- Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of its Mexican Past
In Whitewashed Adobe, William Deverell details the ways in which city leaders and city builders "whitewashed" Los Angeles's early history and created a new regional identity that all but erased Mexican history and peoples from the landscape. Unlike Carey McWilliams's critique of southern California's fascination with a Spanish 'fantasy heritage,' Deverell reveals that the manipulation of Los Angeles's Mexican past was far reaching, extending to "arenas of work, landscape and environment, cultural production, city building, and public health emergency" (251). As Deverell demonstrates, the whitewashing of Los Angeles's cultural and ethnic history had been completed by World War Two.
Whitewashed Adobe is a cultural and ethnic history of Los Angeles but is not necessarily about Mexicans, as Deverell admits. Rather, it is about the politically, economically, and culturally powerful "Anglo" men who transformed Los Angeles from a largely Spanish-speaking, agrarian pueblo to an industrialized, "modern" city with white, middle class, Protestant sensibilities. Whitewashed Adobe's six chapters are largely dedicated to tracing how these men "appropriated, absorbed, and occasionally obliterated" (7) Mexican history and spaces in carrying out their vision for Los Angeles. The first chapter examines the unrelenting ethnic and racial violence that took place in the wake of the American conquest. Within thirty years or so, ethnic relations had calmed and Mexicans had been quickly outnumbered (as well as politically disenfranchised and economically marginalized), as the second chapter reveals. These conditions, Deverell argues, allowed for the development of La Fiesta de Los Angeles, a carnival-like parade developed by local entrepreneurs to attract white tourists, investors, and settlers. Rather than celebrating the city's multi-racial and multi-ethnic origins, the parade appropriated and recast the region's ethnic history. The third chapter turns its attention to the transformation of the Los Angeles River from stream to flood control channel. In containing and controlling the waterway, which threatened to disrupt urban planning, city leaders erased its link to the Mexican past. This chapter shows that the river not only sustained Spanish-speaking inhabitants and agricultural pursuits but also segregated those peoples along racial and class lines.
Through the use of oral histories and Alejandro Morales's The Brick People (Houston: Arte Público Press, 1988), chapter four recounts in rich detail labor relations at the Simons brickyard and the modern building of Los Angeles. This chapter shows how ideas about race and labor segmentation relegated Mexican [End Page 1225] men to work in the poorly paid, backbreaking industry of brick making and confined them and their families to the "ethnic borders" of the company town. Brick, a symbol of Anglo progress and the future of Los Angeles, quickly replaced adobe (brick made of mud and straw), a relic of the Mexican era. The next chapter, five, shifts the narrative to the gripping tale of death and disease in a largely Mexican neighborhood. This chapter analyzes the outbreak of the plague and the city's "ferocious" campaign to contain it. A primary method used to do so was to quarantine afflicted peoples and to obliterate Mexican spaces. In the end, city volunteers left few structures standing when they razed the neighborhood. The city's response to the public health crisis, Deverell argues, reveals the ways in which the plague was "Mexicanized" (199).
Unlike the previous two chapters' focus on ethnic history, chapter six deals with cultural history and Anglo manipulations of regional history. In one of the longest chapters of the book, Deverell discusses the negotiations and conflicts in the realization of John Steven McGroarty's The Mission Play, "the single most successful American theatrical performance of the age" (209). As Deverell shows, the play fused drama with history, articulating a vision and heritage "that audiences, largely white and Protestant, could nonetheless claim as their own" (217). The book ends with a brief conclusion, tracing the processes of cultural and ethnic whitewashing of Los...