Latin-American Heritage in Tuolumne County

Tuolumne County has a rich and complex history, from the first inhabitants of this land, the Me-Wuk people, to the arrival of colonizers and gold seekers that brought drastic changes and devastation to the native culture and environment, to modern days of contradictory perspectives and polarization, and the forever search for better paths to an inevitable common future.

The county also was at some point in time, one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas, including the Latin/Hispanic community, which has been present in the region for generations. Their influence and contributions can be seen in many aspects of the county’s culture, such as the language, cuisine, music, rodeos, and even the name of the county seat originally named “El Campo de Los Sonorenses,” now Sonora, which pays tribute to the founders who came from Sonora, Mexico.

However, history tells us also of the difficult transitions the Latin American community has experienced from being under Spanish and Mexican flags to becoming part of the USA. While Mexico had abolished slavery and granted women rights to own property in 1820s, they found themselves later fighting in the California’s Congress to preserve those rights.

Latinas’ rights had an impact in California. A fair number of real estate deeds show that Latinas owned property and business in Sonora, Jamestown, and Columbia, among many other places. These women, were smart entrepreneurs, raised families, and participated actively in community affairs. Like Dona Elisa Martinez business “El Campo de Martinez” that provided jobs to over one thousand workers. Another businessperson, Dona Ygnacia Ramirez, owned multiple parcels of land in Jamestown and Sonora, including one that contained a dancing hall and a bowling alley, which she deeded to her son R.A. Preston[i].

Currently two streets in Sonora are named after earlier Latin/Hispanics pioneer families – “Barret St. and Cabezut St.- in recognition of Jacinto Barreto, a merchant, and the Cabezut, two families that came from Sonora, Mexico, and were merchants, ranch owners, and civic engaged residents in 1860s.

 Although the Latino/Hispanic community were busy building business and providing for their families they also knew how to have fun! When the community learned of the victory of the battle of Puebla, Mexico on May 5th, 1862, thousands of miles away here in Tuolumne County they found a way to celebrate. Why was this battle important for Mexico and for USA? It was a crucial moment in the defense of the early democracies in both countries, at a time when most European countries were still under monarchies, our countries were building something different republican, democratic estates.

Cinco de Mayo is a celebration that carries the spirit of freedom and community, therefore, the Latin American community with their characteristic spirit of joy, and camaraderie erupted in parades and music and dances!  The first spontaneous celebration of Cinco de Mayo in Columbia and then In Sonora, lead the way for it to be an American tradition that quickly spread throughout California, Nevada, and Oregon. It traveled by way of the civic organizations called ‘Juntas Patrióticas,’ made up of prominent community minded man & women of Latin/Hispanic heritage[ii].

Today, we celebrate the presence and contributions of people of Latin/Hispanic American heritage in Tuolumne County, and invite you to discover the many stories, and the places that shelter the vestiges of that era

[i] Marianne S. Jacobson. Thesis. 2007

[ii] El Cinco de Mayo, an-American Tradition. David E. Hayes Bautista. 2012