The following is a guest post by Henry Carter, a Digital Conversion Specialist in the Serial and Government Publications Division. Henry conducted the following interviews with Brian Geiger from the University of California, Riverside and Ana Krahmer from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas.
Since 2011, Chronicling America* has grown its collection of newspapers by and for Hispanic Americans under the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) through the contributions of state partners. It currently holds 74 titles in Spanish from 11 states between 1836 to 1963. When reading about relevant topics and time periods, it is important to compare versions of the stories in the mainstream press with articles from the Spanish language press. Some mainstream newspapers chose to ignore Hispanic communities in their newspapers while others, especially anti-immigrant newspapers, would print unfavorable articles and editorial cartoons. Including newspapers written by and for Hispanic Americans in your research can provide a useful contrast to these articles as well as insight into what these communities across the country found important.
The following interviews with NDNP partners from California and Texas highlight titles that provide details of local life in Spanish-speaking American communities (an excellent source for genealogy), social issues such as workers’ rights and civil rights in Texas, and the immigrant experience in California. We conclude by sharing some search strategies with you.
Can you tell me about the significance of the newspaper title(s) in Spanish that California has included in Chronicling America?
We submitted two rounds of Spanish-language newspapers. The first round focused mainly on late 19th and early 20th century titles from Los Angeles and San Francisco, including El Clamor Público, Hispano América, La Crónica (Los Angeles) and La Crónica (San Francisco), and La Prensa. These publications documented the communities of “Californios,” descendants of Spanish and Mexican settlers, in the first few decades of California statehood. Most of the titles had ceased publication by the start of the Great Depression.
In the second round we digitized the early years of perhaps the most famous Spanish-language paper in the country, La Opinión. This was part of a “borderland” project to document two different perspectives on the US-Mexico border as that region changed dramatically in the two decades before World War II. The English-language title we digitized along with La Opinión was the Imperial Valley Press, which covered the vast border area of Imperial County in southeast California. La Opinión was marketed mainly to recently emigrated Mexicans, as opposed to established Californios, and included extensive coverage of news from Mexico and deportations of Mexicans.
What have you learned about these newspapers through the process of digitization?
A lot! There is, not surprisingly, plenty of information about La Opinión. Historians have written quite extensively about El Clamor Público since it was established by one of the editors of the state’s first paper, the Los Angeles Star. Francisco Ramirez had been the Spanish-language editor of the Star since its start in 1851 when he left in 1855 to start El Clamor. I found a lot of secondary literature about both titles.
There is almost nothing written about the other Spanish-language titles (or the German and Italian we digitized at the same time). This surprised me. I expected to find at least some obscure secondary sources about the newspapers or biographies of their publishers. Collected essays like The Ethnic Press in the United States and Outsiders in 19th-Century Press History make no mention of them, standard reference resources like America History and Life contain no articles about them, and even Google searches come up empty. I wasn’t sure where to look next. Then I discovered Google Translate. What a revelation! I can read enough Spanish to know when a newspaper article might be of interest. With the titles digitized and available in Chronicling America, when I see an article that might be useful, I can click on “Text” to see the computer-generated text and my browser will translate into English. The translation is almost always good enough that I get at least the main points of the article. I’ve been able to start assembling brief histories of the newspapers and their publishers using these translated articles.
How have these newspapers been used for research?
Genealogists use the papers extensively. I’ve emailed with a volunteer at a historical society and she mentioned that she had found a relative’s obituary in La Crónica. “There she was with all her family,” she wrote, “[with] the news [from] Hermosillo [Mexico] where much of the family still resided. Exciting find!”
We get a lot of inquiries from researchers to use high-resolution images for museum exhibits, video documentaries, and publications. A number of these projects have used examples from the Spanish-language papers we’ve digitized, particularly Hispano América, which was a self-described “literary newspaper” that contained a lot of pictures, and La Opinión, which ran many pictures and advertisements. I always point those inquiries to the online JP2 high resolution images that can be freely downloaded from Chronicling America.
Newspapers have also been used in the classroom. A scholar in Baja California, Mexico, wrote to say that our California newspapers were essential for the research his graduate students performed.
Is there anything else you would like to share about these newspapers or the California newspaper project? Where can readers find you online?
I know our digitization of La Opinión ends in 1942 and covers the years prior to the famous “Zoot Suit Riots” of 1943 and not the actual events themselves. I hope we can add additional years of La Opinión in the future.
The California Digital Newspaper Collection (CDNC) is one of the original participants in the NDNP and has contributed over 500,000 pages since 2005. All of those pages plus millions more are available in the CDNC. The collection currently has over 16 million pages and we will be adding at least 30 million more over the next couple of years. For updates, check the site regularly, look us up on Facebook, or create an account to receive occasional email announcements.
Can you tell me about the significance of the newspaper title(s) in Spanish that Texas has included in Chronicling America?
Spanish-language newspapers published in Texas from the late-1800s to just after desegregation were primarily published by, and centered heavily on, Mexican-American rights activists in the U.S., as they rebuilt their lives after being forced out of Mexico due to political eruptions that led up to the Mexican Revolution. I have learned that there was a very strong culture of debate related to social issues faced, primarily at this time, by immigrants from Mexico who were rebuilding their lives after having to flee dangerous circumstances. Editors from San Antonio, Laredo, and El Paso hotly debated issues such as workers’ rights and labor strikes, for example related to the Mexican National Railway strikes of 1906; addressing segregation of Mexican students attending Texas schools; the Mexican Revolution, in the 1910s; and civil rights and mandated levels of service during World War I. Publishers from Laredo, such as Justo Cárdenas, publisher of El Demócrata Fronterizo, and the Idár family, including Jovita Idár, publishing La Crónica, were instrumental in establishing a forum where civil rights organizations could speak and work together for rights of Mexicans in America, and of their Mexican-American descendants. The publishers established influential organizations including Caballeros de Honor (Knights of Honor) and La Liga Femenil Mexicanista (The League of Mexican Women) and left a solid mark on the founding and history of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). The Spanish-language newspapers we’ve included in Chronicling America so far help us research first-hand accounts of the people and issues these organizations represented and faced in their daily lives.
What have you learned about these newspapers through the process of digitization?
The story keeps going. I will start with thinking about one possible title to submit for the NDNP-Texas advisory board’s consideration, and as I research that title, I find another half dozen newspaper titles published in parallel that, when I can track down a run of, I will continue to either try to include them in Chronicling America, or locally will add them to The Portal to Texas History’s Texas Digital Newspaper Program collection. Because Texas has such a massive newspaper publishing history spanning the early 1800s when it was a part of Spain, we are not always able to locate a large, contiguous set of years for one title so early on, up to around 1880. In addition, later allocation of resources to preserve and produce microfilm of large, mostly Anglo-American, big city daily newspapers, Spanish-language newspapers may not have been preserved through their entire run. As a result, when I am able to track down a large set of Spanish-language newspapers on master microfilm, I propose these to the NDNP-Texas advisory board for inclusion in Chronicling America; when I am only able to track down individual issues, service copies of film, or small portions of newspapers, we include these in the Texas Digital Newspaper Program, where we also ingest our Chronicling America newspapers after each grant cycle ends. I’ve learned that there will always be more to locate, and that we will always have more voices to represent from the past.
How have these newspapers been used for research?
Dr. Andrew Torget, here at University of North Texas, used the Chronicling America newspapers in an excellent Digital Humanities project, Mapping Texts, though this was not limited to Spanish-language newspapers. I have answered research questions from doctoral candidates working with these newspapers. I have presented about Chronicling America and the Texas Digital Newspaper Program to future high school teachers, people who will go on to teach multiple subjects, including History and Spanish. Last fall, I joined border-state librarians Mary Feeney from University of Arizona and Melissa Jerome from University of Florida, to teach a workshop about researching Spanish-language newspapers in Chronicling America to other librarians.
Is there anything else you would like to share about these newspapers or the Texas newspaper project?
For many states, Chronicling America is the only digital preservation and access repository they have for their newspapers and it is wonderful. For Texas, simply because the newspaper publication expanse is so massive and scattered, talking about Chronicling America and preparing grant proposals is always the beginning of learning about additional newspaper titles we need to locate and provide access to. Every time I work with the Chronicling America newspapers, I learn something new, and I have been constantly amazed by how active the south- and border-Texas publishers and editors were in conversations and heated debates about civil rights for Mexican immigrants, and how influential they were and continue to be to this day. Men and women, such as Jovita Idár and Sara Estela Ramírez, speak first-hand in these newspapers. We get to meet them directly rather than learning about them from a history book. This is what always inspires me to keep looking for more titles.
Where can readers find you online?
I oversee the Digital Newspaper Program out of University of North Texas Libraries, and people can find my work online in the Texas Digital Newspaper Program on The Portal to Texas History. Readers can also follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, and our blog.
The first way to search Spanish language newspapers in Chronicling America is to go to the Advanced Search form, select “Pages (Full Text),” select “Select All” or your desired state(s) from the “State/Province” drop-down, and select “Spanish” from the “Language” drop-down menu. You can enter your keywords in Spanish in the search box.
The second method is to select one of the Spanish-speaking ethnicities from the drop menu on the Advanced Search form (e.g. “Cuban”). For example, if you are searching for Cuban musician Chano Pozo in the Cuban newspapers in Florida you can select “Cuban” from the “Ethnicity” drop-down menu, “Florida” from the “State/Province” drop-down menu, and add your search terms to the “keywords” field.
When you get to the search results page, you can further refine your search using the left-hand facets, for example to select only Spanish language results.
If you want to find out which Spanish language titles are available in Chronicling America, go to the All Digitized Titles page and refine your search using the “Select Ethnicities” or “Select Languages” drop-down menus and click “Apply Filters.” This list provides the number of issues and the date range available for each title.
When you click on a newspaper title from the list of all Spanish newspapers, you are taken to the title record for the newspaper, which includes a title essay. The title essay is written by each state partner and provides additional background information about the newspaper, its editor(s), information about the community it provided news to, and major events or themes the newspaper covered.
As a search strategy, when looking for events or terms, it helps to use historic terms that were used in the era in which the newspaper was printed. These terms may not be in use today because they have fallen out of fashion or because they are racist or insensitive. We recommend that a researcher first browse the newspaper issues to learn what terms may have been used in both Spanish and English language newspapers to find terms to refine their search. Additional information about specific people/events in Hispanic American history can be found in Chronicling America subject guides.
*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspapers Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.