I read Dydia DeLyser’s Ramona Memories–and can highly recommend it. She traces a fascinating history of Southern California through the turn-of-the-century population boom, with the concurrent creation of a California myth, “old California,” land of roses and beauty and gracious Spanish living.
Meaning, as a new Southern California was violently exploding into being, tourist and development boosters had to create a romantic mythical past in order to provide some sense of continuity. Ramona and how that novel was read had a big influence on what emerged–especially with the way people so effortlessly mixed fiction with fact. It’s truly striking how so many readers, who knew full well Ramona was a novel, would still breathtakingly visit locations of her “marriage” and “birthplace”, mixing descriptions of what they saw with events from the story, as if it was real, fusing both in their imaginations. Imagination and fantasy inscribed itself on the landscape as communicated within and without Southern California.
Now, we’re left with the Pageant, with its moving picture show of spectacle, serving the same purpose: an culturally undifferentiated, romantic past that leads straight to an inevitable American present. How we want to see that region, and ourselves.
We saw it right before the show started, when the Artistic Director came onstage and asked all the military veterans in the audience to stand and be recognized. Like, they’re the reason we’re doing this show.
We saw it in the California Historical plaques sprinkling the perimeter of the theater, proclaiming that this valley area had worth not only because here “was laid part of the scene and here resided a number of the characters” presented in the novel Ramona, but because they’d been performing that fiction in pageant form since 1923, the performance itself taking on the gloss and sheen of history.
We saw it in 200 local kids, mostly white, dressing as Injuns and standing in the landscape, receiving their due, inheriting the chapparal-covered earth.