California has rich history, and Hispanic/Latino culture has played a major role shaping the state. “ Alta California” was founded as a province of the Viceroy of New Spain in 1804, and subsequently became part of Mexico when that country declared its independence from Spain in 1821.
Beginning in the 1700s, Spanish Franciscan priests had established 21 “ missions” stretching all the way to present-day Sonoma County. Until the 1840s, Spanish was the dominant language of California, and the state was largely divided into “ ranchos” or land grants from the Mexican Government, owned almost exclusively by “ Californios” – Californians of Spanish descent. Only in the later 1840s, and especially after discovery of gold in 1849 (California joined the United States in 1850), did large numbers of English-speakers begin to arrive in California.
In fact, the California Constitution of 1849, which was ratified in the Spanish/Mexican capital city of Monterey, was written in both English and Spanish, and the document stipulated that all laws and public notices must be produced in both languages. This law continued to be in effect until 1872.
It’s easy to tell how integral Hispanic/Latino culture has been to California simply by looking at place names - Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento - all of the state’s largest cities, as well as the majority of smaller ones, have Spanish names. These are an appropriate reminder that, as Californians, we have special reason to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, because we are celebrating our own history!
We hope you will visit next week as we discuss an important Hispanic/Latino figure's influence on California.