Professor to create documentary on Mexican literacy

A professor has partnered with a three-time Emmy Award-winning producer and expert on Hispanic journalism and a publishing history professor from the University of Southern California to create a documentary commemorating 200 years of newspapers, hoping to change the stereotypical point of view of Mexican literacy.

Nicolas Kanellos, a Brown Foundation Professor of Hispanic studies at UH, and Felix Gutierrez, a publishing history professor from USC, have worked together for more than two years on their documentary, discovering the origins of newspapers.

A limited audience was shown a portion of the documentary Friday at the Museum of Printing History. The 30-minute portion represented 200 years of Latino press in Texas and the Southwest.

“The reason I got involved in the newspapers was that when I was in graduate school … there was nothing there, not even in the libraries,” Kanellos said.

Kanellos had a professor tell him the only way to find any information was to find the newspapers and read them.

“Literally from 1969 to the present, I have been working with people and the Brown Foundation Director of Research at UH, where we have now the largest collection of newspapers published in the United States,” Kanellos said.

After learning that the first printing press in Mexico appeared several years before one in Europe, Kanellos, Gutierrez and producer Raymond Telles hope to change the idea that Hispanics were less literate than others.

“We have pieces of newspapers and, in some cases, daily newspapers. This all begins in what became the US in (1638), but in the (Western) Hemisphere it began in 1543,” Kanellos said.

“Based on these newspapers, we were able to piece together intellectual circles (and) find books that were printed on the same presses that the newspapers were printed on.”

In trying to correct the record, Kanellos, Gutierrez and Telles hope to air their entire documentary nationally.

“These guys have been correcting the record for 20 years, but the other idea is to develop a curriculum. We want to introduce to a national audience this story, and we’ll be able to expose it,” Telles said.

Gutierrez believes that in the meantime, they personally have the ability to correct the record in the meantime by sharing knowledge.

“I see this as a liberation. We’re liberating from archives, garages and libraries. They’re just sitting there on the shelves. Nobody ever cared about them, so we just bring it out, digitize them. We liberate and share this, and now people can come and take up big issues,” Gutierrez said.

“You can trace and track issues over the years.”

The full film will be shown coast-to-coast, not only in Texas and the Southwest.

“The first time we aired this, there was a hunger for this kind of material, and there still is seven years later,” Gutierrez said.

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