Intimate Frontiers

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In Hurtado’s Intimate Frontiers, the author argues that, by the late 1800s, an Anglo-American presence in California had dominated the region, and Anglos in that territory had risen to the top of the social hierarchy. There were many draws to California for the migrating Anglos, and numerous reasons for braving the often dangerous journey, just as the means of establishing an “Anglo hegemony” were numerous as well. Hurtado analyzes the period through the lens of gender-relations and sex, and through this lens the reader is able to better understand the unifying conditions of settlers and citizens in 19th century California.

Hopes of prosperity were the most common and convincing appeal of travel to California from the early Spanish settlers in the 18th century, to the American and Chinese gold miners in the 1850s. Spanish missionaries formed the earliest settlements in the California territory, establishing missions in hopes of spreading God and a Catholic way of life to the native peoples. Spaniards brought with them the strict sexual standards of the church, opposed to the “unnatural sexual behavior” Hurtado 4) they found among these people. The Spaniards also brought with them a more complex sexual ideology not taught by the friars or priests of the church - one focused on honor and the assertion of male dominance through the seduction of women (whose family honor would be stripped in the process). It’s no wonder that the Indian responses to the imposition of these new rules were “fraught with misunderstanding” (Hurtado 15), as they were being taught to understand both the teachings of the friars and the underlining cultural traditions of the Spaniards. Spaniards raping Indian women became a common occurrence, as well as many Indian women moving into prostitution for the first time as a common practice (Hurtado 16). The confusion and conflict of clashing sexual norms and expectations led to the destruction of Indian culture, as natives either desperately and...
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