the transformation of indigenous patterns of marriage and sexuality¡Kvital to the conquest of Alta California¡Kand to the success of the missions.¡¨8 Believing in their moral superiority, the Spanish friars were appalled when the indigenous people did not practice their Catholic codes of sexual modesty and restraint and sought to ¡§correct¡¨ the natives. Not only did the indigenous behavior reinforce their dominance, the missionaries also gained yet another reason¡Xthe need to teach the correct morals to the natives¡Xto justify their conquest and receive continued support from the Spanish Crown.

Chapter seven describes a side of the conquest story that is exempt from most standardized textbooks¡Xthe resistance of the Indians. By studying different missionary and soldier logs, Bouvier discloses that many Native Americans did resist the missionization. Although there have been recorded instances of armed revolts, runaways, and open challenges to the priests¡¦ authority, most Indians understood that such bold actions would bring serious consequences. Instead, many natives resisted ¡§more often¡Kin much subtler forms, particularly within the realm of culture.¡¨9 They chose an easier form of resistance by doggedly holding on to their own spiritual beliefs, their language, and some of their daily habits and attitudes. In this way, the natives could resist without raising suspicion. Despite such records cultural resistance, the Franciscans ¡§frequently recoded indigenous activities in ways that would reflect positively on the mission enterprise.¡¨10 Dependent on the support of the Spanish Crown, the missionaries needed to display the success of the mission system. Recording indigenous resistance would show the Crown the failure of the mission project and would jeopardize the missionaries¡¦ efforts to convert and reteach the natives. Also, because the Franciscans believed in Spanish superiority, they were inclined to blame the natives, not the missionization, for such resistance against the system. Chapter eight consists of a brief recap of her purpose and the presentation of her final thoughts on women and their roles in Spanish California. She produces new citations that support her assertion of the need to study the women¡¦s experiences to complete history. Bouvier also admits that several things limited her research and her study, particularly the codes of silence which produced a partial record.

In her book, Bouvier explores the ways gender ideologies shaped and were transformed by Spanish conquest. She asserts that gender notions were powerful factors in California¡¦s conquest, holding together the colonization project and shaping both the Native Americans¡¦ and the Spaniards¡¦ behaviors. Bouvier places a great emphasis on women¡¦s roles in Spanish California¡¦s formation. Seeking to go beyond merely acknowledging women presences, Bouvier analyzes ¡§the meaning of their presence and the ways in which gender and race ideologies might have affected their experiences and the relationship between the cultures.¡¨11 She places a study of male-female roles and relations, marriage, family, and sexuality in the context of early myths and California¡¦s conquest. She establishes credibility for her thesis through her constant quotations from different narratives by priests, explorers, soldiers, and some women of Spanish California. Her thesis reveals the importance of considering gender ideologies in any evaluation of the relations in some historic period.

As an assistant professor of Latin American literature and culture at the University of Maryland and a senior associate at the Washington Office of Latin America, Bouvier was familiar with the Spanish culture for it heavily affected Latin America. Bouvier was also a feminist as a consultant and research director for Women¡¦s Leadership Conference of the Americas. Her two areas of conviction came together in the Monterey missions, where her study began as a series of questions: ¡§What was it like to be a woman living and working on the California frontier? How did race, religion, age, and ethnicity shape these experiences? Was the experience of women at the missions different from that of the men?¡¨12 To answer these questions, Bouvier analyzes gender perceptions¡¦ roles in California¡¦s exploration, evangelization, and colonization, especially focusing on early California women¡¦s forgotten and unmentioned experiences. She reveals missionization¡¦s darker side through many codes of silence¡Xrules that suppressed both the women¡¦s voice and the missions¡¦ failures. Her biases, which favor women, allow her to strongly present the hidden story that articulates the female voice on the California frontier.

Robert M. Senkewiez, a professor of history at Santa Clara University, offers a critical review of Bouvier¡¦s book. He acknowledges her thesis¡¦s credibility and proceeds to applaud her achievements with the book. Senkewiez writes that Bouvier looked at history ¡§from the point of view of where the women were, who they were, and what they were doing.¡¨13 He refers to Bouvier¡¦s detail about the women¡¦s general conditions on the California frontier. Drawing from personal narratives, Bouvier presents facts about the Native Americans¡¦ daily lives before their conquest and during their time in missions such as clothing and diet before and after the missionization. Besides showing women¡¦s importance in California¡¦s history, Bouvier, according to Senkewiez, suggests ways in which women¡¦s inclusion in historical recordings ¡§can affect that shape the structure of the narratives themselves.¡¨14 In the book, several personal narratives show that women could drastically change situations. Senkewiez chooses to mention Eulalia Callis, who wrote that women could join the power struggle between the soldiers and the priests. Because of Bouvier¡¦s skillful portrayal of both the Hispanics¡¦ and the Native Americans¡¦ experiences, Senkewiez believes he has found a book that is an important contribution to California¡¦s history.

Linda Pitelka, a member of the Department of History in the Maryville University of St. Louis, also provides a critical review of Bouvier¡¦s book. Like Senkewiez, Pitelka finds the book satisfying and commends Bouvier¡¦s achievements. She writes that the book ¡§underscores the complexities of race, ethnicity, and gender relations¡¨15 on the California frontier. Therefore, Bouvier achieved her intended purpose: analyzing the ways gender ideologies shaped Spanish California¡¦s development. Pitelka also mentions ¡§the most intriguing theme of [the] book¡KBouvier¡¦s depiction of multiple ¡¥codes of silence.¡¦¡¨16 Bouvier argues that the codes of silence were responsible for obscuring women¡¦s portrayal in early California¡¦s history. Therefore, throughout the novels, she reveals several codes of silence, such as the usually omitted information about female punishment at the missions and indigenous resistance. Pitelka commends Bouvier for going beyond the mere documentation of women¡¦s presence and illustrating ¡§the centrality of women and gender ideologies to and understanding of the history of the region.¡¨17 Instead of simply acknowledging the women¡¦s presence in early California, Bouvier analyzes server personal narratives to glean facts about the females¡¦ roles and the societal factor that shaped their behavior. Then, she applies these facts to the context of California¡¦s conquest and shows how important women were to the early frontier. According to Pitelka, ¡§this book may help scholars to think differently about the analysis of sources.¡¨18 Bouvier¡¦s findings about the codes of silence reveal a biased and fragmentary past and an obscured historical record. Her book serves to add new knowledge to history while raising significant questions for future exploration.

In general, Bouvier writes a very insightful book. Spanish California¡¦s women are not commonly discussed for most children learn about the brave explorers, missionaries, and soldiers who formed a European civilization in the New World. However, Bouvier opens another point of view by focusing on ¡§how women¡¦s presence shaped conquest¡¨ and ¡§how conflicting gender ideologies provided a justification for conquest.¡¨19 She brings light to history¡¦s hidden corners and reveal the past¡¦s darker side. Her analysis allows people to learn about the different groups that made up the Spanish conquest, especially the forgotten ones such as women and the Native Americans. She also reveals several codes of silence that portray a pessimistic view of the missions and its leaders and that have been obscuring the historical records for years. However, Bouvier relies too strongly on quotations. Although these quotations greatly help the thesis, almost every sentence is broken by an excerpt, interrupting the flow of words. Despite this flaw, Bouvier¡¦s book provides useful knowledge about California¡¦s conquest.

 As the mother country, Spain played an important role in California¡¦s conquest. Despite the great distance between California and Spain, ¡§supreme authority rested with the [Spanish] Crown.¡¨20 All explorers and missionaries were sponsored by the Spanish royalty. Therefore, these men were subject to the demands of the Crown on how to conquer and control California. Also, the myths and the stories that formed in Spain formed the social beliefs that would determine the Spaniards¡¦ behaviors towards the indigenous people. California¡¦s ¡§fictional representation as pagan¡Kfemale¡Kand easily subdued¡¨ reinforced the conquerors¡¦ imagined superiority. 21 Early stories about California molded the Spanish people into strongly believing in their own superiority. This led to a motivation for conquest¡Xsince the Spanish were the superior race, it was their job to teach the natives. This belief also provided the context for the Hispanicization that occurred in the missions. Proclaiming the ¡§absolute superiority of Spanish Catholic civilization,¡¨ the Franciscans argued in favor of ¡§imposing Hispanic Catholic values¡¨ on the indigenous population.22 Biased against the indigenous culture, the Franciscans sought to covert the Native Americans to both Christianity and the Spanish culture. In their eyes, the indigenous culture, so different from the Hispanic culture, was wrong and needed to be eliminated. During the Spanish conquest, California reflected the events and the beliefs of Spain.

Spain amassed a vast territory in the Americas during its golden years, but compared to the Mexico territories and even Baja California, Alta California was slightly unique. Because of its location, California¡¦s ¡§relatively late discovery¡Kensured that the Spanish conquest¡Kwould follow a different path.¡¨23 By the time explorers reached California, the encomienda system had proven to be a failure. The system¡¦s abusive nature and the encomienda leaders¡¦ growing power caused the Crown to abolish the system, ensuring that California would be settled differently than the rest of New Spain. Also, Alta California, with its diverse groups of indigenous populations, was ¡§purported to be the most densely settled land in all of northern New Spain.¡¨24 In Alta California, the Spanish had to subjugate a much more diverse population that anywhere else in the Americas. Therefore, the missionaries and the soldiers had to face harder obstacles for many barriers such as language and culture had to be broken. Also, unlike Baja California¡¦s Jesuit missions, Alta California¡¦s Franciscan missions ¡§were founded at a time of relative decline of church influence [over] the state.¡¨25 Therefore, the Franciscan missions¡¦ organization was distinct from the Jesuit missions¡¦. Unlike Jesuit missions¡¦ head priest, the Franciscan missions¡¦ leading friar did not control all aspects of the missions. Therefore, the hierarchy in the Franciscan missions led to tensions between the Spanish soldiers and the missionaries for each groups¡¦ power status was not clearly defined. In many ways, Alta California developed much differently from the previous Spanish colonies. 

Through many sources, Bouvier connects a suppressed history¡¦s fragments to present California missionization¡¦s hidden side. However, her book is not just about Spanish California¡¦s women. Rather, Bouvier uses the women¡¦s experiences to portray how the different gender ideologies that shaped and influenced California¡¦s conquest and the individual people. However, Bouvier admits that her study is ¡§far from¡Kdefinitive¡¨ for it is ¡§limited by the partial nature of data about women, by multiple codes of silence about female experiences, sexuality, ceremonies, and the use of force, and by the tremendous diversity of the indigenous groups in Alta California.¡¨26

1. Bouvier, Virginia M. Introduction. Introduction. By Bouvier. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2004. viv.

2. Bouvier, Virginia M. Women and the Conquest of California, 1542-1840: Codes of Silence. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2004. 5.

3. Bouvier, Virginia M. 29.

4. Bouvier, Virginia M. 34.

5. Bouvier, Virginia M. 55.

6. Bouvier, Virginia M. 58

7. Bouvier, Viginia M. 105.

8. Bouvier, Virginia M. 107.

9. Bouvier, Virginia M. 149.

10. Bouvier, Virginia M. 168.

11. Bouvier, Virginia M. Introduction. Introduction. By Bouvier. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2004. xiv.

12. Bouvier, Virginia M. Introduction. Introduction. By Bouvier. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2004. viv.

13. Senkewiez, Robert M. ¡§Women and the Conquest of California, 1542-1840: Codes of Silence.¡¨ California Mission Studies Association 13 August 2003. 31 May 2008. <http://www.ca-missions.org/bouvier.html>.

14. Senkewiez, Robert M.

15. Pitelka, Linda. ¡§Review of Virginia M. Bouvier, Women and the Conquest of California, 1542-1840: Codes of Silence.¡¨ H-Women, H-Net Reviews October 2002. 31 May 2008 <http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=157061035832352>.

16. Pitelka, Linda.

17. Pitelka, Linda.

18. Pitelka, Linda.

19. Bouvier, Virginia M. 174.

20. Bouvier, Virginia M. 35.

21. Bouvier, Virginia M. 5.

22. Bouvier, Virginia M. 108.

23. Bouvier, Virginia M. 4.

24. Bouvier, Virginia M. 19.

25. Bouvier, Virginia M. 35.

26. Bouvier, Virginia M. 174.