Antonia Castañeda has utilized scholarship from women’s studies and Mexican-American history to examine nineteenth-century literary portrayals of Mexican women. As Castañeda notes, scholars of women’s history observe that in the United States, male novelists of the period—during which, according to these scholars, women’s traditional economic role in home-based agriculture was threatened by the transition to a factory-based industrial economy—define women solely in their domestic roles of wife and mother. Castañeda finds that during the same period that saw non-Hispanic women being economically displaced by industrialization, Hispanic law in territorial California protected the economic position of “Californianas” (the Mexican women of the territory) by ensuring them property rights and inheritance rights equal to those of males.
For Castañeda, the laws explain a stereotypical plot created primarily by male, non-Hispanic novelists: the story of an ambitious non-Hispanic merchant or trader desirous of marrying an elite Californiana. These novels’ favorable portrayal of such women is noteworthy, since Mexican-American historians have concluded that unflattering literary depictions of Mexicans were vital in rallying the United States public’s support for the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The importance of economic alliances forged through marriages with Californianas explains this apparent contradiction. Because of their real-life economic significance, the Californianas were portrayed more favorably than were others of the same nationality.
The “apparent contradiction” mentioned in the highlighted text refers to the discrepancy between the
legal status of Mexican women in territorial California and their status in the United States
unflattering depiction of Mexicans in novels and the actual public sentiment about the Mexican-American War
existence of many marriages between Californianas and non-Hispanic merchants and the strictures against them expressed in novels
literary depiction of elite Californianas and the literary depiction of other Mexican individuals
novelistic portrayals of elite Californianas’ privileged lives and the actual circumstances of those lives