- The San Diego World's Fairs and Southwestern Memory, 1880-1940
Matthew F. Bokovoy examines the creation of the "Southwest's most enduring invented tradition" (p. xvii), the mythical world of the Hispanic Southwest, populated by Spaniards, Indians, and Mexicans, and called into existence bywhite society in the twentieth century. Bokovoy argues that this "public heritage of [End Page 432] Spanish history and Indian folklore came to symbolize the promise of the present and future through the inevitable progression of the past" (p. xix). He bookends his investigation with appraisals of the Panama California Exposition of 1915–16 and the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935–36.
After a brief introductory chapter on the Spanish arrival to San Diego, the book explores how San Diego secured the 1915 Exposition. To keep the fair from San Francisco, San Diego emphasized its "unique claim about the importance of Spanish and Indian heritage in the Southwest" (p. 18). Thus, the mythology of the Hispanic Southwest and the city of San Diego were intertwined from the start. The remainder of this part examines various aspects of the fair's planning and realization. Bokovoy argues that "modern Spanish heritage in Southern California first emerged from the egalitarian sentiments of social criticism" (p. 43). This myth of the old Southwest served to create a multiracial, multicultural vision; a theme that Bokovoy often returns to, at times without being anchored in an explanation.
The second portion of the book examines the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935–36. Held in the middle of the Depression, this fair was seen by Southern California businessmen as a way to promote the region and stimulate growth. There were many commercial exhibits that used "the imagery of the modern Spanish heritage" but, "unlike San Diego's first fair . . . commercialized the history of California's cultures and peoples" (p. 167). Bokovoy examines the architecture of some of these exhibits, and also the Federal Housing Administration's Better Housing Program exhibit, arguing that both used "Anglicized versions of regional architecture from Southern California's Spanish, Mexican and indigenous past" (p. 176). These different facets are used to illustrate how the Southwestern mythology was created, used, and sustained.
Despite the fascinating story it tells, there are problems in the book. Although Bokovoy stresses the inclusive, multicultural nature of the modern Spanish Southwestern vision, actual Spaniards, Indians, or Mexicans are few and far between in this study. An important exception is chapter four, which examines the role of Pueblo Indians in the fair, giving them a certain agency in the creation of their own role in this modern mythology. For a book that argues that the multiracial and multicultural nature of the Southwest gave the San Diego mythology a progressive twist, it is curious that Bokovoy does not deal with other situations where reactions against the very same elements of a Hispanic past were used to create a racist mythology. For instance, Arnoldo De León argues that in Texas racist Anglos held that the weakness of Mexican culture was its "degenerate" mixed character. David J. Weber locates the origin of much anti-Hispanic sentiment in North America in the "Black Legend" of Spanish brutality against the indigenous population. Why is San Diego different than Texas?
Another weakness of this book is that it frequently seems that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. There are several very interesting parts that deal with a wide range of topics that deserve attention: radical labor organizing in San Diego; Federal housing policy; and academic anthropology. However, often their connection to the book's central theme seems strained at best, so that the book at times reads as a mere collection of articles generally about the two fairs. [End Page 433]
Despite these problems, this is an interesting book that will be useful not only in the study of San Diego and Southern California, but also in the creation of modern mythologies.