Each year, starting on September 15 and continuing for 30 days, the history, culture, and contributions of those whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America is celebrated during National Hispanic Heritage Month. The date of September 15 is significant because it marks the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate independence on September 16 and 18, respectively.
In honor of this important month, we dug into our archives to explore some of the incredible stories and individuals that enliven our state’s history. One of these characters is Hipolita Orendain de Medina (c.1847-c.1922), a Mexican-born San Franciscan socialite and author, whose portraits, correspondence, and miscellaneous materials are part of the CHS collection.
Early in her life, Hipolita moved to San Francisco with her her sister, Virginia, and their widowed mother, Francisca Tejada de Orendain. According to family tradition, Francisca inherited a fortune from her late husband, Jesus Orendain, who owned a Mexican silver mine. She invested her wealth in Oakland waterfront property, married Virginia native Humphrey Marshall, and provided financial support to a company of men fighting to liberate Mexico from French rule. Marshall died in the American Civil War, and the Orendain family lost much of their fortune. To help support the family, Hipolita and her sister Virginia worked as dressmakers in San Francisco.
In October 1869, Hipolita married Emilio (or Emigdio) Medina, a professional musician, diplomat, and editor of the Spanish-language newspaper La Republica. Emilio was sent by the President of Mexico to Europe, South America, and beyond to help forge a closer relationship between the United States and Spanish speaking countries. Together, Hipolita and Emilio had four daughters, Josefina, Virginia, Zarina, and Mercedes. In 1880, the couple separated, and later Hipolita referred to herself as a widow. She died circa 1922, and was buried in Los Angeles.
The Hipolita Orendain de Medina collection offers a glimpse into the domestic, cultural, and political life of a cosmopolitan, multilingual community of native Californios and Latino immigrants in San Francisco in the second half of the nineteenth century. The personal notebooks, letters, poems, sheet music, cards, photographs, and other remembrances are full of delightful tidbits that provide an intimate glimpse into the life of a woman who was clearly revered and respected by the many with whom she came into contact. In our collection, we see many loving letters and photographs from visitors addressing her as friend.
The following journal entries are from Hipolita’s personal notebook:
Duty is a moral monster; every time one does not fulfill one’s moral duty, one does not fulfill the others either
Neither all the sorrows nor all the happiness on earth can tear us apart; perhaps it is a defect (…), because (…) you will offer your soul and will pursue between the space left by pain and they will always be there (…)
Perfect happiness derives only from virtue
The collection also gives insight into the political and historical forces that were influential at the time – references to the Franco-Mexican War and Mexican and Latin American nationalism abound.
Below is an excerpt from a hymn titled “Hymn to Zaragoza” written by Hipolita’s husband, Emilio Medina. Below the image of the original newspaper clipping of the hymn in Spanish are two stanzas translated in English.
Himno a Zaragoza – Hymn to Zaragoza
Of Hidalgo the beloved homeland
Admiringly contemplates your footprints,
And history in its beautiful pages
There inscribed you with eternal burin
Because you are the comet that shines
In the pure sapphire of sky
You, the flower that perfumes the ground
You, the brave and gentle warrior
Your memory is the sacred fire
That lifts the sons of Mexico
And in darkest hour of torment
Your invoked name is heard:
Its influence reanimates them,
Your name kindles their chests
And your clean fame is written
In the sky, in the air, and the sea.
–Translated by Lynda Letona
While their writings express different preoccupations, there is a poetic quality to them that invoke a force greater than ourselves and a sense of duty as a rigorous journey that elevates the human spirit.
Notebook, undated; Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MS 1441; Box 1, folder 4; California Historical Society.
Himno a Zaragoza, May 4, 1879; Hipolita Orendain de Medina correspondence and miscellany, MS 1441; Box 1, folder 3; California Historical Society.