Martin Rizzo-MartinezMar 9, 2022
We Are Not Animals
Indigenous Politics of Survival, Rebellion, and Reconstitution in Nineteenth-Century California
University of Nebraska Press 2022
Josefa Velasquez lived a long and full life. When Josefa wasn't co-running a tamale factory and cantina just outside of Wastonville, she was hosting friends and family at her saloon, where "drinking, dancing, and eating tomales" abounded. Josefa's friend, Maria Ascenciόn Solόrsano, was surprised she lived so long: "this woman lived like a rich woman, she ate of the best and drank of the best, and in spite of that she lasted long." "Surely," deduced Maria, Josefa "must have taken after her ancestors." Josefa Velasquez "had no fear of anything," another testament to her ancestors. Josefa had been born in a mission, and she outlived the institution that silenced generations of Indigenous peoples across California starting in the late eighteenth century. Josefa "lasted long," and so have her descendants, who today make up the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band.
Read a conventional history of the California missions, and you may not meet the lively Josefa Velasquez, hear the voice of her friend Maria Ascenciόn Solόrsano, or know that their descendants still live in the Santa Cruz region today. But when Indigenous voices are placed at the center of California history, they create a remarkable collective testimony to Indigenous survival. This is what makes We Are Not Animals: Indigenous Politics of Survival, Rebellion, and Reconstitution in Nineteenth-Century California (University of Nebraska Press, 2022) such a powerful book. With creative use of mission archives and oral history, author Martin Rizzo-Martinez shows how Indigenous peoples in the Santa Cruz region resisted waves of colonization throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This politics of rebellion took many forms, ranging from mass mobilization against missions themselves (like the 1793 Quiroste-led rebellion against Mission Santa Cruz) to unflinching assertions of Indigenous identity (such as Macedonia Lorenzo's 1851 testimony who, after stating "himself an Indian," was deemed an "incompetent" witness in American courts). Against increasingly considerable odds, Indigenous peoples repeatedly rejected various efforts of erasure, in turn revealing them as colonialism's great failure. An homage to Indigenous peoples' long struggle against colonization in California, We Are Not Animals narrates a critical history of how Indigenous families fought for their futures.
Author Martin Rizzo-Martinez is the state park historian of California State Park's Santa Cruz District. Dr. Rizzo-Martinez is currently producing a podcast, Challenging Colonialism, that brings Indigenous voices back to the center of California history. He is also working on a documentary project about the 2015 Walk for the Ancestors pilgrimage in honor of Indigenous ancestors who suffered and perished in the Mission system. Listeners can purchase We Are Not Animals from the University of Nebraska Press for 40% off using discount code: 6AS21.
Annabel LaBrecque is a PhD student in the Department of History at UC Berkeley. You can find her on Twitter @labrcq.