Antonina Woodsum

  • Fellowship year:2021-2022
  • University: Columbia University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Fiesta Immemorial: Southern California Political Economy and Native Nationhood
  • My dissertation, “Fiesta Immemorial: Southern California Political Economy and Native Nationhood” argues that Southern California Indians were integral to the region’s economic development and social landscape during the first half of the twentieth century. Despite their demographic marginality and geographically-peripheral reservations, Kumeyaay, Cahuilla, Serrano, Luiseño, and Cupeño peoples’ relationships to each other, their territories, and non-Natives profoundly influenced political, market, and cultural conditions in Southern California. Examining the labor and livelihood of Southern California Indians, which included hosting traditional fiestas full of gambling, drinking, and dancing, tending their own lands, and migratory and seasonal work, my dissertation offers novel insights into the disciplining of interracial sociality and working-class leisure, enforcement of anti-liquor laws among Indians and non-Indians, and the emerging US carceral apparatus. Relations among and between Natives and non-Natives endured surveillance, policing, and regulation from federal agents, state officers, missionaries, philanthropists, corporate interests, and humanitarian reformers. I assemble my evidence from journals, letters, and ephemera of missionaries, reformers, Office of Indian Affairs superintendents, government officials’ correspondence, Congressional reports, arrest records, historical newspapers, Indian rights’ publications, oral histories, and consultation with tribes. “Fiesta Immemorial” shows how the consolidation of American state power in collaboration with capital accumulation and its parallel policies of “protection” facilitated the policing of sites of livelihood and labor of both Native and non-Native populations. The centrality and continuity of the fiestas throughout the twentieth century, however, illustrates the capacity of Southern California Indians to sustain their political, cultural, and economic practices and care for their lands, even as knowledge and cultural production cast California Indians as pitiable, poor, and inevitably disappearing.