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Senior Thesis on Chilean Immigration to California During the Gold Rush Era

Jennifer Dixon, Class of 2006

During the week of May 22, 2005, I traveled to the University of California, Berkeley, to research for my senior thesis. The general topic of this project will be the Chilean immigration to California during the gold rush, from approximately 1848-1852. It will focus on the population that established itself in a “Chilecito” barrio in San Francisco and in the goldfields of Northern California. Prior to leaving for the trip, I had managed to gather a decent understanding of this period and the major incidents that shaped the Chilean population in California. It was during this research trip, however, that I finally began to determine the actual thesis of my thesis. Many of the sources that I used suggest that the immigration to California during the gold rush offered more than just the prospect of gold. Chilean identity within California society is an extremely complex and interesting topic that my thesis will hopefully manage to deconstruct.

Although the Bancroft library at Berkeley had limited hours as it prepared to close for a seismic retrofit over the summer, I managed to spend four full hours each day using the library’s resources. The librarian with whom I had been in contact prior to my trip, David Kessler, was extremely helpful. I used several of the sources that Mr. Kessler had sent me while I was researching for History 202, “Thesis Preparation.”

I also looked in depth at the legend of Joaquin Murieta, a bandit who supposedly terrorized California during the early 1850s. Thanks to the sources I found in California, the Murieta legend will now be an important component of my thesis. One folder, for example, offered notes and clippings on Joaquin Murieta from contemporary newspaper articles in the San Francisco Herald and the Steamer Union of Sacramento.

My research was not limited to the Bancroft library. One afternoon I was able to meet with Ted Melillo, who is working at Yale on a dissertation topic that overlaps with my thesis, with whom I had been in e-mail contact during my History 202 research. Ted offered extremely helpful suggestions of sources that would be useful, and pointed out inaccuracies in other sources that I may not otherwise have noticed. I consulted a couple of the sources during my time at the Bancroft, but I also have a list of books and articles to look up as I continue my thesis research on the East Coast. Bouncing ideas off someone with an in depth knowledge of my topic was an excellent opportunity.

Ted also called my attention to a plaque that marks the site of the Chilecito barrio in a sidewalk in San Francisco, and I had the opportunity to go in to the city and find the plaque. I was able to actually see the place where many of the events I am studying for my thesis took place. The site is now a part of North Beach in San Francisco, and the plaque is situated immediately outside an Italian café. Finally, on my last night in California, I went to La Peña, a Chilean cultural center in Berkeley that is also home to the Café Valparaiso. My dinner there was an incredible reminder of my experience in Chile during the fall semester of 2004, which sparked my interest in this thesis topic last semester.