José M. Alamillo, professor of Chicana/o studies at California State University, Channel Islands, has learned a lot about how Ventura County once was from La Voz de La Colonia, a Spanish-language newspaper that was published in Oxnard and Santa Paula between 1925 and 1932.
After a long search, Alamillo and colleague Dr. Luis Moreno of Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, discovered old, fragile issues in the basement of the E.P. Foster Library in downtown Ventura. The paper’s contents revealed issues that were very unique to the era and some that seem timeless, from the immediate aftermath of the St. Francis Dam disaster to immigration and racism.
“We’ve been in this county from the very beginning and we should recognize our roots are deep in the Ventura County area,” said Alamillo. “By reading the newspaper you definitely get a sense of your family roots, and I encourage many people to take a look and see what they can find.”
Alamillo will discuss his research and the paper on Saturday, June 15, at the Port Hueneme Historical Society Museum.
VCReporter: Who was Jesus Jimenez?
He was the founder of the newspaper, a business owner from the city of Oxnard. He and his brothers owned a furniture store, Jimenez Brothers Furniture Store. He founded the newspaper in the 1920s, 1925-26, and was the original publisher and editor of the newspaper until he sold it in 1927 to Manuel Reyes, a newspaper man in Santa Paula.
What did it cover?
It really catered to the Hispanic community in Ventura County and Santa Barbara primarily. They do have Associated Press articles for national news and regional news, but you really get a flavor of the local stories of the area from the ’20s and ’30s. There is a lot of really great content, a lot of good articles and editorials. It’s primarily published in Spanish although there is a section, I call it the second generation Mexican-American section because it’s really catered more to the youth and students and it’s in English, which I found interesting.
How did it cover the St. Francis Dam Disaster?
They were affected by it. The location of it, the building itself was flooded and is still there in Santa Paula, it’s on Main Street. Some of the reporters were out in the middle of the night reporting and saving lives. You get a perspective of the disaster because you really hear the stories of the survivors, those who actually helped to rescue many of the victims of the flood.
There are some heroic stories in that newspaper that really give you a glimpse of the scale of the disaster. It really provides a human element, too, because you hear from mothers who had to rescue their children, fathers who also tried to do the same.
It’s really emotionally wrenching when you read this story and again because the reporters were affected by the dam they also talked about their own story and their own family and how they survived.
We really don’t get that from English language papers at the time. Ventura County Star, Los Angeles Times and Oxnard Courier covered, of course, much of the dam disaster but you don’t really get the stories from the Hispanic community and how they were affected by the disaster.
How did it handle issues involving immigration?
It was kind of an informational kiosk in a sense because it tells readers that they should be aware of the changes in the laws and they’d instruct them how to get their paperwork in order. It’s almost like an immigration lawyer office providing a public service in a sense to the community around immigration issues. It also gives you a sense of how the Great Depression impacted Ventura County and I think you also definitely hear stories of the destitute and of poverty and how some of them were removed from the county by force or some voluntarily.
That’s the area I’m researching more. In the bigger cities like L.A. you have larger efforts to remove many of the Mexicans and Mexican Americans during the Great Depression. Locally it operated a little different. Much of the agricultural labor was dependent on these workers so it was more individual, smaller scale of a removal process, but you have stories of families who are unemployed and can’t find a job so they have to go back or they were told ‘you’re not wanted here and have to go back.’
These jobs were only for U.S. citizens and if you weren’t a U.S. citizen, you couldn’t get a job, so essentially they were pressured ultimately to go back to Mexico.
Actually, my grandfather was one of those who returned to Mexico in that period but had been here since 1915 working in Oxnard and Santa Paula. I found his name in one of the papers. He was very active in the community’s mutual aid societies. At the time they would provide health insurance and funeral expenses and they would be there to aid and help each other. I found him in a program of a Cinco de Mayo celebration where he was delivering a speech. That was really cool to find.
What similarities and differences from then and now do you see in the paper?
On the issue of immigration there are a lot of similarities for what’s going on today. You definitely get a sense of the anti-immigrant atmosphere in the early 1930s and how that’s really affecting many families. You see that today.
When you have an anti-immigrant climate you’ll get a lot of people coming out and fear mongering and very much espousing these views about immigrants, but you also get a sense of how important they were to this county, the stories they tell about the jobs they’re doing and how they’re contributing to the economy.
If you look through the business section of the paper and find how many of these immigrants were business owners, you get a sense of a thriving business sector in Santa Paula and Oxnard. There were so many business, a whole page that lists all the various services they offer and how much the paper depended on the businesses for advertising. When the Dam disaster hits, you see the business owners come out and give meals for free. You also see how they affect the local economy, especially agriculture, so when you hear today these immigrants are coming in, stealing jobs, are not to be trusted, I think we need to not accept those views and really find the truth that is no, they’re hard working, contributing and good citizens and should be treated as such.
To read digital versions of La Voz de La Colonia, visit repository.library.csuci.edu/handle/10211.3/116988.
Alamillo will present “La Voz de La Colonia: Colonia’s News Source from 1926-1932” on Saturday, June 15, at the Port Hueneme Historical Society Museum, 220 Market St., Port Hueneme, at 11 a.m. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/PortHuenemeHistoricalSocietyMuseum.