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Tuesday, October 3, 2023


Project retains history

Shelves filled with binders of newspaper copies and clippings gathered from across the nation decorate the second floor of the Cullen Performance Hall in an ongoing effort to collect Spanish-language newspapers in the U.S.

The papers have been collected since 1992 by a group of scholars who said they hope to preserve the words of Hispanic writers, who fled their home countries for the U.S. to write freely about Latino issues.

"The U.S. Hispanic Periodicals Project was started because scholars around the country, myself included, were desperately attempting to find the forgotten or lost history of Latinos, and since we are the first generation actually doing this, we had to start from scratch," Spanish professor and creator of the project Nicolas Kanellos said.

Kanellos is also the founder and director of Arte P’uacute;blico Press, an Hispanic publishing house within the University.

Kanellos and his team scan newspapers they find or receive from another source, and then upload them onto a database.

The Periodicals Project has a searchable online database of about 400 newspapers with more to be added in the future, and can be viewed through a database called Readex, program manager Carolina Villarroel said.

"Thus far we have recorded the existence of some 1,800 Latino newspapers and periodicals published in the United States before 1960 and actually brought in-house for processing to our offices at UH some 1,200. We estimate that as many as 400 to 600 are still lost, Kanellos said."

The lost newspapers are the result of disintegration from being printed on "cheap, acid-laden paper," Kanellos said.

U.S. Spanish-language newspapers were more than just news sources to their readers, he said.

"In addition to all of the functions the English-language press had, the Latino press had also to cover news of the Spanish-speaking world inside and outside of the United States," Kanellos said. "It also had to interpret American culture and government and educational policy for immigrants and generally saw itself as defending the Latino community from racism, discrimination, oppression and abuse in the work place."

Among the papers the group has collected is the first issue of El Misisipi, the first Spanish-language paper in the U.S., published in 1808 in New Orleans, Villarroel said.

Newspapers up to the 1960’s are collected, Villarroel said

Villarroel and a group of graduate students help Kanellos preserve the newspapers. The program has used the help of graduate students as research assistants since its inception. Students can apply to help through the Hispanic Studies Department, Villarroel said. Internships are also available as are opportunities to volunteer, as one graduate student does.

"We fill out forms categorizing the type of article we are reading…. Someone already read the newspaper article and underlined the most important information and then we revise them," Hispanic studies graduate student and research assistant Daniela Cortez said.

The graduate students spend 20 hours a week scanning and revising newspapers, Cortez said. She said being part of the recovery project is also a helpful networking tool for the students.

"We get to go to a lot of conferences with this program and we meet professionals that we never thought we would if it wasn’t for the recovery project," Cortez said.

Graduate students are encouraged to attend conferences so they can meet with other scholars and future colleagues with whom they discuss their work at the recovery project, Villarroel said.

Mexican American studies professor Rodolfo Cortina has also been helping Kanellos extensively with the project. Cortina advises Kanellos and his staff upon request and at board meetings. Cortina, who retires in May, said he is assured his work and the work of the recovery project will be helpful to the Hispanic community.

"It will leave the Hispanic/Latino community with a heritage of materials, a history, a literary corpus and a legacy that nothing else would or could substitute," Cortina said.

Additional reporting by Lihu’eacute; Rearte and Kristina Michel

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