By Eduardo Santana
SAN DIEGO – The “Los Californianos” organization is seeking to preserve the cultural heritage of people of Hispanic origin whose ancestors were among the colonizers of Alta (Upper) California before the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.
Focusing on the conservation of history, music, culture and infrastructure, the group also compiles the Hispanic genealogy of the 19th century residents who settled in the Alta California region.
The Spanish colonial province of Las Californias was divided into two parts, the area of the Franciscan missions in the north, what is now Nevada and California, and the Dominican missions in the south, now the Mexican states of Baja California and Baja California Sur.
“We’re trying to preserve the Hispanic heritage of the soldiers and their families who established the presidios and missions,” Los Californianos spokesman John Lorenzana told Efe.
An example of the heritage that the group is trying to preserve, Lorenzana said, is the legacy of the “Soldados de Cuera,” whose descendents still live in California.
The Soldados de Cuera were regular members of the Spanish army, with the distinction that they patrolled on horseback dressed in a leather uniform and each had the obligation to maintain six horses.
During the majority of the colonial period, there were only about 220 Spanish soldiers in Upper California, compared with more than 200,000 Indians.
Considered to be among the best riders in the world, they recruited more members from the ranches in northern Mexico, as well as in present-day California and Arizona, and used leather clothing to protect themselves both from the spines of desert plants and from the arrows of the Indians who resisted Spanish domination or who attacked the missions looking for cattle, horses or women.
“Between eight and 10 ‘soldados de cuera,’ after an attack, would set out with six horses each to pursue the fugitives, and when a horse gave out, they could rapidly change to the next one. The pursuit continued until the Indians escaped to the mountains or there was a battle, usually short, in which they abandoned part of the booty, escaping with the rest,” Lorenzana said.
Los Californianos was founded in December 1968 in anticipation of the bicentennial of the discovery of San Francisco Bay in 1769 by the expedition led by Don Gaspar de Portola.
“We strive to ensure that an accurate and authentic oral, written, and pictorial interpretation of the history of Spanish and Mexican Alta California is provided to the public, especially to our fourth grade students who study that period of history as part of their curriculum,” the group emphasizes among its objectives.
With activities in both the northern and southern parts of California, the group seeks to create awareness about the culture of the period, with exhibits of ceramics of the time that are on display until January at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park.
The group also promotes events like the one held on the second Saturday of every month at the Los Angeles Central Library, where the Genealogical Society of Hispanic America offers help to people wanting to research their family trees.
It also holds quarterly meetings/festivals that are open to the public and have assorted activities, workshops, music, dancing and various recreations by people wearing the garments of the colonial period.
Los Californianos also has a traveling genealogical library which can be consulted by the public, along with publications, and they offer historical copies of land grants issued by Spanish or Mexican authorities.
The group has ties to other organizations that also seek to preserve and study the Mexican and Spanish heritage of California, among which are the California Mission Studies Association, the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research, Los Fundadores y Amigos de Alta California (Founders and Friends of Alta California), and Los Pobladores 200, the descendants of founders of the Town of Los Angeles. EFE