American Literature María Amparo Ruiz de Burton
Alicia Contreras
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0191


María Amparo Ruiz de Burton (b. 1832–d. 1895) was a Mexican-born woman who experienced the processes of Manifest Destiny and Reconstruction firsthand. At the end of the US-Mexico War (1848), Ruiz de Burton and her mother left their native Baja California for Monterey, Alta California to reap the promised rewards of US citizenship. A descendant and friend of elite, landed, and politically prominent Mexicans and Californios, she technically married the enemy, Captain Henry S. Burton, a member of the US Army during the US-Mexico War who would go on to fight for the Union during the Civil War. This marriage enabled Ruiz de Burton to cross vast geographic and cultural terrains; within the span of a decade, she left California and interacted with both Republicans and Democrats in Rhode Island, New York, Washington, Delaware, and Virginia. Her movement in social circles that included such political figures as Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Abraham Lincoln, and Jefferson Davis granted her a unique perspective of US-Mexico relations and what would soon become, with westward expansion and the transcontinental railroad, the socioeconomic displacement of her fellow Californios. An intelligent woman with a flair for writing and expressing political opinions, she was the first Mexican to publish fiction in English in the United States: her debut novel Who Would Have Thought It? (1872) was published anonymously by J.B. Lippincott & Co. of Philadelphia; her play Don Quixote de la Mancha: A Comedy in Five Acts, Taken from Cervantes’ Novel of That Same Name (1876) was published by Carmany of San Francisco; and her second and final novel The Squatter and the Don (1885) was published under the pseudonym of C. Loyal by Samuel Carson & Co. of San Francisco. Since their republications as part of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project in the 1990s, the two novels have helped scholars mend a once-perceivable fissure in 19th-century literary history. They have also enhanced scholars’ understandings of Chicana/o and Mexican American literature; US women’s literature; and US domestic, sentimental, and realist literature. The work offers an idiosyncratic historical outlook that is practically matchless. Ruiz de Burton experienced four major wars that radically altered the lives of Mexicans and Mexican Americans—the Texas War of Independence, the US-Mexico War, the US Civil War, and the French Intervention in Mexico. Her fictional writings and posthumously published letters document the subsequent and fateful transformation of the United States and Mexico.

General Overviews

There are few full-length overviews of Ruiz de Burton’s work, given its relatively recent recovery in the 1990s and an incomplete archive. The most important and comprehensive among these is Ruiz de Burton 2001, an edited collection of Ruiz de Burton’s personal correspondence that follows the trajectory of her life and writing. While this overview is more suited to an audience with some prior knowledge of the Mexican American writer, Montes and Goldman 2004, a critical anthology, provides multiple historical and literary contexts for both beginning and advanced scholars interested in researching and teaching her material. Beyond these two highly referenced studies, Kanellos 2003 offers an impressive overview of US Hispanic writing that contextualizes Ruiz de Burton’s biography and work. Remaining overviews impart larger stories of Latina/o writing in the 19th century, which—although not strictly focused on Ruiz de Burton—provide the necessary groundwork for understanding the vast cultural implications of her writing, and of what it meant to produce literature as a Mexican woman living in the United States amid Manifest Destiny and Reconstruction. Gruesz 2012 provides a remarkable history of Mexican American print culture, making clear the various literary contexts, trends, and marketplaces that affected Ruiz de Burton’s production and reception. Gutiérrez and Padilla 1993 and Lazo and Alemán 2016 are critical anthologies that identify developments in 19th-century Latina/o writing, situating Ruiz de Burton’s work within a longstanding literary tradition. Because some scholars consider Gutiérrez and Padilla 1993 to be an outdated approach to recovered work, it is best read alongside Lazo and Alemán 2016. The literary histories of Gruesz 2001 and López 2011 provide national and hemispheric contexts to read Mexican, Latina/o, and Latin American writing, ultimately helping scholars see Ruiz de Burton as participating in an extensive web of 19th-century social, cultural, and political literary exchanges. These studies may require scholars to have some prior knowledge of Ruiz de Burton and the debates surrounding US Mexican and Latina/o literary histories. Finally, the accessible archival works of Sánchez 1995 and Haas 1995 conceive of Ruiz de Burton in light of 19th-century Mexican/Californio history and cultural erasure, when Anglo-American westward expansion permanently altered the state and nation. Outlining a number of approaches, these studies construct general overviews of the immense and vibrant 19th-century environment in which Ruiz de Burton lived and wrote.

  • Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. Ambassadors of Culture: The Transamerican Origins of Latino Writing. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

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    One of the most important literary histories on Latino writing and its transamerican origins, this book navigates a web of social, political, economic, and other contexts to rewire scholars’ understandings of 19th-century print culture. Although the discussion of Ruiz de Burton is brief, it places the writer within a flourishing literary landscape navigated by both canonical and unknown US and Latino authors who shared cultural experiences through reading and writing.

  • Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. “Mexican/American: The Making of Borderlands Print Culture.” In The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture. Vol. 6, US Popular Print Culture. Edited by Christine Bold, 457–476. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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    An overview of 19th- and early 20th-century print culture in the US-Mexico borderlands that emphasizes popular print such has transnational, bilingual, and Spanish-language newspapers. Discusses Ruiz de Burton’s two anonymously published novels in the broader context of late 19th-century US history and print culture; the novels’ print histories provide insight into the strategies employed by Ruiz de Burton to gain visibility and readership.

  • Gutiérrez, Ramón, and Genaro Padilla, eds. Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 1993.

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    Landmark critical anthology that views US Hispanic literature as beginning in the 19th century, and Mexican American literature as taking shape in frontier spaces, amid physical and cultural conflict. In its efforts to expand and diversify US Hispanic canons, this book offers a more inclusive understanding of Mexican American literature; here, Ruiz de Burton’s writing—though at times seen as white, upper-class, or elitist—helps scholars redraw the boundaries of “Chicana/o” literature.

  • Haas, Lisbeth. Conquests and Historical Identities in California, 1769–1936. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

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    Book that focuses on Indian, Californio, and Mexican historical narratives that shift and enhance scholars’ understandings of the West and California. Covered in the second chapter, Ruiz de Burton’s biography and final novel become Californio historical narratives that, although elitist, offer a gendered lens through which to view the socially and politically tumultuous frontier landscapes of the 19th century.

  • Kanellos, Nicolás. Hispanic Literature of the United States: A Comprehensive Reference. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.

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    Provides an excellent overview of US Hispanic literature in effort to extend its trajectory temporally and thematically and encourage a more nuanced understanding and teaching of it. Ideal for beginning and advanced scholars, offers a detailed chronology of Hispanic literature and US culture as well as an extensive list of encyclopedic entries on Hispanic authors, both of which include and contextualize Ruiz de Burton.

  • Lazo, Rodrigo, and Jesse Alemán, eds. The Latino Nineteenth Century. New York: New York University Press, 2016.

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    For scholars studying US, Latin American, and Latina/o writing, this critical anthology offers a 19th-century literary history that aims to correct largely Anglophone approaches to the era. The essays range in focus, demonstrating hemispheric, national, and regional modes of inquiry. Here, Ruiz de Burton’s work becomes a part of a longstanding Latino literary tradition, which grappled with questions of nation, citizenship, politics, race, and gender.

  • López, Marissa K. Chicano Nations: The Hemispheric Origins of Mexican American Literature. New York: New York University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814752616.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This literary history argues that Chicana/o writings started to emerge at the turn of the 19th century in the hemispheric imaginings of Spanish colonists, not at the culmination of the mid- 19th-century US-Mexico War with the creative production of the working classes. In this reimagining of the Chicana/o trajectory, Ruiz de Burton follows from literary ancestors who were also of the upper classes and sought to network and modernize.

  • Montes, Amelia María, and Anne Elizabeth Goldman, eds. María Amparo Ruiz de Burton: Critical and Pedagogical Perspectives. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

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    For beginning and advanced scholars interested in researching and teaching Ruiz de Burton, this anthology is comprised of essays on her life and Primary Works and their relation to such instructional categories as race, class, and gender; US and Mexican nationalism; California history and literature; and 19th-century American history and literature. Also includes a highly useful chronology of life events and a bibliography. See also Bibliographies and Archival Collections.

  • Ruiz de Burton, María Amparo. Conflicts of Interest: The Letters of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton. Edited by Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 2001.

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    For scholars interested in Ruiz de Burton’s life and letters, this comprehensive collection of her correspondence traces her biography and contemplates her place in US history and literary studies. This collection is the cornerstone of Ruiz de Burton studies; the editors make accessible previously unpublished archival documents, arranging them neatly, largely chronologically, and offering insightful social and historical commentary. See also Bibliographies and Archival Collections and Primary Works.

  • Sánchez, Rosaura. Telling Identities: The Californio Testimonios. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

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    Book that examines the largely archival testimonios (testimonies) of Californios that were commissioned by Hubert Howe Bancroft to document California history and, in this particular case, its Spanish and Mexican past; helps generate a more usable Mexican American history for those who study Chicana/o literature. As part of this Californio population, Ruiz de Burton produced 19th-century literature and correspondence that dovetailed with these testimonios.

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