Mixed-Bloods, Mestizas, and Pintos: Race, Gender, and Claims to Whiteness in Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona and María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s Who Would Have Thought It?

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2011-08-25 23:26Z by Steven

Mixed-Bloods, Mestizas, and Pintos: Race, Gender, and Claims to Whiteness in Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona and María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s Who Would Have Thought It?

Western American Literature
Volume 36, Number 3 (Fall 2001)
pages 212-231

Margaret D. Jacobs, Professor of History & Director, Women’s and Gender Studies
University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Since the 1980s, a growing number of scholars in widely different fields have discredited race as a self-evident category of human social relations. Alongside the work of scientists who have found no genetic or biological basis for racial categorization, critical race theorists have looked to changes in legal definitions of race and citizenship to conclude that race is socially and culturally constructed. Historians have contributed to the field by analyzing the history of Whiteness and the so-called White race. Many groups considered “White” today were once deemed non-White; it was only through renouncing common cause with other stigmatized “races” that certain Americans such as Irish and Jewish immigrants were able to attain White status and privilege. Of course, “choosing” to become White has not been an option for some Americans whose skin color is not light enough to allow them to pass for White. But as George Fredcrickson argues, it is not from color alone that race is constructed. He asserts that “theessential element [in notions of race and racism] is that belief, however justified or rationalized, in the critical importance of differing lines of descent and the use of that belief to establish or validate social inequality”.

The social construction of race played out in myriad spaces: in brightly lit courtrooms and dark bedrooms, in factories and fields, in movie theaters and swimming pools, in classrooms and offices, in fast-moving trains and plodding city buses. The realm of literature as well became a space in which various American sought to envision and enforce their notions of race. The literature of the American West offers a particularly rich bounty of competing constructions of race. Until recently it has been all too common in the fields of both western American literature and western history to study Anglo-Americans’ views of the West and its peoples. A growing number of scholars, however, have challenged the ethnocentrism and cultural hegemony of this approach.

Significantly, though, we are not the first to engage in such a critique of Anglo-Americans’ portrayals of the West. Even as Easterners flooded bookstores and literary journals with their accounts of the West in the nineteenth century, an elite and well-educated Californians, Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, penned her own challenge to such representations. In 1872, countering Anglo notions that Californians were a “half barbaric” race who were unfit to govern themselves, to hold property, or to occupy professional positions, Ruiz de Burton published Who Would Have Thought It?, a political satire dressed up as a romance novel. Although written twelve years before one of the most famous Anglo novels about nineteenth-century California, Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona, Ruiz de Burton’s novel nevertheless reads like a sharp retort and a satire of Jackson’s view of California and the West…

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