American Literature Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
Marissa López
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0138


Mariano Vallejo’s (b. 1807–d. 1890) father, Ignacio, came to California from Mexico with Junipero Serra in the 18th century, and the family grew into one of the most prominent, powerful, and wealthy in the region. As a member of the landowning Mexican elite, Vallejo’s experiences after California’s annexation to the United States are emblematic of the ways in which Mexicans in the United States were proletarianized and racialized in the wake of the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848. His narrative and others like his, collected in archives throughout the southwestern United States, with their eloquent political commentary and tales of loss, comprise one of the key genres in Chicana/o literary history, the testimonio. Vallejo’s Recuerdos are unique, however, because in many ways his narrative troubles this generic classification. Though it reflects the interview format, it gestures also toward the modes of its own production and Vallejo’s institutional position as author. Vallejo’s text is generically unstable, shifting from autobiography to legal analysis to advice manual and back again with the turn of a page. The Recuerdos are highly self-conscious about genre and authorial positioning; as such, they lend themselves to close analysis in ways that the more linear and summary narratives of the other rancheras/rancheros do not. Furthermore, Vallejo demonstrates a cosmopolitan awareness lacking in most other testimonios. Vallejo’s discussions of international trade, the intricacies of Mexican law, and his personal dealings with business people and politicians from several different countries allow the reader to note the development of a Chicana/o literary subjectivity in an international, global context. Vallejo’s significant literary and historiographic interventions come into relief when read in relation to Hubert Howe Bancroft’s Works, in particular the seven volumes dedicated to California. The two men’s respective histories of California reveal complex processes of national identification at work that suggest new ways of thinking through the role that wealthy rancheros play in Chicana/o literary history, as well as an expansion in our understanding of the applicability of terms such as “transnationalism” and “globalization” to the United States in the 19th century. Bancroft and Vallejo’s ideological differences are manifest in their formal decisions about genre and narrative positioning, rendering them both eminently teachable. Vallejo’s work has resounding relevance in literary and historical studies, however, because the Chicana/o literary nationalism we see emerging in Vallejo’s narrative has echoes in modern Chicana/o literature, as authors struggle to narrate their own histories.

Primary Texts

Vallejo’s primary literary output includes his Recuerdos and his Poems; only the former has been translated into English, and neither has been published. The Recuerdos have been excerpted and published in several volumes suitable for classroom use, and Vallejo’s descendants have published reminiscences and some fiction. Included here are the most easily accessible Vallejo materials that will be of interest both to scholars and students. The five-volume Recuerdos históricos y personales tocante á la Alta California (Historical and Personal Memoirs Relating to Alta California) provides an opportune starting place for an exploration of the intersections of Chicana/o nationalism, narrative, and globalization. His personal reflections are complemented and illustrated in the “Wagon Train” letter that Beebe and Senkewicz include in their collection (Vallejo 2001), as well as in Ruiz de Burton 2001, both of which offer glimpses of how Vallejo presented himself in personal and professional interactions. The differences in his epistolary self-conception versus the narrative voice in Recuerdos, nicely presented in Vallejo 1997, is both noteworthy and very teachable. While the preceding texts reveal how Vallejo saw himself and wanted others to see him, Vallejo 1994 and Beebe and Senkewicz 2006, by contrast, show readers how Vallejo was appreciated by his contemporaries.

  • Beebe, Rose Marie, and Robert M. Senkewicz. “Rosalía Vallejo.” In Testimonios: Early California through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848. Edited and translated by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz, 17–31. Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 2006.

    Henry Cerruti interviewed Rosalía Vallejo Leese, Vallejo’s sister, sometime in the 1870s. Beebe and Senkewicz include her narrative, which incorporates a first-person account of the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846, during which Vallejo and Rosalía’s husband, Jacob Leese, were put in jail.

  • Ruiz de Burton, María Amparo. Conflicts of Interest: The Letters of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton. Edited by Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita. Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project Publication. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 2001.

    Ruiz de Burton, a 19th-century novelist and activist for the rights of women and Latinos, was also Vallejo’s cousin by marriage. They shared an extensive correspondence; many of the letters Sánchez and Pita include in this well-curated collection. Ruiz de Burton modeled Don Mariano Alamar, the protagonist of her novel The Squatter and the Don (Ruiz de Burton 1997, cited under Representation in Literature and Film), after Vallejo.

  • Vallejo, Mariano Guadalupe. “Selections from Recuerdos.” In Gold Rush: A Literary Exploration. Edited by Michael Kowalewski, 30–35 and 162–167. Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 1997.

    Kowalewski reprints two sections of Vallejo’s Recuerdos, one about the Bear Flag Revolt and the other about the discovery of gold and its immediate aftermath in Northern California. Kowalewski offers little in the way of headnote or commentary on Vallejo, but his general introduction to the volume neatly frames the texts in the context of the gold rush.

  • Vallejo, Mariano Guadalupe. “The Arrival of a North American Wagon Train.” In Lands of Promise and Despair: Chronicles of Early California, 1535–1846. Edited by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz, 423–427. California Legacy Book. Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 2001.

    This letter to the Mexican Ministry of War describes the arrival of a group of emigrants from Missouri. In an effort to stem the tide of immigrants, the Mexican government had recently passed a law requiring all immigrants to have legal passports upon entry into Mexico, which this party did not. The letter describes Vallejo’s ambivalent position as Mexican military commander of the Northern Frontier: he welcomed industrious immigrants while also, with the example of Texas fresh in his mind, recognizing the danger they posed to national security.

  • Vallejo, Mariano Guadalupe. Historical and Personal Memoirs Relating to Alta California: A Political History of the Country from 1769 to 1849: Customs of the Californians: Biographical Notes concerning Notable Individuals. 5 vols. Translated by Earl R. Hewitt. TS. BANC MSS CD 17–21. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    A very serviceable translation into English of Vallejo’s Recuerdos. It is typed, which is very helpful even for readers of Spanish. Vallejo’s handwriting can be difficult to read, and his spelling is irregular.

  • Vallejo, Mariano Guadalupe. Poems. Vallejo Family Papers, Sonoma State Historic Park, Sonoma, CA. Series 1: Subseries B, Folders 4–6.

    A large collection of occasional verse written by Vallejo to commemorate mainly family events.

  • Vallejo, Mariano Guadalupe. Recuerdos históricos y personales tocante á la Alta California: Historia política del país, 1769–1849; Costumbres de los californios; Apuntes biográficos de personas notables. 5 vols. BANC MSS CD 17–21. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Vallejo’s five-volume manuscript tells a hybrid personal and political history of California and comprises a wealth of anecdotal, social, legislative, historical, military, and literary information. The manuscript is handwritten; there is no typescript and it is available on microfilm only, though researchers can, if necessary, make special arrangements to handle the original.

  • Vallejo, Platon Mariano Guadalupe. Memoirs of the Vallejos: New Light on the History, before and after the “Gringos” Came, Based on Original Documents and Recollections of Dr. Platon M. G. Vallejo. Fairfield, CA: James D. Stevenson, 1994.

    This is a 1994 edition of a series of articles that appeared originally in the San Francisco Bulletin from 26 January 26 to 17 February 1914. It’s a quaint tale of Vallejo’s son Platon’s (a Harvard-trained medical doctor who was California’s first native-born physician) childhood memories of his father. Platon’s narrative is interesting both for its content and in comparison to the romantic, southwestern folklore of such early Chicana writers as Cleofas Jaramillo, Nina Otero-Warren, and Jovita González, who were active in the 1930s.

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