- Recovering and Re-constructing Early Twentieth-Century Hispanic Immigrant Print Culture in the US
1. The Immigrant Press
Since the mid-nineteenth century, Hispanic immigrants in the US have written and published books and periodicals and sustained other forms of print culture to serve their enclaves in their native language, maintaining a connection with the homeland while helping the immigrants to adjust to a new society and culture here. Hispanic immigrant print culture shares many of the distinctions that Robert E. Park identified in The Immigrant Press and Its Control (1922): (1) the predominant use of the language of the homeland, in (2) serving a population united by that language, irrespective of national origin, and (3) the need to interpret events from their own peculiar racial or nationalist point of view, and furthering nationalism (9–13). According to Park, the immigrant press serves a population in transition from the land of origin to the US by providing news and interpretation to orient them and facilitate adjustment to the new society while maintaining the link with the old society. Underlying Park's distinctions and those of other students of immigration are the concepts of the American [End Page 438] Dream and the Melting Pot: that the immigrants came to find a better life, implicitly a better culture, and that soon they or their descendants would become Americans and there would no longer be a need for this type of press. For Park, immigrant culture was a transitory phenomenon, one that would disappear as the group became assimilated into the melting pot of US society.
The attitude of not assimilating or melting, however, has characterized Hispanic immigrant culture and its use of the printing press from the nineteenth century to the present. The advice of Corpus Christi's El Horizonte (The Horizon, 1879–80) to its Mexican readership was typical of many immigrant newspapers, novels, poetry, and other publications: Do not become citizens of the US because there is so much prejudice and persecution here that "we shall always be foreigners in the United States and they always consider us as such" ("permanceremos extrangeros en los Estados Unidos y como tal nos consideran siempre").1
To Park's observations I would add that the defense of the community was also important for the immigrant press. Hispanic newspapers, in particular, were sensitive to racism and abuse of immigrant rights. Almost all of the Hispanic immigrant newspapers announced their service in protection of the community in mastheads and/or in editorials, and some of them followed up on this commitment by leading campaigns to desegregate schools, movie houses, and other facilities or to construct their alternative institutions for the Hispanic community's use. Contrary to Park's prognosis for the ethnic identity of immigrants, the history of Hispanic groups in the US has shown an unmeltable ethnicity, and as immigration from Spanish-speaking countries has been almost a steady flow since the founding of the US to the present, there seems no end to the phenomenon at this juncture in history nor in the foreseeable future.
2. Important Immigrant Publishers
While Hispanic immigrant newspapers had existed since the late 1820s,2 it was not until much later, when larger Hispanic immigrant communities began to form, that more characteristic immigrant newspapers were founded to serve a burgeoning community of immigrants from northern Mexico and from throughout the Hispanic world who had been drawn to the San Francisco Bay Area during the Gold Rush and its collateral industrial and commercial development.3 From the 1850s through the 1870s, in fact, San Francisco supported the largest number, longest running, and most financially successful Spanish-language newspapers in the US. Included among [End Page 439] these during this period were two daily Spanish-language newspapers: El Eco del Pacífico (1856–?) and El Tecolote (1875–79). The San Francisco Spanish-language press covered news of the homeland and generally assisted the immigrants in adjusting to the new environment. The newspapers reported on discrimination and persecution of Hispanic miners and generally saw the defense of the Hispanic colonia, or colony, to be a priority, denouncing abuse of the Hispanic immigrants, as well as of the...