Alicia Ortega, a 14-year-old Mexican girl, struggles to protect her father’s land when she and her older sisters are aggressively courted by land-hungry Yankees and rough-cut fur traders in the Spanish colony. It’s up to Alicia, her sister Clara, and their Chumash friend Nina to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the Ortega home and business.
When Alicia’s oldest sister is sent to finishing school in Texas for protection and refinement, the remaining younger sisters must run the rancho alone. Dangers on all sides begin to descend as the sisters are pursued by Yankee immigrant merchants and sailors hoping to cash in on rich lands and access to Pacific ports.
Alicia is trying her best to keep her family’s home and business afloat and thankfully, her companion, Nina is there to help. But as an indigenous girl, Nina is valuable to traders, trappers, and surveyors for her knowledge of the Californian terrain and her network of tribal relations. However, she won’t always be there to help Alicia’s family, especially since she has problems of her own. The Franciscan Mission is pressuring her family to convert to Catholicism, a charming trader is courting her, and, worse of all, their tribal territory and tribal ways are vanishing.
The girls struggle to protect the Ortega family’s land and black market dock from conniving suitors, but tough family secrets are threatening everything, and Alicia doesn’t know if they’ll be able to survive until her parents return.
Dr. Perez Ferguson is a cross-cultural educator and consultant. Her fiction brings to life the voices of California inhabitants living 200 years ago. Her non-fiction promotes the voices of under-represented communities in the twenty-first century. This earned her the 2014 Lacayo Lifetime Achievement Award from the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute. She is an Advisor and Former Chair for the InterAmerican Foundation and a Visiting Lecturer for the Council for Independent Colleges. She enjoys living and writing on the Pacific coast.
The authority of the church was absolute in the Spanish colonies. Yet, the priests and padres were often part of the community interacting with the ranchers, workers, and soldiers. In Golden Secrets, Padre Romo is treated like a member of the Ortega household. He is in charge of the local mission. Besides providing religious instruction, the missions run by the church were money-making enterprises with cattle, sheep, vineyards, and other types of industry. When one of those business functions was attacked, all hell broke loose.
At the Mission, the padre conducted mass and baptisms and monitored the weaving and wine-making workers. Not only that, he had a knack for spotting cargo from the Orient docked at Refugio. In short, Romo knew everything about everyone in the parish. For the Ortega family he spoke Spanish, the Mass was in Latin, and the Chumash instruction was in some combination of words and gestures. He impressed the Yankees with theological discussions in English. Many settlers arrived as Protestants, then were baptized as Catholics within a month of arrival in Alta California. Marriage to a local girl followed weeks later, all sanctioned by Padre Romo. No one at the table spoke as the p adre slurped up the rest of the berries. Th en, two men outside interrupted the silence when they came running toward the hacienda calling out in a panic. “¡Padre, Padre! ¡Fuego!” “Now, what?” Clara pushed away from the table. “What fi re, where?” “Bless my soul, hombres; we see no fi re.” Padre Romo rushed out the door and toward the men. Everyone moved out to the patio, sniffi ng the air and searching the sky. Th e sun had disappeared, and the hills were dark. “Th ere is a fi re at the back gate of the Mission.” Two Chumash men gasped for air after their long run; soot smeared their faces. Th e padre understood how serious this could be. Th e Mission’s most valuable product, tanned cattle hides, hung to dry near the back gate.