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  • Californios, Anglos and the Performance of Oligarchy in the U.S. West: How the First Generation of Mexican Americans Fashioned a New Nation by Andrew Gibb
  • Miguel López Lozano
Gibb, Andrew. Californios, Anglos and the Performance of Oligarchy in the U.S. West: How the First Generation of Mexican Americans Fashioned a New Nation. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2018. 268 pp.

Andrew Gibb's Californios, Anglos and the Performance of Oligarchy in the U.S. West: How the First Generation of Mexican Americans Fashioned a New Nation is a sound contribution to our understanding of the rich and complex history of Mexican Americans during the mid-nineteenth century. Under the umbrella of Performance Studies, Gibb examines intercultural relations in the years leading to the U.S. annexation of California and following the 1848 signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Gibb challenges the Anglocentric notion of hegemonic cultural imposition and points instead to the interaction between elite groups as the basis of the socio-political structure of today's California. Through four chapters and an afterpiece supported with documentation, testimonials, and personal letters, this author discusses how Easterners who settled in coastal California towns not only adopted the fashion and gestures but also enacted the political and speech acts that the affluent Hispanic classes had performed for centuries under the Spanish Empire.

The introduction is divided into two sections. The first, "Dramaturgical Notes," sets a theoretical framework that traces original approaches to the study of the West prior to the inception of Performance Studies. The second, "Curtain Raiser," analyzes El desfile histórico, a Santa Barbara festival dedicated to the reenactment of a foundational moment, the intercultural marriage of Californiana Ana de la Guerra with Bostonian businessman Alfred Robinson in 1836. The desfile serves as a paradigm for intercultural relations even today, as descendants continue to enact their heritage as a performance of power, wealth, and status, for example, in elite Santa Barbara weddings. [End Page 145]

In the ensuing chapters, Gibb documents performative interactions, including intercultural marriages, in which Californianas were used as trade icons in forging alliances with newly arrived, wealthy Anglo businessmen, thus providing the foundation for the political and economic oligarchies of coastal communities such as San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey. Countering Anglocentric approaches, Gibb explores the Mexicanization of Easterners, as Anglo newcomers began to adopt and perform the fashions and customs of the Mexican elites, embodying the cultural characteristics of noble gentlefolk, including dancing, language skills, and negotiation skills. This refashioning of local customs marked the performance of distinctive attributes in public space from religious ceremonies such as baptisms and weddings to the negotiations of transfer of power examined in the first chapter entitled "The Angels."

In "Collaborations," the second chapter, Gibb shows how, even after the annexation, national celebrations such as the 4th of July shared importance with pre-Anglo public ceremonies such as Our Lady of Refuge, with which it coincided. The author concludes that these were not celebrations of national pride but rather regional and communal forms that reaffirmed the power of the oligarchic elites of both Californios and Anglos. Gibb's theoretical model is relevant to the discussion of the intercultural relations between Anglos and Mexicans in the introduction and the first two chapters, but begins to fall short as an explanation for intercultural relations during the Bear Flag Republic and the Gold Rush examined in later chapters. A salient aspect of the final chapter, "Dress Rehearsal," is the discussion of how, in order to retain land rights, the Californios ensured that the right of women to own land—as observed under Mexican Law—was respected. Although many Californio elites shared ethnic origins with Native Americans, mixed-race Mestizos and Afro-descendants, their affluent status and ability to negotiate and forge alliances with Anglos allowed them to preserve their class privilege and serve as patrons to the less fortunate. Nonetheless, Gibb shows how they themselves became disenfranchised under Anglo-American hegemony following statehood.

In Californios, Anglos and the Performance of Oligarchy in the U.S. West, Andrew Gibb provides his readers with a cultural reading of the bedrock that made California uniquely efficient in...


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pp. 145-146
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