Friday, February 9, 2018

Melita M. Garza's "They Came to Toil"

Melita M. Garza is an assistant professor of journalism at Texas Christian University’s Bob Schieffer College of Communication.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, They Came to Toil: Newspaper Representations of Mexicans and Immigrants in the Great Depression, and reported the following:
They Came to Toil shows the reader how English- and Spanish-language newspapers constructed versions of Mexican and Mexican immigrant identity during the deeply xenophobic early years of the Great Depression—a zeitgeist of fear that eerily resonates in many ways with today. Page 99 offers a window into the Spanish nostalgia found in the English-language newspapers, the Hearst-owned San Antonio Light and the independently owned San Antonio Express. The important third newspaper voice, the Mexican-immigrant owned La Prensa, is missing from this page, so reading it in isolation can’t take you into all three separate media worlds depicted in the book. Page 99, however, shines a spotlight on the English-language newspapers’ preservation reporting, an area of news coverage that celebrated one facet of Spanish-speaking immigrants, the Canary Islanders who founded the city of San Antonio.

The mania for restoring San Antonio’s five historic Spanish missions intensified in 1930, with a prime focus on the crown jewel of the chain, Mission San José. Page 99 recounts the Light’s article about a prominent Anglo businessman who returned a wrought iron bar he had stolen as a young man from Mission San José’s historic Rose Window in 1880. “The theft of heritage committed by a ‘freckle-faced boy’ ” and the allegory about its recovery received major play in the Light. The story exemplifies how newspapers’ editorial authority plays a role in what Renato Rosaldo calls “imperialist nostalgia,” in this case, atoning for past Anglo abuse of the Spanish architectural achievements by rebuilding them.

Elsewhere, the book shows how media veneration of these Spanish-speaking pioneers in the early 1930s sharply contrasted with other media rhetoric about immigrants. This was particularly manifest in the Light’s editorials, which argued for deportation of “undesirable” immigrants, even as record numbers of Mexican immigrants were already either forcibly or voluntarily returning to Mexico in repatriation drives. They Came to Toil shows how newspaper sites of memory reveal a consciousness of the past about what it means to be Mexican and American.
Learn more about They Came to Toil at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue