They fought. They fought for freedom of religion. They fought for power. They fought to become more integrated into White society. But while fighting those who oppressed them, they also began to fight their fellow oppressed. The antebellum era in which The Gangs of New York takes place was a violent, tumultuous period of time in which groups attempted to assert themselves through the illegal activities that made them infamous. Irish immigrants departed their homeland hoping to leave the famine and religious persecution that plagued them in Ireland. Unfortunately, they were not warmly embraced by Lady Liberty’s arms when they stepped off the ship. Instead of being assimilated into a land of opportunity, they were sucked into the underbelly of American society. They were instantly oppressed due to how they looked and the cultural differences that they brought with them. Consequently came a criminalization associated with not only the area they lived in, but also the poverty that they had no real way of getting out of. In turn, many immigrants became gangsters, trying to show their worth, trying to earn their way to “Whiteness.”
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.