Off-campus SJSU users: To download campus access theses, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your SJSU library user name and PIN.


MINE: El Despojo de María Zacarías Bernal de Berreyesa

Publication Date

Fall 2017

Degree Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


English and Comparative Literature


Cathleen Miller

Subject Areas

American history


María Zacarías Bernal de Berreyesa was a Spanish-Mexican matriarch of early San José whose family helped settle most of the Bay Area in the early 1800s. The murder of her husband by Kit Carson under orders of John C. Frémont was a pivotal event in California history, as was her suit for the Almaden quicksilver mines. Nine of her ten sons died before she did—most of them violently, and two while defending their widowed mother’s land. She stood up to the U.S. Supreme Court before her league of land was finally reaffirmed to be hers, but by then the wealth was spent and her family ruined. Yet until I began researching her life, I had a fourth-grade, mission-project vision of California’s earliest history: I remembered only bell towers, and gray-robed priests, and smallpox epidemics that had killed many Indians. I knew nothing of the Californios who had “owned” the land for seventy-plus years, of their permanent disruption by the massive influx of foreigners—whites—after 1848. Research showed me what American greed cost Zacarías and her people, but my heart showed me who she was through places and sons. I have looked at her life through the lens of our love for both. MINE is intended to resonate across cultural and political lines, to create empathy for Zacarías as a mother and woman, and to deepen awareness of our state’s Spanish-Mexican roots.

This document is currently not available here.