Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Yesterday I visited Mission San Juan Capistrano.  I have generally negative feelings about the California Missions, as they turned out to be a really bad deal for the native Americans who lived there.  On the other hand, the missions are some of the oldest and most beautiful structures in California.  San Juan Capistrano was built in 1776!  I guess, for me, visiting a mission is like visiting an old southern plantation, like George Washington’s Mt. Vernon.  On the one hand, I feel disgust, and on the other, I’m reminded of some important history, and a (thankfully) bygone way of life.  So, the feelings are mixed, I suppose.  I took some pictures of the old mission…


Friday, July 24, 2015

Pio Pico: The Last Governor of Mexican California (a book report)

Today, I finished reading a fantastic history book called Pio Pico: The Last Governor of Mexican California, which is about the guy who was governor of California when it was part of Mexico, just before the United States conquered the golden state (and half of Mexico to boot).  Pio Pico is often not given his just place in California history, and this book seeks to show how this one man’s life embodied dramatic changes in California (my home state).  As author Carlos Manuel Salomon writes, “California was formed between two worlds at the decline of the Spanish empire and the dawn of an emerging United States.”  I wrote a book report on what I learned.  Enjoy!

Pio Pico’s Ancestry

Pio Pico’s lineage included Indian, Spanish, and African ancestry, which initially placed him near the bottom of the racial caste system of Spanish society in the New World.  His grandfather, Santiago de la Cruz Pico, accompanied the Spanish soldier/colonizer Juan Bautista de Anza in 1775 on an expedition north into Alta California, part of Spain’s plan to settle California with missions and soldiers.

Juan Bautista de Anza (1774)

Pio’s father, Jose Maria Pico, served as a guard in California missions.  He was instrumental in foiling Kizh-Gabrieleno leader Toypurina’s rebellion at Mission San Gabriel.  Jose Maria joined the Mexican Independence movement, for which he was imprisoned in San Diego in 1811.  He never achieved his goal of obtaining a California land grant.

Toypurina is a hero to the local Kizh (Gabrieleno) tribe.

Pio was born in 1801 at Mission San Gabriel, and had a relatively poor childhood.

Pio Pico’s Political Rise

Pico rose to prominence through the marriages of his sisters to prominent Californio families.  In 1826, he was elected to San Diego town council, and eventually became a part of a political leadership cadre known as the disputation, which also included the Yorba family (who owned the rancho where modern-day Yorba Linda exists).  In 1829, California governor Jose Maria de Echeandia gave Pico his first land grant, Rancho Jamul, east of San Diego, and he became an emerging cattle baron. 

In Mexico at this time (including California) the two political factions were: conservatives (who favored a centralized military-type authority), and liberals (who favored more local/civilian authority).  Pico was a liberal.  When the conservative General Manuel Victoria was appointed governor of California, Pico opposed him. 

In conjunction with other political and business leaders, Pico began fomenting dissent against Victoria, writing manifestos and distributing circular pamphlets.  In 1831, he and other leaders (including Abel Stearns, who owned the rancho where my hometown of Fullerton exists today) led a rebellion against Victoria’s government.  They marched into San Diego, captured military leaders, and took weapons.  At the Battle of Cahuenga (outside LA), the two forces met and Victoria was defeated.  Pico became temporary governor of California.

There followed a power struggle between Pico and Echeandia in the south, and Victoria’s secretary Augustin Zamorano in the north.  In 1833, Jose Figueroa was appointed governor of California.   In 1834, Pico married Maria Ignacia Alvarado in the plaza church in Los Angeles.  Governor Figueroa was present as the best man.

Pio Pico and his wife Maria Ignacia Alvarado.

Secularization of the Missions

In 1833, partial secularization of the missions was enacted, divesting the catholic church of mission lands, but not distributing them to the Indians, as was seen by many as the goal of secularization.

Instead of re-distributing the mission lands to the Indians, regional politicians were given control over them as comisionados.  In 1835, Pico was named comisionado of Mission San Luis Rey, and almost immediately ran into conflict with the Luisenos (native tribe) over the labor requirement of secularization (the Indians were still required to work the lands for free).  In 1836, Pico was named encargado de justica, a position of judicial power which basically undermined the authority of the local Indian leader of the Luisenos, Pablo Asis.

Author Carlos M. Salomon writes, “His primary aim was to operate an enterprise rather than to ensure the transition of former neophytes into Mexican society…Forcing the Indians to work, denying their promised liberties, treating them harshly, and encroaching on Temecula, where he grazed his own cattle, led to Indian protests and eventually rebellion.”  Eventually Pico acquired the Luisenos’ land of Temecula.

Thus, the Luisenos despised Pico.  Salomon writes, “Although many historians say he was the worst exploiter of the missions, he seems to have done no worse or better than the other administrators…The proponents of secularization believed that liberty, private ownership of land, and the ‘gift’ of entering Mexican society would transform the Indian population.  Yet, in many instances, the Indians simply wanted to be left to themselves.”

In 1837, Pico joined a rebellion against the new governor of California, Juan Bautista Alvarado.

War With the United States

Under the administration of governor Alvarado, Pico lost Mission San Juis Rey and Temecula, but gained Rancho Santa Margarita.  Thus, his status and wealth remained relatively intact.  At this time, Pico lived in Los Angeles, as a member of a kind of rancher-political elite.  Los Angeles at this time was the most populous town in California.   In 1845, after another uprising against the governor, Pico was appointed interim governor and he named Los Angeles the capital of California.

Meanwhile, illegal immigrants (Yankees) from the United States began arriving in California.   After the annexation of Texas, and the continuous tide of Anglo settlers, war with the US seemed imminent.  The United States’ designs on California were an embodiment of Manifest Destiny and the expansionist policies of president James K. Polk.  In 1846, U.S. military leader/explorer John C. Fremont arrived in Caifornia with soldiers and unstated intentions.

Not only was California facing a potential external threat (from the US), but it was having strong internal problems too.  In 1846, Pico was officially made governor, however, he immediately came into conflict with the northern military leader Manuel Castro, who threatened civil war.  Meanwhile, in defiance against the Mexican government of California, the American Fremont raised an American flag at his “fort” and lead a rag-tag independence movement called the “Bear Flag Revolt" (or, California Republic).  At first, Pico thought it was a hoax.  But when Fremont refused to leave, Pico protested the actions of the American squatters.

The "Bear Flag Revolt" was a bunch of Yankee squatters.

In the face of imminent attack, Pico and Castro reconciled their differences for the defense of California.  In 1846, the U.S. occupation of California began, as part of the larger Mexican-American War.  Military leader Robert F. Stockton landed in California with troops intent on conquest. Despite being outnumbered, Pico refused surrender.  Instead, he left California to seek assistance from Mexican president Santa Anna.

During the war (seeing opportunity), some Californios sided with the US, including Abel Stearns.  Meanwhile, American troops besieged Los Angeles.  Andres Pico (Pio’s brother), a valiant leader of the Californio defense against the United States, defeated general Stephen W. Kearney at San Pasqual, just outside of San Diego.  Ultimately, however, the Californio forces were outmatched by the American forces.  President Santa Anna did not send reinforcements, and in 1847, Andres Pico signed the Treaty of Cahuenga, which ended fighting in California.

Andres Pico (Pio's brother_

In 1848, the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo was signed, which ceded half of Mexico to the United States, including California.

After the War

After the Mexican-American War, under the U.S. military occupation, Californios experienced new kinds of racial discrimination.  Salomon writes: “To the racially conscious Yankees, Pico’s African features made his wealth and influence problematic.  When California became a state, less than two years after his return, blacks weren’t allowed to own land or attend public schools…The first state legislature passed a statute prohibiting blacks, Indians, and individuals having at least one-eighth African ancestry from testifying against white citizens.”   Indeed, the 1850s were “a period of unrelenting violence and prejudice against Mexicans.”

Describing racial violence in Los Angeles in the 1850s (the years immediately following the American conquest), Salomon writes: “Los Angeles became the most violent city in California in the 1850s, and for a time it claimed the highest murder rate in the United States.  Lynch mobs were not uncommon, and many Mexicans fell victim to racial intolerance.”

In 1850, California became a state, and in 1854, the Know Nothing Party gained political power—known for their anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant views.  Pico sided with the newly-formed Republican party (Lincoln’s party).  Democrats at this time were pro-slavery.  He even supported the presidential candidacy of John C. Fremont!  Pico used his influence as an arbiter between Californio and Anglo tensions.  He supported Lincoln’s candidacy for US president.

Pio Pico’s Decline

The main problem facing Californios after the war was land.  Though they enjoyed some legal protection under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, they faced legal challenges to their land grants, Yankee squatters, and real estate speculators keen on acquiring former rancho lands.  The Land Act of 1851 proved disastrous for Californios, divesting them of thousands of acres.  At first, Pico proved economically resilient after U.S. annexation.  He and his brother held over 290,000 acres.

The Gold Rush was actually an economic boon for Pico.  The 49ers needed food, and became a steady a consumer market for his cattle.  Also, Andres co-founded California’s first oil company, Star Oil, which eventually became Standard Oil (by this time the Picos had sold their stocks).  Meanwhile, Pio invested in the Los Angeles Plaza (today, Olvera Street).  He built the luxury hotel Pico House, which still stands.

However, in the 1850s, the cattle industry in California began to decline, and the last decades of Pico’s life would be years of loss and decline.  He lost Rancho Santa Margarita to his brother-in-law John Forster over a debt.  His brother Andres’ developed a major gambling addiction, which cost Pico a lot of money and land.  In 1876, Andres was beaten to death in Los Angeles, probably over a gambling debt.

The final loss would come with the case of Pico vs. Cohn, in which the aging don lost the last of his once vast empire.   Pico won the case, but lost in retrial.  And he lost everything: the Pico House, a bank building in LA, and his beloved Ranchito in Whittier.  He lived the rest of his days poor, with friends and family.  Meanwhile, the California demographic was changing—Anglos began to outnumber Mexicans and Californios, and their contributions to California history, society, and culture would often be excluded from official histories.

Pio Pico died in 1894.

Pio Pico’s Legacy

In 1893, one year before his death, Pio Pico was invited to attend the massive World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago (basically, the World’s Fair), as a representative of the “Old West.”  He published his response in the Los Angeles Times: “No, I will not go, for two good reasons.  The first is because I am poor, and the second is because I do not intend to go to the big show to be one of the animals on exhibit.  If those gringos imagine for a moment that they can take me back there and show me in a side tent at two bits a head thy are very much mistaken.”

Reflecting on Pio Pico’s legacy, Salomon writes: “Today, as the demographics of Mexican Americans in California soar to new heights, Pio Pico is a historic figure many look up to as a shining and inspirational example of the Mexican past.  Pio Pico’s life story reminds us of a unique multicultural legacy in California.  Pico’s two hundredth birthday celebration in Los Angeles revealed that he has taken on a new role in California’s history.  Today, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration not only of the Mexican past, but also of a  Californio past, rich in its Mexican, American Indian, African American, and European roots.”

The Pico House still stands in the historic Plaza on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Films of Cantinflas

Tonight at the Hibbleton Gallery film series, we're continuing our Introduction to Mexican Cinema with an evening celebrating the Mexican movie star Cantinflas (aka Mario Moreno), who has been called "The Charlie Chaplin of Mexico." Cantinflas became famous during the "Golden Age" of Mexican cinema in the 1940s. His comic genius involved rapid-fire wordplay, slapstick comedy, and a fumbling naivete that always gets him out of precarious situations. In preparation for this event, I decided to research the rather large filmography of Cantinflas.  Here it is, with some images and brief descriptions...

1.)  Ahi Esta el Detalle (Here's the Point) -- 1940.  Directed by Juan Bustillo Oro. A domestic comedy about mistaken identities, jealousy, and a rabid dog named Bobby.

2.) El Gendarme Desconocido (The Unknown Policeman) -- 1941.  Cantinflas captures three bank robbers. Considered a hero, he is given the title of Agent 777 because of his ability to disguise himself in many different forms. In his ultimate assignment, he transforms himself into a wealthy jewel collector to set up a group of gangsters.

 3.) Ni Sangre Ni Arena (Neither Blood nor Sand) -- 1941.  Directed by Alejandro Galindo.  A parody of the big-budget Hollywood film Blood and Sand, which portrays the world of bullfighting.

4.) Los Tres Mosqueteros (The Three Musketeers) -- 1942.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas and three friends return a stolen necklace to an actress who invites them to be extras at a movie studio. While on the set, he falls asleep and dreams that he is D’Artagnan fighting on behalf of Queen Anne.

5.) El Circo (The Circus) -- 1943.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  In this version of Charlie Chaplin's The Circus (1928), Cantinflas is a cobbler who gets a job in a circus as a janitor, but ends up hilariously performing dangerous feats, such as the trapeze.

6.) Romeo y Julieta (Romeo and Juliet) -- 1943.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  A comedic adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.  Like the play, the dialogue is done in verse, but usually ending with Mexican slang that rhymes, which is the source of much humor.

7.) Gran Hotel (1944) directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  After failing as a waiter, Cantinflas gets a job as a bellboy in a fancy hotel, by recommendation of his girlfriend. He has to deal with upper class people and nobility. One day, an expensive and rare relic, property of a noblewoman, disappears, and Cantinflas is the only one who knows where it is. But he gets amnesia caused by a big blow to his head. Will he remember the real location of the relic?

8.) Un Dia Con El Diablo (One Day with the Devil) -- 1945.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  A newspaper boy mistakenly joins the army.  After dying during a mission, he visits the afterlife and has funny interactions with the Prince of Darkness.

 9.) Soy Un Profugo (I am a Fugitive) -- 1946.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  A janitor in a large bank is accused of pulling of a major heist. He is forced to become a fugitive while hunting for the real culprits.

10.) A Volar Joven! (To Fly Young) -- 1947.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas is a soldier who doesn't know anything about discipline or following rules and only wants to think about his girlfriend, the maid in an opulent hacienda. The owner has an ugly and shy daughter, who is in love with Cantinflas. Problems arise when the family arranges a wedding between the ugly girl and Cantinflas, who in order to avoid the commitment causes himself to get arrested. During his punishment, Cantinflas will learn to fly with a silly and not too capable instructor.

11.) El Supersabio (The Genius) -- 1948.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas is the apprentice of a renowned scientist, Prof. Arquimides Monteagudo. Unfortunately, Cantinflas has the soul of a poet rather than a serious researcher, and he wants to find the formula that achieves the immortality of roses. Nevertheless, after the death of Prof. Monteagudo, Cantinflas will be chased by a greedy corporation, who wants to steal the secret formula for a cheaper fuel named "carburex", because they think that Cantinflas is the only person who knows the formula.

12.) El Mago (The Magician) -- 1949.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  A lookalike (Cantinflas) is hired by an agency to take the place of a magician while he goes on holiday.

 13.)  El Portero (The Porter) -- 1949.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas works as a porter/student, who writes letters and speeches on his old writing machine to earn an extra money. He falls in love with a pretty girl, who is handicapped and unable to walk.  A young military man also has feelings for the girl.  Wanting to see her happy, he becomes a sort of Cyrano De Bergerac, writing love letters to her signed by the young soldier. His plan is simple: to win money at the horse races in order to pay the operation which will make her walk again.

14.) El Siete Machos (The Seven Macho-Men) -- 1950.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  A parody of “charro” (singing cowboy) films, Cantinflas moves to a rancho as a macho hero, singer, braggart, and womanizer (like Jorge Negrete or Pedro Infante).

15.) El Bombero Atomico (The Atomic Firefighter) -- 1950.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas is a clumsy fireman, who one day receives a visit from his little goddaughter, whose mother recently died in the jungle. Cantinflas decides to quit and become a policeman, because it seems less dangerous. Everything goes well until a gang kidnaps the girl, and Cantinflas must save the day.

16.)  Si Yo Fuera Diputado (If I Were a Member Of) -- 1951.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Tired of the same politicians, who never do anything to improve their welfare, people from a poor neighborhood decide to support the local shoeshine boy (Cantinflas) for public office.

 17.) Lluvia de Estrellas (Starfall) -- 1951.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  I was unable to find a description of this film's plot.

 18.) El Senor Fotografo (Mr. Photographer) -- 1952.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas, a photographer, is captured by gangsters while trying to steal flowers for his girlfriend. The gangsters mistake him for the assistant to a scientist who has discovered a formula for a new atomic bomb. Cantinflas convinces the gangsters that a rubber ball he is holding is the real atomic bomb.

19.) Caballero a la Medida (1954).  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas works as a tuxedo model for a prestigious store. He  wanders the streets, wearing the tuxedo and a big ad on his back. The tuxedo allows him to access to exclusive places, where he meets important and rich people. During his free time, he is the manager of an amateur boxer, assists an attractive nurse and occasionally helps a priest run a poor orphanage. However, one day Cantinflas, wearing the tuxedo, meets a rich man, who falsely believes that our friend is also a millionaire.

20.) Abajo el Telon (Drop the Curtain) -- 1955.  Directed by Miguel M.  Delgado.  Cantinflas works as a window cleaner with a small stall in a neighborhood of the city, who gets the opportunity to clean the windows of a famous theater actress.

21.) Around the World in 80 Days (1956).  Directed by Michael Anderson.  An adaptation of the novel by Jules Verne, this was Cantinflas' first foray into Hollywood films.

22.) El Bolero de Raquel (Raquel's Shoeshiner) -- 1957.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  His first Mexican color film, Cantinflas is a down-on-his-luck but affable shoe shiner who must care for the child of his friend’s widow.  In order to find a better job, Cantinflas goes to school, where he tries to learn but, instead, falls in love with Raquel Saavedra, an attractive teacher who works there. While in school, he tries finding more jobs, with comic results.  El bolero de Raquel satirizes the lifestyles of the rich with their bodyguards, managers, etc. through scenes set in posh nightclubs.

23.) Ama a Tu Projimo (Houswife to Your Neighbor) -- 1958.  Directed by Tulio Demichelli.  A succession of short stories set in a Red Cross hospital.

24.) Sube y Baja (Up and Down) -- 1959.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas plays a non-athletic guy who works at a sporting goods store.

25.) Pepe (1960).  Directed by George Sidney.  In his second Hollywood film, Cantinflas plays Pepe, a hired hand, employed on a ranch. A boozing Hollywood director buys a white stallion that belongs to Pepe's boss. Pepe, determined to get the horse back (as he considers it his family), decides to take off to Hollywood. There he meets film stars including Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, Zsa Zsa Gsbor, Bing Crosby, Maurice Chevalier, and Jack Lemmon, in drag as Daphne from Some Like It Hot.  He is also surprised by things that were new in America at the time, such as automatic swinging doors. When he finally reaches the man who bought the horse, he is led to believe there is no hope of getting it back. However, the last scene shows both him and the stallion back at the ranch with several foals.

26.) El Analfabeto (The Illiterate One) -- 1961.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas receives a letter stating that he is the heir to his uncle's fortune of two million pesos, which he has only to claim by producing his birth certificate as proof of identity. However, being illiterate, he has no idea of the contents of the letter.   Over the course of the film, he gradually learns to read and makes both friends and enemies at a local bank.

27.) El Extra (The Extra) -- 1962.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas plays a guy who practically lives on a movie set. He goes from set to set as an extra or observer but mostly bothers the directors. On every set, he imagines himself as the main actor.


 28.) Entrega Inmediata (aka Agent XU 777) -- 1963.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas plays a postman who unknowingly gets involved in a spy caper.

29.) El Padrecito (The Good Priest) -- 1964.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas is a young priest assigned to a parish in where he is not welcomed by the community, particularly the resident priest Father Dami├ín. The newcomer gradually earns the trust of the people through humor, but firmly captures their hearts by saving the town fiesta by fighting a bull when the hired bullfighter fails to show.  The film is also a commentary on catholicism, morality, and modern society.

30.) El Senor Doctor (Mr. Doctor) -- 1965.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas plays a small town doctor who decides to move to the capital in order to advance her career. There he finds a world unknown to him: X-rays, electroencephalograms and many sophisticated medical technologies and techniques that he doesn’t understand. 

31.) Su Excelencia (Your Excellency) -- 1967.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  The film is set in a fictional dystopia where "Red" and "Green" countries are the political equivalents of the socialist and capitalist countries of the Cold War, which the film satirizes. Cantinflas plays a representative of the Republic of the Coconuts who attends an international conference, where he must make the pivotal choice of joining the "Reds" or the "Greens", therefore deciding the fate of one hundred nations.  The film is famous for Cantinflas’ speech near the end.

32.) Por Mis Pistolas (By My Guns) -- 1968.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas goes to Arizona in search of an old silver mine that belonged to his great-grandfather.

33.) Un Quijote Sin Mancha (A Quixote Without La Mancha) -- 1969.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas plays a law student at the University of Mexico.  At the same time, he works as an intern helping people who have no money to pay a lawyer.  After graduating, he decides to continue fighting on behalf of the poor.


34.) El Profe (The Professor) -- 1971.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  A teacher (Cantinflas) arrives in the little town of El Romeral, where he faces many challenges, especially the wealthy who don’t want the children be educated, so they can continue exploiting them.

 35.) Don Quijote Cabalga de Nuevo (Don Quixote Rides Again) -- 1973.  Directed by Roberto Gavaldon.  Based on Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote, Cantinflas plays the loyal sidekick Sancho Panza.

36.) Conserje en Condominio (Condominium Concierge) -- 1973.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas gets a job as caretaker of a luxurious apartment building inhabited by a motley crew of people: a professional model, a spiritualist, and hippies, who all turn to him to solve their problems.  When someone in the building is kidnapped, Cantinflas becomes a private investigator.

 37.) El Ministro y Yo (The Minister and I) -- 1975.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas is a notary public and scribe for the illiterate people of Santo Domingo, a neighborhood north of Mexico City’s Zocalo.  After getting a job working for a government minister, he tries to reform the bureau, and lectures the officials on their duties in a democratic society. At the end, he gives up the post, returning to Santo Domingo to help its poor residents. 

38.) El Patrullero 777 (Patrolman 777) -- 1978.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  The final film in Cantinflas “police” trilogy, which began with El Gendarme Desconocido and El Bombero Atomico.

39.) El Barrendero (The Sweeper) -- 1981.  Directed by Miguel M. Delgado.  Cantinflas plays an honest public sweeper who becomes the only witness to the theft of a valuable painting.  The thieves, pursued by the police, hide the painting in a dustbin which our hero must collect. Cantinflas is chased by the bandits who are trying to find out at all costs the whereabouts of the famous painting. Suspicions fall on Cantinflas.