Thursday, January 25, 2018

"Even the Word [Mexican] Works Quite Well as an Insult"

        Daniel Cano                    


    It is humiliating to listen each day to arguments about Latino immigration, legal or not, in the media. A few years ago, a so-called scholar published a book (heavy on anecdotes, light on research) on how Mexican immigrants haven't assimilated into U.S. society like other ethnic groups. Conservative media hail the work as a landmark study. The liberal media stay silent. Critical voices are resigned to NPR or small university presses, where most Americans will never hear them.

    The president tells the American public he can't trust a judge to render a fair verdict because the judge is Mexican-American. The president lashes out, calling Mexican migrants “murders” and “rapists,” though, he assumes, “some are good people.” Edward Said explored this demonization of a people in his essay, "The Palestinian Experience" when he wrote, "Even the word Arab works quite well as an insult," so too is the word Mexican slowly becoming an insult, dehumanizing an entire group of people.

    Unfortunately, our education system does not provide the context to tell the real story of the relationship between Mexico, Latin America, and the U.S., how, historically, U.S. corporations, like the United Fruit Company, multi-national petroleum corporations, U.S. banks, and covert U.S. political and military policies ravaged Mexico and Latin America, sending millions of migrants north to fill the vacant slots in the fields, on construction sites, factories, hotels, and restaurants, while employers, hypocritically, stay mum, as long as their employees show documentation, fake or otherwise. Administrators of the Tucson Unified School District feel teaching students the real stories of their past might create a generation of radicals. So, too often, working-class Americans fail to learn how they share more commonalities than differences.

    As a descendent of Mexicans, I sometimes think about my grandparents who came here in the early 1900s, often toiling under brutal working conditions, contributing to the development of the U.S. and the WWI war effort. I think of my parents’ generation, many who shed blood in Europe and the Pacific, for the right to call themselves Americans and honor their Mexican ancestors. We know that for each immigrant group, this transition takes one or two generations.


    It still surprises me to find how many Americans, including Latino children, haven’t learned, or retained the fact, that not all Mexicans were immigrants. In fact, at one-time, Anglo Americans were non-existent in Los Angeles and the Southwest. In 2001, I interviewed a number of Mexican men and women of my father’s generation. I wanted to hear the stories they remembered about their lives in the U.S. Forrest Marquez Freed (RIP) and his ancestors are perfect examples of the phrase “The border crossed us.”


    It was a cool, winter morning when Forrest blew in to the coffee shop as if pushed by a strong wind. A U.S. Army veteran,  UCLA graduate, and retired high school Spanish teacher, he was also a political activist (past LULAC president), and heir of the Westside Marquez and Reyes family traditions. He wore his trademark pale blue guayabera. His white, wavy hair glistened in the morning light and his eyes sparkled, a travieso, even in his old age.

    He was born in 1927, the son of Albertina Leonor Marquez, a descendent of both Francisco Marquez and Ysidro Reyes I, two early pobladores of Los Angeles, who founded Rancho Boca de Santa Monica early in the 1800s. Forrest’s father, Raymond Lloyd Freed, the son of Swedish immigrants, moved to Santa Monica in the 1920s, Forrest said, “When Wilshire Boulevard was a two-lane street with eucalyptus trees on both sides. So, you see,” he continued, “I know for sure I'm a fifth generation Santa Monican and possibly a seventh-generation Californian.”

     Working through his genealogy, Forrest said, "Micaela, Ysidro Reyes II’s daughter, married my great-grandfather Pascual Marquez, which makes me just as much a Reyes as a Marquez." He chuckled as he told how the two families would often argue as to which had arrived in Santa Monica first.

    Forrest said, trying to recall who owned the first land grant in Santa Monica, “The Machados were the ones who had the lands that would later become Rancho Boca de Santa Monica, before the Marquez and the Reyes had it.” Clear land ownership was complicated in those days. “The rancho was established in 1828. I believe it was the Machados and some other families…ah, let’s see.”

    “The Sepulvedas?” I asked, knowing that Francisco Sepulveda had a stake in coastal lands in the early 1800s.

    “Not the Sepulvedas,” he said. “They had the rancho Santa Monica y San Vicente, more to the east. However, the Machados abandoned La Boca de Santa Monica. And through some skullduggery of one kind or another--because Francisco Marquez, who was born in San Juan de Los Lagos [Mexico], coming from there--he ah…wouldn’t have any rights [in Alta California]. So, he got together with Ysidro Reyes I--who was born here [Los Angeles]. The Reyes had been here for some time.” He added, "There are some Machados in the abolengo somewhere."

    One would think the early coastal Californio families knew each other well. They were the only Mexicans here, with huge swaths of land. Francisco Sepulveda attempted to take some coastal lands from them. Sepulveda forced the Machados to prove ownership of their land Rancho La Ballona, near Playa del Rey. Included in the dispute were Marquez, Reyes, Talamantes and Alanis.

     In her treatise on the Machado family, Sister Mary Therese Wittenburg, studying at Loyola Marymount, described how Sepulveda's attorneys used a bogus map, called the Warner Map, to make his claim to the land: "…The Warner map was not a valid description of [Rancho] San Vicente y Santa Monica. It was merely an outline map drawn in 1843 during the Sepulvedas' dispute with Francisco Marquez and Ysidro Reyes over the Rancho Boca de Santa Monica to show the location of the lands claimed by Marquez, Reyes, Alanis and the Machados."

    “And so anyhow,” Forrest continued, “maybe the date of 1839 that they have in the City Hall of Santa Monica today is the time that, ah…Francisco Marquez and Ysidro Reyes first took over the Rancho La Boca de Santa Monica.”

    Forrest told me how Francisco Marquez built his first home on a bluff overlooking the Santa Monica Canyon. Reyes built his adobe on the opposite side, Pacific Palisades today. “But they abandoned them because of the wolves and the bears attacking their livestock. Francisco Marquez built a second home downhill, near where the graveyard is today and close to the creek, where San Lorenzo Avenue runs. He couldn’t build deeper into the canyon because Indians controlled parts of the land to the north side.”

    By the time Forrest was a child both adobes had been destroyed, though he recalled seeing the second home’s foundation, or what remained of it. The private graveyard where the first Marquez and Reyes family members were buried seemed to be well-hidden among today’s multi-million-dollar homes down in the Santa Monica Canyon.

    “Where exactly is the graveyard?” I asked.

    Forrest said, “Well, I had a key for the gate, but my cousin, Ernest, has been battling with them, with Gillis who subdivided that land. Anyway, if you go along San Lorenzo near Sycamore [Street] and Channel Road, there was a piece of land anywhere from 25 to 50 feet wide. There’s a fence around the graveyard there by a statue of San Lorenzo.”


     In a lecture for the Santa Monica Historical Society, Ernest Marquez told the audience that new homeowners in the area had blocked the easement to the cemetery, so now, the family can no longer visit the graves of the family members buried there [that may have changed as of this writing]. Ernest also said no one was sure how many graves the cemetery held. He recalled hearing thirteen family members died in the early 1900s after a picnic where they had eaten canned peaches. Apparently, the peaches were infected with some sort of botulism

    Forrest insisted that some contention still remains as to the ownership of a 25x50 foot lot in front of the cemetery, which had always been considered part of the Marquez' holdings. Forrest hinted that some underhanded dealings took place as far back as when Pascual Marquez donated land for the Canyon's first one-room wooden schoolhouse, which still sits on the grounds of the newer Canyon School.

    In their book The Santa Monica Canyon, Betty Lou and Thomas R.Young wrote, "The officially recorded transaction is less clear, listing the Santa Monica Land Company as the new owner and developer of the Sycamore Road property and Robert and Frances Gillis as owners of the Channel Road property." Nowhere was Pascual Marquez’s name mentioned. Forrest's research led him to infer that perhaps some of the land Marquez had donated for public usage had become private without his knowledge?

    A year or so after I spoke to Forrest, I talked to Mel Rischer, Forrest’s dear friend, who remembered Forrest once telling him how an early Santa Monica developer had asked the Marquezes if he could graze cattle on their land. The family thought it would be a good way to keep the grass low. The developer wanted no complications, so he hired an attorney who wrote a contract, which Forrest’s great-grandfather signed, even though he couldn’t read. What the grandfather didn’t know was that he had just signed away a portion of his land.

    Forrest said, “Anyway, each year my aunt Angelina (now deceased) and my cousin Rosemary [Miano], well, we get together--but really the two of them are more responsible than I am—to clean the weeds out of the graveyard. Many of the markers are gone. Probably the only one that’s still standing there in good shape is the one my grandfather, Perfecto Marquez, put in there. It was about Christmas. I must have been about nine years old. Somewhere I have a picture of me standing by. The interesting thing was Pascual Marquez, my great grandfather, is buried near the spot [where the adobe home once stood] where he was born.”

    In the early 1840s Pascual Marquez built one of the first bathhouses in the Santa Monica Canyon, catering to the growing Anglo tourist population seeking relief from the oppressive inland Los Angeles heat. Pascual had inherited several thousand acres of land from his father, Francisco. Over the years, Pascual sold some of the land and passed on what remained to his son, Perfecto, Forrest’s grandfather, the father of Forrest’s mother, Albertina. He remembered his grandmother say Rancho La Boca de Santa Monica had once covered all the land from the Santa Monica Canyon and the Palisades to Topanga Canyon.


    Forrest told me that Anglos immigrating from the East looked-down on the Californio landowners of the mid-1800s. Sister Mary Therese Wittenberg’s wrote, "These were the people [the Californios], however, the American immigrants soon discovered, who held title to most of California's best or, at least, most usable land under the extensive grants of the Mexican period. To the would-be settlers, it was inconceivable that these semi-barbarians should hinder the path of progress and civilization. The newcomers, therefore, completely ignored the Spanish-Mexican claims."

    While visiting the Los Angeles Hall of Records, Forrest said he had found documents pertaining to the tracts of land his family had once owned. As he studied the documents to see how the owners’ names had been recorded, he’d grown suspicious.

    The documents stated, he said, "…inability to locate owners." His eyes narrowed. "Inability to locate owners!” he said, incredulously. “How could they [the City] not find the owners? Hell, my cousin Rosemary and my aunt Angelina still live on parts of the original land grant."

    He said that often in the early days, after 1848, when California became the United States, if some rancheros did not contest the confiscation of their land it was because they sometimes were not officially notified it was being taken.

    The Marquez and Reyes families did sell much of their land, but often so many thousands of acres were involved in transactions that one must now ask, who did the surveying? Who knew exactly which portions were being sold? What if the ownership of lands was in question?

     “Back then,” Forrest said, “the city might publish, in small print, notices of questionable ownership.” His point was that if the lands' owners did not see the printed article or could not read English, they could not step forward to claim possession, so they would lose valuable property. But since these notices were published in out-of-the-way sections of newspapers or in journals no one would see, what chance did anyone have to claim the land? "Oh, well," he said.

    In their book, the Youngs seemed to corroborate Forrest’s contention. They write: "At that time, records of canyon land ownership were still transitional and some holdings were entered on county maps as ‘unknown owner.’” Once the government designated lands as "ownership unknown", the land-grab was on, usually managed by a land or investment company.

    After I talked to Forrest, and to the other men and women I interviewed, I was left to think, how much richer and more honest would our experiences as Americans be if we understood our history--all of it? And, rather than demonizing the men and women who contributed to the building of this country, we gave them their right place in history. Maybe, then, an educated president would realize the idea of a wall is not only hypocritical but insulting.

1 comment:

greg rodriguez said...

Forgiveness is central to the politics of today. To be capable of forgiving, however, we need to use history in a new way. History as written by the victors serves the purpose of cultural domination. The stuff of history remains the raw material of our lives. For example, today, in the juridical domain the issue of what we remember is crucial as restitution of indigenous life, as reparations and recognition in post-colonial law, as forgiveness of dispossession and disenfranchisement. Today, the questions of memory, of ancestry, and of genealogy are especially acute as what returns and needs to be repaired, as the scenes of repentance and the need for forgiveness present themselves as a moral, non-vengeful necessity at the center of our political time.