Mexican history is inextricably tied to our own, along with Russia’s, Spain’s and Britain’s. For La Jornada, Hermann Bellinghausen writes that as far as the American west is concerned, it was not long ago that other powers thought they had it all sewed up, only to be swept away in the historical blink of an eye.
In 1812, the Russians would erect a strategic outpost near the Sebastian River delta (today’s Russian River) that flows through the bountiful lands of Sonoma toward the Pacific Ocean: Fort Ross (a term of endearment evoking the Motherland). They established commercial and even warm relations with the Spanish. Between them, in terra incognita, lived the Pomo people (also known in their native language as the Kasaya), before they were enslaved by the Spanish, exploited by the Russians and abandoned by the Mexicans. In 1848, the U.S. would put them on a reservation and snatch everything and everyone thanks to the infamous Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo [ending the Mexican-American War].
By the time the Spanish and Russian Empires met at the dawn of the 19th century, the first didn’t know it was about to disappear and the latter calculated, wrongly, that it could take over California. One can imagine in the Sonoma hills, a melancholic sentry from New Spain waiting for the barbarians who never came. But they did come, by sea, when ships under the command of Baron (or Count) Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, sent by the Russian-American Company, arrived under order of the Czar. In The San Francisco’s Presidio, in Yerbabuena, the explorer presented his credentials to Spain colonial Governor José Darío Argüello, and fell madly in love with the governor’s beautiful daughter, Concepción. She was 15 years old, he was 41.
This is how the empires came to know one another. If the two monarchs were mad, why shouldn’t their representatives be, too? Rezanov returned to Moscow to ask the Czar for permission to marry Conchita Argüello. Before parting, the couple swore their eternal love. He later died in Siberia under bad circumstances in 1807 [He died of fever and exhaustion]. When Conchita found out, she refused to believe it and waited 35 years for her beloved’s return. When she was finally convinced that Nicholas would not return, she became a nun in Monterey and adopted the name Sister Dominica – the name under which she was buried years later – still a virgin.
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