- 2012elections - 9/11 Special Coverage - aca - africanamericanalzheimers - aids - Alabama News Network - american - Awards & Expo - bees - bilingual - border - californiaeducation - Caribbean - cir - citizenship - climatechange - collgeinmiami - community - democrats - ecotourism - Elders - Election 2012 - elections2012 - escuelas - Ethnic Media in the News - Ethnicities - Events - Eye on Egypt - Fellowships - food - Foreclosures - Growing Up Poor in the Bay Area - Health Care Reform - healthyhungerfreekids - howtodie - humiliating - immigrants - Inside the Shadow Economy - kimjongun - Latin America - Law & Justice - Living - Media - memphismediaroundtable - Multimedia - NAM en Espaol - Politics & Governance - Religion - Richmond Pulse - Science & Technology - Sports - The Movement to Expand Health Care Access - Video - Voter Suppression - War & Conflict - 攔截盤查政策 - Top Stories - Immigration - Health - Economy - Education - Environment - Ethnic Media Headlines - International Affairs - NAM en Español - Occupy Protests - Youth Culture - Collaborative Reporting

A Civil War Navidad in Los Angeles, 1861

New America Media, Commentary, David E. Hayes-Bautista Posted: Dec 25, 2009

Editor's Note: Back in 1861, as the Civil War raged on the nation's east coast, early Mexican Americans in California's militias were being pulled into the conflict. But they took a break from hostilities to celebrate Christmas with Mexican traditions, writes David Hayes-Bautista, in a column that features Latino history in California.

Brigadier General Andres Pico, Commander of the California Militias, saw that the Civil War, already raging along the Atlantic coast, was pulling California into the flames of war. Friends, neighbors---even families--- were beginning to split apart over issues of freedom versus slavery. While he, like many Latinos, had publicly proclaimed his support for the Union, his one-time fellow commander, the southern-leaning Captain Alonzo Ridley had gone the other way, broke into the Los Angeles Armory, stole more than 70 rifles and sabers, then scuttled across the Arizona desert with them to join the Confederate army.

As the Christmas season approached, he and his brother, Pio Pico, the last governor of California while it was still part of the Republic of Mexico, decided to offer, perhaps for the last time, a gift to all Angelinos: a Navidad celebration. They invited the town to come to the courtyard of the house they jointly occupied across the street from the Plaza. As the Noche Buena approached, families and merchants set up ramadas by lashing together rough frames of stout tree limbs, and tying leafy boughs to the frame to create walls and a roof.

The classic Navidad dish--- tamales, a Meso-American feast item for over 3,000 years--- was offered at one ramada. Another one sold crunch, spicy buuelos, an item brought originally from Spain. Others offered enchiladas, tortillas, candy, fruit, aguas, spirits and music.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, the crowd built up, having arrived on foot and on horseback, in carretas and in coaches. Families and individuals milled between the plaza and the courtyard, and greeted one another: Feliz Navidad, Buenas noches.

With a bang and a flourish, the pastorela troupe broke through the crowd and the Navidad play began, following a centuries-old narrative. Shepherds watched over their flocks by night. Then the Archangel San Miguel appeared to them, saying Fear not!, and announced to them the miraculous birth in Bethlehem. Excited by the news, they began their journey to the nativity scene.

But thenenter the Devil with horns, hooves and a tail! Trying to waylay the shepherds, he tempted them, flattered them, cajoled them, mostly in ad-lib dialogue with slightly off-color, double-entendre phrases. The Devil seemed to be winning, the shepherds were faltering when the Archangel San Miguel reappeared, with sword in hand. A slapstick sword fight ensued, the angel and devil chasing each other through the crowd, who roared with laughter at every pratfall. Finally, Good triumphed, the Devil was banished, and the shepherds arrived safely to the manger.

The bells in the church tower in the chapel of Nuestra Seora de los Angeles called the faithful to the misa de gallo. After the service, families returned to their homes for a late evening meal, then to bed to refresh themselves for the Navidad activities over the next 12 days: visits, meals, music, dancing, horse races and gatherings, until the Reyes Magos (Three Kings) arrived to reward all good children. And, of course, even as today, all children were good during Navidad.

The cheerful season was over, and the clouds of the Civil War descended upon the Golden State. General Andres Pico agreed to recruit and train the Spanish-speaking Native California Cavalry to fight for freedom and democracy against the Confederacy, the French emperor Napoleon III decided to take advantage of the Civil War to invade Mexico, and five months after this Navidad celebration, his French troops stormed the walls of Puebla andbut that is the topic of another column.

David E. Hayes-Bautista, PhD, is professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA whose most recent book is La Nueva California: Latinos in the Golden State (University of California Press, 2004)

Page 1 of 1




Just Posted

NAM Coverage

Civil Liberties

Why There Are Words

Aug 10, 2011