María Amparo Ruiz de Burton addresses many issues in The Squatter and the Don, ranging from class, gender, race, national identity and land ownership. The novel is written around the time that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, which forced proof of land ownership and was a time during which Mexicans experienced an extreme loss of identity, power, and land to the American government and the so-called “squatters”. In this sense, the treaty displaced the Mexicanos rather than act as a law of protection. As such, The Squatter and the Don explores the unjust ways in which Mexicanos were forced to protect their own land, and therefore a central theme is displacement. Interestingly, Ruiz de Burton minimally addresses the Indians and their roles in society at this time, beyond the fact that they are servants on the ranches (why is that?). The author does, however, allude to the displacement of squatters (specifically the Darrel family), but primarily focuses is on the displacement and disempowerment of the Mexicanos (specifically the Alamar family).
A main argument of Ruiz de Burton seems to be that the US Government is the main player in the dispossession of the Mexicanos throughout the southwest of the US. The power was stripped from the Mexicanos and translocated to Anglos, which was due, in part, in their ability to own property. Ironically, the courts were created in order for the Mexicanos to uphold their claims, when in reality, they worked against the Mexicanos. For instance, Ruiz de Burton references the Land Act of 1951, in which the “No. 189. An Act to ascertain and settle the private land claims in the State of California. And by a sad subversion of purposes, all the private land titles became unsettled. It ought to have been said an Act to unsettle land titles, and to upset the rights of the Spanish population of the State of California”. As we see here, there is extreme critique against the US government and how they failed to protect the Mexicano population.
Such laws, however, were beneficial to Anglos as demonstrated in Mr. Darrel’s comments on how simple it was to squat in another’s land; “the stakes having been placed, Darrel felt satisfied. Next day he would have the claim properly filed, and in due time a surveyor would measure them. All would be done ‘according to law’ and in this easy way the land was taken form its legitimate owner”. This quote is interesting, as it emphasizes the perspective of Anglos and the benefits such laws have towards them, whilst highlighting a passive aggressive and hurt undertone of the author – a Mexicana – by putting “according to law” in quotations and blatantly stating how land was taken from the rightful owner.
The author also draws an interesting connection between the Anglos and Mexicanos , specifically through Clarence, who seems to be one of the only squatters with a conscious and sympathy for what the Mexicanos are going through. This is clearly seen through his critique of the “no fence law” where he comments “this no fence law the most scandalous, bare-face outrage upon the rights of citizens that I even heard of… “it is like setting irresponsible trespassers loose upon a peaceable people and then rewarding their outrage….It is shameful to the American name. I am utterly disgusted with the whole business, and the only thing that will make matters a little tolerable to me will be for you to do me the favor of permitting me to pay for the land we have located.”
Thus, Ruiz de Burton cleverly demonstrates many perspectives of the individuals who experienced this time in history – those who were displaced and lost their identities (e.g. Mexicanos), those who “wrongfully” claimed lands and another identity (e.g. Anglos), and those who are one identity but have the mentality of another (e.g. Clarence). It will be interesting to see how this all plays out!