I have to confess that my understanding of California history is very limited.   It’s not something I ever got in school in a consistent way; nor was it a subject that I was ever drawn to explore on my own.  Ironically, though I did not care much for the subject of California history, I did care about local history. The names of places, the origins of things, the beginnings.  If I am standing on Donlon Road looking at Old St. Raymond’s Church, there is a part of me that wants to know…where did this come from, who built it what was their experience of this land before freeways, strip malls, tract housing and office complexes?  I stand here now, but who stood before and what did they experience?

On Sunday we will be exploring the life of a woman who came much before our time….Juana Briones de Miranda.  She was born in 1802 of a mixed race couple that included Spanish, Mexican, African and Indian ancestry.  Her life, so unusual for a woman, but also for a woman of mixed race, included owning her own land, Juana Brionesobtaining a legal separation from her husband at a time when there was no divorce,  successfully raising 8 children and supporting them with her own vegetable farm and cattle ranch. 

According to the Presidio of San Francisco website, without any formal training she was a nurse and midwife, a curandera, healer who was a legend in her own time. She treated smallpox and scurvy, set broken bones, used herbal remedies for her healing. As the political fortunes of California moved from Spanish, to Mexican to U.S. governance, and many other Mexicans were losing their rancheros, she took her claim of land ownership all the way to the Supreme Court and won. “One of the few Mexican women of early California who owned a rancho in her own name (not as inherited property of a deceased spouse), Juana’s life story is a model of personal integrity, economic self-sufficiency, compassion for others and success as a landowner against great odds,” writes Stanford History Professor Albert Camarillo in a Palo Alto Weekly column.

So you would think with all this achievement that there would be a book about her.  But there really isn’t.  What we do have though, is a wonderful storyteller, Olga Loya as Juana BrionesOlga Loya, who has fashioned a unique one woman performance piece on her life. In a dramatic monologue and dialogue with the audience, in English and in Spanish, Olga tells us the story of Juana Briones by becoming Juana Briones.  She will perform at the Dublin Library on Sunday starting at 2:00 p.m.

This event is part of the series of Chautauqua learning experiences coinciding with Dublin Reads Snow Mountain Passage.  It’s appropriate for families with children in elementary through high school. More information can be found about Juana Briones at these websites:

Juana Briones Heritage Foundation, www.brioneshouse.org

Stanford University Research at the Presidio of San Francisco, Tennessee Hollow Watershed Archealogical Project, www.stanford.edu/group/presidio/juana.html

There is one book about Juana Briones, The Stories of Juana Briones:Alta California Pioneer, which most unfortunately we do not own in Alameda County, but it can be borrowed through Link+.