Douglas Monroy's Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California

Douglas Monroy's Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California

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Douglas Monroy's "Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California"


When Spaniards colonized California, they invaded the native Indians with foreign worldviews, weapons, and diseases. The distinct regional culture that resulted from this union in turn found itself invaded by Anglo-Americans with their peculiar social, legal, and economic ideals. Claiming that differences among these cultures could not be reconciled, Douglas Monroy traces the historical interaction among them in Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California. Beginning with the missions and ending in the late 1800s, he employs relations of production and labor demands as a framework to explain the domination of some groups and the decay of others and concludes with the notion that ?California would have been, and would be today, a different place indeed if people had done more of their own work.?(276) While this supposition may be true, its economic determinism undermines other important factors on which he eloquently elaborates, such as religion and law. Ironically, in his description of native Californian culture, Monroy becomes victim of the same creation of the ?other? for which he chastises Spanish and Anglo cultures. His unconvincing arguments about Indian life and his reductive adherence to labor analysis ultimately detract from his work; however, he successfully provokes the reader to explore the complexities and contradictions of a particular historical era.

In the first section, Monroy describes the Indian and the Iberian cultures and illustrates the role each played during missionization, as the Indians adapted ?to the demands of Iberian imperialism.?(5) He stresses the differen...


... middle of paper ...


...ough his words refer to historical sources, they also apply to Douglas Monroy himself. Unveiling the intricacies of cultural interactions is a difficult task, and Monroy successfully reveals many of the complexities and contradictions of historical writing. However, he does not escape the tendency to create homogenous ?others.? Portions of his book, such as the treatment of Indians at the mission, are questionable. Although he maintains that his underlying theme is labor relations, the depth with which he writes about law and society seem to dictate a more holistic analysis. Labor relations among conflicting cultures may create history, but believing that history does not create labor relations seems unconvincingly economically determinist.

Works Cited:

Monroy, Douglas. Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California . 1990.

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