Changing Cultures During the Gold Rush
The American conquest of California greatly threatened many traditions and practices established by the Mexicans who lived there before the war, but some traditions endured through the new political, economic, and cultural changes. After the Mexican-American war ended in 1848, California became a territory of the United States, and in 1849 gold was discovered in California causing numerous amounts of people to try their luck at striking it rich. Although this increase in population built a diverse community in California, white superiority and racism still existed Mexicans and other foreigners would eventually be basically excluded from gold mining by a new tax. Although not everyone would find gold and become rich, everyone in the gold rush contributed to the society, culture, and traditions of the changing political and economic atmosphere.
From Pueblos to Minority
The article “Enduring Traditions” on Juana Brione's online exhibition mentions that due to the gold rush Mexican Americans quickly became the minority in California. Many of the small pueblos in northern California were taken over by white settlers, which continued even into the 1870s. Because most of the white settlers moved to northern California, the Mexican American’s in southern California remained in their pueblos for the most part. However these pueblos would soon become segregated barrios by the late 1800s. Although the Mexican Americans quickly became alienated in their former land, they still held on to most of their traditions and pride. When the settling whites would challenge former land grants issued before the war, the Mexican Americans would go to court to defend their rights to their property. Some even became journalists, newspaper editors, and authors to give their people a voice. Even with the changing atmosphere of what until recently was their country, many held on to their practices and customs in the changing economy (“Enduring Traditions”). Although the Mexican Americans were rapidly becoming the minority in California, their influences stayed throughout the state. Many communities stayed true to their Mexican heritage and culture, and soon the white settlers who were migrating west also became involved in their culture through commerce and the proximity of their communities. Soon the culture of California would become one of a mixture of Eastern American culture and Mexican American culture, which can still be seen today throughout the state.
Another Kind of Gold Rush
The main dream of the gold rush was to mine gold and become rich, however that goal unfortunately became legally impossible for many immigrants seeking for a new fortune. In 1850 the government issued the Foreign Miner’s Tax, which forced foreign miners to pay an additional tax on any gold they mined. However, some thrived in a different business. Many Mexican Americans would display their culture’s cuisine to the miners and make a business from selling food. One woman for example was given half an ounce of gold a day to buy provisions for her group. She began making more food than her party could eat, so she began selling the extras, and eventually earned about 3 or 4 ounces of gold a day. In cities such as Senora, this practice of Mexican-Americans setting up shops selling Hispanic food such as sopas, tortillas, frijoles, and tamales was somewhat common and very profitable. Also, many Mexican Americans, especially in southern California, continued their business of raising cattle. This is evident by a branding iron on display on the Juana Briones online exhibit. The Mexicans previously had the land divided into ranches in the south with a communal town around the Los Angeles area. During the gold rush these cattle could be sold to the new settlers, or be used for food to cook and sell to the settlers. Either way the cattle played a vital role in economy of the Mexican Americans, as well as keeping their traditions and cultures alive. These Mexican Americans not only profited greatly from their new economic exposure to their cultural foods, which was even referred to as reminiscent of their Mexican cities, but were able to keep many aspects of their culture and traditions alive in this changing society as Anglo influences began taking over (Johnson, 114). Although famous for their food, Mexican Americans also profited from the gold rush by providing other services to the miners, such as laundry services, housekeeping, and even running supply stores.
A New Culture
In conclusion, even though the new white settlers greatly influenced California with their Anglo practices during and after the gold rush, many of the original traditions of the Mexican Americans endured. The Mexicans took up their pens in newspapers to write to their segregated people who quickly became the minority in their former land, and even went to court seeking justice for their land when settlers challenged their previous grants. Outside of mining, which they quickly became excluded from, many Mexicans set up shop as food and cattle merchants to retain and expose their culture to the new settlers, as well as profit greatly from the new economic changes. Overall, even with strict resistance many Mexican Americans were able to preserve some of their original traditions when there land was inhabited by Anglo settlers, and even profit comfortably simply by embracing their culture. While the Eastern Americans brought their culture to California where the Mexican Americans tried to keep theirs, a unique blend of cultures emerged creating a new Californian culture. Whether prosperity in the gold rush came from actual gold or from cultural food and other services, the richest investment was made in the new culture that shaped California for the rest of history.
"Enduring Traditions." Juana Briones Y Su California. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://californiahistoricalsociety.org/exhibitions/juana-briones/exhibit/#/theme-60>.
Johnson, Susan Lee. “’Domestic’ Life in the Diggings”