September 21, 2012

Casual Friday: Chican@ history

This is exciting news!

The Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, has opened to researchers an extensive collection documenting Mexican immigrant and Mexican-American history in Los Angeles. This is the Venegas Family Papers, which consist of correspondence, photographs, immigration records, Roman Catholic realia and devotional literature, and business records, principally related to Miguel (1897-1994) and Dolores (1900-1991) Venegas. The collection guide is on-line at the Online Archive of California.

Themselves Cristeros, the Venegases came to Los Angeles from the Mexican state of Jalisco in 1927 as refugees from the troubles of the Cristero Rebellion (1926-1929). A remarkable run of correspondence from Miguel and Dolores Venegas to relatives in Jalisco from the first five years of their life in Los Angeles (1927-1932) extensively details the challenges and opportunities of their lives as immigrants. The letters offer valuable insights into their work and economic opportunities, family life, recreation, religious practices, diet, health, continued ties with Mexico, and education. Examples of the kind of detail found in the letters include the effects of the Great Depression on the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles and the United States immigration law of 1929.

A letter from Miguel Venegas to his brother, containing (on p. 2) one of the earliest known uses of the word "chicano." From the William H. Hannon Library tumblr.
Almost all the correspondence is in Spanish, often colloquial, with irregular orthography, which in itself is evidence for Spanish linguistics and levels of literacy in Mexico and Los Angeles in Spanish. Striking in the correspondence is the uses of the word "chicano" by Miguel Venegas to describe his United States-born children (the couple had ten). His uses of the word here may constitute some of the earlier written instances of the word.

The collection also treats the history of Mexico. The Venegases' correspondence with relatives in Jalisco contains extensive information on commerce, agriculture, health and medicine, family life, and religious practices from the 1920s through the 1940s in Jalisco. Comments by relatives in Guadalajara on the political situation in Jalisco, both before and after the Cristero Rebellion, are especially valuable for understanding the course of the Cristero Rebellion and its aftermath. Cristero "corridos" (ballads) provide a valuable source for understanding the culture of the Cristero movement.

Photographs in the collection record the social activities and work of this LA family. Noteworthy are those of Venegas family outings to Lincoln Park and the beach in the late 1920s, which provide photographic documentation of the social life of Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles at that time. In addition, there is a strong run of photographs of Guadalajara and Zapotlanejo, in Jalisco, which document work, family life and religious culture, e.g. vacations, masses, and work on a hacienda.