Author Archives: madesontodd

The Squatter and The Don – A Patriarchal and Racist Society

It was interesting for to see the patriarchy and aspects of racism that were interweaved in The Squatter and The Don. This novel took place in the 19th century – a time where women lived in a patriarchal society. However, as demonstrated by this book, we see how women found a stance of authority within the confounds of a man-driven society.

For instance, we see within the first pages of the novel how Mary Darrel has a grasp on William Darrel when they discuss moving to San Diego. Mary voices to William that she does not want to be squatterand if he chooses to acquire the land without purchasing it, she will not “willingly” go and will only go if he “compels” her. William responds with “compel you! Compel you, when you know I have obeyed you all my life”. This quote demonstrates how Mary has a sizable influence over William and holds an authoritative position within their marriage. I think this is rather interesting, because as modern readers we normally have a predisposed view of women in the 19th century as being submissive and timid. However, Mary demonstrates quite the opposite by showing her fearlessness in voicing her opinion and not letting her husband merrily make decision for her. That said, Mary says that she will not “willingly” gowith her husband, demonstrating that she is aware of the bounds set by a patriarchal society and that she must follow William even if he acquires the land as a squatter.

 Subsequently. William became a squatter on Don Mariano’s land against his wife’s wishes even though he claimed to obey Mary all his life; William is aware that, as a man, he is in a place of power and authority and that he can do as he wishes in this patriarchal society. As such, William believes that as a man in the marriage and as a white citizen in the US, he has the right to squat on another’s land. Thus, he believes that being an Anglo male entitles him to various claims and grants him authority and power over women and Californios.

As such, Ruiz de Burton addresses aspects of hierarchy and racism. She constructs a hierarchy as defined by whether you participate in work or labour, which groups people into upper and lower classes and white and non-white. For instance, Californios (such as the Alamars) are able to claim white status because of their work, while Indians are unable to claim whiteness as they are labour. Throughout the novel, it is clear that Ruiz de Burton wishes the reader to see the Alamars as white due to Don Mariano’s wealth and “kindly spirit”, for example. However, there is still unfair treatment that occurs towards the Californios; Don Mariano is successful and owns his own property, while William is not as successful and resorts to squatting. Yet, William is viewed as more privileged and of a higher class due to the colour of his skin and birthplace. William’s belief of his elite position in society is further reinforced when he exiles Clarence from his home and attempts to horsewhip Don Mariano after he discovered that Clarence had bought the land behind his back. In this case, Clarence had undermined his father’s patriarchal position and William’s reaction further solidifies his patriarchal and elite view of himself.

Unfairness and racism towards the Alamar family is further demonstrated by how Doña Josefa was kicked off her own land and forced to move to San Francisco, even after her daughter had married Clarence. She states “let the guilty rejoice and go unpunished and the innocent suffer ruin and desolation. I slander no one but shall speak the truth.” This is likely a direct feeling of what Ruiz de Burton had felt while she was suffering through this hardships; even though the Alamar family should have been considered an upper class family and treated as such, they suffered numerous injustices and were taken advantage of because of their race. While the squatters walk away with not even a guilty conscious, the Alamars can do nothing about it.

The Squatter and The Don (Part I)

María Amparo Ruiz de Burton addresses many issues in The Squatter and the Don, ranging from class, gender, race, national identity and land ownership. The novel is written around the time that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, which forced proof of land ownership and was a time during which Mexicans experienced an extreme loss of identity, power, and land to the American government and the so-called “squatters”. In this sense, the treaty displaced the Mexicanos rather than act as a law of protection. As such, The Squatter and the Don explores the unjust ways in which Mexicanos were forced to protect their own land, and therefore a central theme is displacement. Interestingly, Ruiz de Burton minimally addresses the Indians and their roles in society at this time, beyond the fact that they are servants on the ranches (why is that?). The author does, however, allude to the displacement of squatters (specifically the Darrel family), but primarily focuses is on the displacement and disempowerment of the Mexicanos (specifically the Alamar family).

A main argument of Ruiz de Burton seems to be that the US Government is the main player in the dispossession of the Mexicanos throughout the southwest of the US. The power was stripped from the Mexicanos and translocated to Anglos, which was due, in part, in their ability to own property. Ironically, the courts were created in order for the Mexicanos to uphold their claims, when in reality, they worked against the Mexicanos. For instance, Ruiz de Burton references the Land Act of 1951, in which the “No. 189. An Act to ascertain and settle the private land claims in the State of California. And by a sad subversion of purposes, all the private land titles became unsettled. It ought to have been said an Act to unsettle land titles, and to upset the rights of the Spanish population of the State of California”.  As we see here, there is extreme critique against the US government and how they failed to protect the Mexicano population.

Such laws, however, were beneficial to Anglos as demonstrated in Mr. Darrel’s comments on how simple it was to squat in another’s land; “the stakes having been placed, Darrel felt satisfied. Next day he would have the claim properly filed, and in due time a surveyor would measure them. All would be done ‘according to law’ and in this easy way the land was taken form its legitimate owner”. This quote is interesting, as it emphasizes the perspective of Anglos and the benefits such laws have towards them, whilst highlighting a passive aggressive and hurt undertone of the author – a Mexicana – by putting “according to law” in quotations and blatantly stating how land was taken from the rightful owner.

The author also draws an interesting connection between the Anglos and Mexicanos , specifically through Clarence, who seems to be one of the only squatters with a conscious and sympathy for what the Mexicanos are going through. This is clearly seen through his critique of the “no fence law” where he comments “this no fence law the most scandalous, bare-face outrage upon the rights of citizens that I even heard of… “it is like setting irresponsible trespassers loose upon a peaceable people and then rewarding their outrage….It is shameful to the American name. I am utterly disgusted with the whole business, and the only thing that will make matters a little tolerable to me will be for you to do me the favor of permitting me to pay for the land we have located.”

Thus, Ruiz de Burton cleverly demonstrates many perspectives of the individuals who experienced this time in history – those who were displaced and lost their identities (e.g. Mexicanos), those who “wrongfully” claimed lands and another identity (e.g. Anglos), and those who are one identity but have the mentality of another (e.g. Clarence). It will be interesting to see how this all plays out!

-Madeson