Beloved OC Historians, Mexicans, and Half-Breeds Tomorrow!

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Woman or half-breed?
As mentioned in my ¡Ask a Mexican! column this week, I'll be speaking tomorrow to the Anaheim Historical Society at what's now called the Woelke-Stoffel House but which generations of Anaheimers know as the Red Cross House. Address is 418 N. West St., Anaheim, (714) 292-0042, and the fun will start at 7 p.m. AHS head Cynthia Ward--one of the few self-identified conservatives that truly gets it--is billing this on her blog as "Gustavo Meets the Old Guard" because I tend to go off a bit much at local historians whenever we talk about the Sunkist memories. What can I say? I'm a nerd with no tact, but I'm learning.

But when I think I might be a bit too sensitive, too conspiratorial, too damn whiny minority, a bit of OC's past comes back to reaffirm my thesis. Today's subject is Don Meadows and his treatment of the Juan Flores myth.

Meadows is a beloved historian, not just for his research but his mentorship of other county historians (former head of the OC Archives Phil Brigandi has a nice writeup on the man). He didn't pass away until 1994, but Meadows was already receiving accolades on a life well spent as early as 1982. I recently found a copy of his 1966 tome Orange County under Spain, Mexico, and the United States, one of the rarer Orange County history books for reasons I can't quite fathom. I got the volume while researching my cover story on Juan Flores, thinking I might fish a nugget or two from Meadows. Boy, did I ever.

The esteemed historian repeated as fact the story of Martina Espinoza, whom legend has it that she tampered with the guns of Los Angeles County Sheriff James Barton in order to allow her sweetheart Flores and his gang to ambush Barton's posse. Espinoza is more popularly known as La Chola Martina--the half-Mexican, half-Indian Martina, gabacho historians appropriating a term used by the Spaniards to play their racial stratification game. But Meadows goes further in Orange County under Spain, Mexico, and the United States, referring to Espinoza as a "half-breed."

Now, before I or other revisionist historians go ape-caca, let me also note that the great progressive historian Carey McWilliams also used the term a couple of times in his Southern California Country: An Island on the Land. But McWilliams wrote his book in the 1940s, when such words were commonplace; Meadows published in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement. Ain't it a bit racist? Meadows is even worse than historian emeritus Jim Sleeper describing another maligned Mexican OC historical figure, Modesta Avila, as a "charming dark-eyed beauty . . . who relied more on her beauty than her intelligence to keep food on the table and a roof over her head." If Meadows, on the other hand, called Espinoza a wab, I wouldn't have a problem...


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