American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



The southwestern United States has an exceptional history that makes the region a prime focus for study concentrating on culture, tradition, language and land. As an area closely tied to the concept of conquest, the Southwest has had its share of issues related to colonization, imperialism, Manifest Destiny, and cultural erasure. This study focuses on the Southwest as a region that is closely linked to the land as it relates to the formation of identities of its people. Mexican Americans in the Southwest have historically experienced struggle, particularly after 1848 and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, when native Californios, Nuevo Mexicanos, Tejanos and others were thrust into American citizenship without many of the benefits afforded other citizens. They were also at the center of a battle for their land--land that was highly contested as the ideological concept of Manifest Destiny promoted the idea of westward expansion and takeover of "undiscovered," "unclaimed," and "virgin lands." This study provides a comparative analysis of Hispana/Mexicana testimonios herederas, a concept I use to identify the shared, or inherited, history of women's struggle and resistance across historical contexts. The specific testimonios examined develop from the cultural production of Mareda Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Jovita Gonzalez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca and Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce. By using an interdisciplinary approach, this dissertation demonstrates the diverse range of historical materials that can be used in academic research related to Hispana/Mexicana land-related struggles. These include ethnographic, autobiographic, historical, and literary materials, all of which help to re-imagine traditional conceptions of identity, gender, history, and culture. The hybrid methods employed by the Hispanas/Mexicanas reveal what Chicana feminist Emma Perez (1999) calls the "third space[s]," where social, individual and community commentary emerge(s). This study demonstrates that women were active agents in land struggles long before the Chicano movement and Chicana identity politics. Specifically, it suggests that female agency was present in the fight for land in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries across the Southwest, in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The analysis demonstrates that the women do not follow dominant narratives despite their social status as elites. This action indicates that, as a whole, Hispanas/Mexicanas pushed back, forcing contemporary scholars to acknowledge that regardless of class level, they actively engaged in the land struggle early on.

Project Sponsors

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, University of New Mexico Land Grant Studies Program, Hispanic Womens Council




Land, Gender, Politics, Identity, Southwest, Culture, Autobiography, Testimonio, Feminist, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century, California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Jovita Gonzalez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce, History, Hybrid, Elite, Testimonios herederas

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Advisor

Melendez, A. Gabriel

First Committee Member (Chair)

Aleman, Jesse

Second Committee Member

Trujillo, Michael L.

Third Committee Member

Diaz, Rose