- Pasadena before the Roses: Race, Identity, and Land Use in Southern California, 1771–1890 by Yvette J. Saavedra
While the city of Pasadena, California, is known today for the famous Rose Parade and its associated college football bowl game, the land it occupies has a much more storied past. In her book Pasadena before the Roses, Yvette Saavedra tells this history through an intersectional lens that investigates racialized, classed, and gendered relationships that created the landscape we see in Pasadena today. Beginning with colonization by Spanish missionaries and ending the year before the first Rose Parade was held, Saavedra's work explores a period of American history that has gained increasing attention, especially with the rise of Chicano/a studies in the last three decades. However, the chosen geographic location of this study, the former San Gabriel Mission and Rancho San Pascual, stands as an important contribution to historical geographic literature, especially as this region has been overshadowed by its more populous neighbor, Los Angeles. As a result of its geographic focus and its emphasis on the power struggles over visions of optimal land use, Saavedra's work should be a welcome addition to the libraries of those interested in the American Southwest, racialized landscapes, and colonialism.
The book is divided into three sections, each consisting of two chapters, that cover the major eras of Pasadena's history. The first section provides a review of the mission period of Pasadena, when the San Gabriel mission was established to convert the indigenous Tongva to Catholicism and exploit their labor to support the compound and surrounding settlements. During this period, land was owned by "gente de razón (people of reason)," a status claimed by the Spanish colonizers, and Indians were forced to work these lands as they were considered "gente sin razón (people without reason)" (4–5). This racialized hierarchy, which was intimately tied to land use, survived the transition between the mission period and the rancho period, the focus of the book's second section. As more settlers poured into southern California and became wealthy through established trade networks, protests against the missions' monopoly on land intensified, since settlers believed the church was holding the best land, and therefore profits, for themselves. [End Page 257] These contestations, further inspired by liberal ideology espoused during the Mexican War of Independence, led to land secularization in the 1830s, creating the wealthy ranchero class that came to define Californio society and culture. Using a plethora of primary documents, including land deeds, letters, and personal testimonios, Saavedra shows how land ownership in Mexican California was intensely tied to perceptions of race, masculinity, and wealth, specifically through the lands of Rancho San Pascual. This section is the highlight of the book and showcases the robust historical investigations the author conducted to create the narrative of land acquisition and dispossession that characterized the history of what would become Pasadena.
The third section of the book details the seizure of Mexican California by the United States and the influx of Anglo-American settlers that quickly followed. Emphasizing the white supremacist beliefs of Manifest Destiny that influenced settler actions, Saavedra explains how federal land legislation made it difficult for Mexican Californios to maintain their land claims after annexation. Californios had to spend much time and money in court to prove their land ownership, and many were forced to borrow money from the growing population of wealthy Anglo-Americans in southern California. Ultimately, many Californios were unable to repay these loans and surrendered the land they put up as collateral to white settlers, quickly transforming the landowning demographic and the region's racial hierarchy as a result. Just as in the transition between the mission period and the rancho period, the land that would become Pasadena is shown to be representative of this evolution as Benjamin Wilson, known today as the Father of Pasadena, acquired Rancho San Pascual as payment for a defaulted loan given to...