Joaquin Murieta: Sinner or Saint

Joaquin Murieta was a man shrouded in myth, mystery and romanticism.  It’s impossible for readers to not become fully enveloped in his adventures of violence and revenge.  At times, the reader sympathizes with Joaquin as a victim of injustice and bigotry.  Other times, the reader is easily disgusted by the brutal, oft unwarranted violent acts of Joaquin and his comrades.  By some of these depictions, Joaquin becomes somewhat of a heroic character and martyr to his fellow Mexicans in California.  In the same token, he is also largely demonized by the Anglo-Americans of the area.  Any crime committed in the state is deemed to be the workings of “Joaquin” – no last name necessary, although Murieta was only one of many bandits named Joaquin during that period – regardless of how far away the incidents were from each other.  The story of Joaquin Murieta fits in perfectly to the changing times of California and the idea of Mexicans vs. Anglos.  Based off the early depiction John Rollin Ridge presents of Joaquin, it is easy to see why the bandito did many of the things he did, and at the same time, the story clearly shows how easily the Anglo-Americans could vilify such a character.  Ironically, the author of the story has a somewhat similar story of rising from injustice and seeking out his own form of vengeance.  Ridge/Yellow Bird’s life story makes him unable to be an unbiased storyteller.  His depiction of the racialization of certain ethnic groups speaks volumes about his own personal experiences and tells a sub-story in which Ridge uses certain characters to represent deeper issues.

Continue reading