Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mexican-Anglo differences were always a factor in early Duval County

A note that appeared in the Corpus Christi newspaper of July 9, 1887 reveals much about attitudes in Duval County at the time regarding race (ethnic) relations. Although today, Duval County has an overwhelming Mexican-American population, in those days there was a considerable Anglo presence in the county. I, of course, use these terms loosely.

The facts are that while many “Mexican-Americans” were in fact born here and were “Americans”, many others were Mexican nationals who were not born locally or obtained citizenship. The same was true of “Anglos”, which of course is a further generalization since many of the “white” residents were not of Anglo descent. A few were native born, but many came from other parts of the state, country, or world. They descended of Slavic, Hebrew, Irish, French, Russian, Arab, and other nationalities.

It seems that a “Mexican” went on trial in Benavides in what the newspaper’s correspondent described as an all-Mexican event. The journalism of that day was not what it is today. The newspapers could not afford to have reporters gallivanting across the wide south Texas plains or brush country on horseback. They did not have the luxury of e-mail, either. Therefore, they all relied on correspondents who mailed in their weekly columns or stories. 

These correspondents, or the newspapermen for that matter, did not have journalistic training, and were not subject to the politically correct mores of today. In fact, they felt no compunction to refrain from making observations that today we see as racists, at worst, or insensitive, at best. The correspondent for the Corpus Christi newspaper of the day was a fellow named Jeffreys.

But, let me get back to our story. Jeffreys does not mention what the dispute in the case was; rather what impressed him was the fact that the county attorney had a “purely Mexican case.” According to Jeffreys, no one in the case spoke in English, not the jury, witnesses, defendant, nor opposing counsel. “The court and audience were all Mexicans,” Jeffreys observed.

Then, he adds that even though they were all Mexicans, the jury fined the defendant $5. He seemed surprised that a Mexican jury would find the defendant guilty and then fine him for his violation. In yet another seeming surprise to Jeffreys, the defendant paid the fine and the court costs. Jeffreys found it surprising that a Mexican would actually pay a fine; furthermore, he added that the defendant felt “lucky” with the jury’s decision.

The newspaper’s correspondent casually makes yet another revealing observation; “they say Mexicans don’t want the law enforced.” The question is who were “they” that said Mexicans did not want the laws enforced. Why would they say that?

Oh well, those were other times. One can be generous and say those were the views of that one correspondent, but history would suggest otherwise, although it would also be correct to point to many instances of the two groups not only getting along but also joining families and customs.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pan de campo belongs to community of San Diego, it has always been a community event

When I started this blog I said that from time to time I would comment on current issues that affected the history of Duval County. One such issue, the Pan De Campo, is currently being heatedly debated on Facebook.

Via Facebook my dear friend and classmate José Lauriano Hinojosa asked for my opinion on the subject–as a former mayor of San Diego, which prompted Delia Ibáñez to add her desire to hear from the man who made “Telling It Like It Is” a popular column in the Duval County Picture. To which Carmelinda García added the Duval County Picture would be all over this story.

My initial inclination was to stay out of the fray. As the old saying goes, I don’t have a dog in this hunt or as our ancestors may have said, “no tengo vela en este entierró.” But, alas, I will venture a few comments in deference to my friends’ request. But I will do it my way–which is to say not on Facebook, which I do not believe is the best venue for serious public policy discussions. Instead I will use this blog to share my views.

First, let me say I will not address any of the current controversy. While many may have thought in the past that “Telling It Like It Is” was a column of pure personal opinion, it was not. My opinions were not based merely on what I thought; they were firmly based on what I thought of the facts that I had uncovered first hand. I have no first hand knowledge of what has been transpiring regarding the Pan de Campo Fiesta.

What I do know first-hand is that the Pan de Campo was founded and funded by Duval County specifically to benefit the community. It was never a private enterprise; it was always a community event. When the San Diego Chamber of Commerce took it over, it remained a community event as it did when the Rotary Club took it over. Secondly, the Pan de Campo is not only a community asset, that community is San Diego. In other words it belongs to the people of San Diego and no one else and it should be held in San Diego and nowhere else.

None of this is to criticize the current organizers, merely to acknowledge the facts. Indeed, the current organizers should be applauded for trying to keep the fiesta alive. Whether these efforts were carried out appropriately or not, I have no first hand knowledge.

I would also venture a suggestion to the mayor and city council, moving forward. One idea that I did not have time to implement during my two terms as mayor–because of the tremendous number of pressing problems we were addressing at the time–was the of creation of a “Fiestas Patrias Commission” to oversee, implement and regulate citywide festivals, parades and celebratory events. These would include the Pan De Campo, Fiesta Navideña, Fourth of July activities, homecoming parades, etc.

The city should provide a modest budget for the commission’s operations but most of their operating revenues should come from the events themselves. The commission should be composed of a cross section of citizens committed to the well being of the community. It would be a magnanimous gesture to include the current Pan de Campo promoter as a member of the commission.

Everyone should approach this issue and others like it as a community for the community and not to bolster personal egos or to advance political agendas.

I can tell you from personal experience that those who serve in public office usually do in a selfless manner. There is no financial gain to serve on the city council. It involves long–and often thankless–hours. Let us remember that these folks came forward and offered themselves to serve, they allowed the community to pass judgment on whether they were worthy and the community said yes.

If these individuals have not lived up to their promise of service, the opportunity to make a change is at the next election. Meanwhile I would suggest that those involved in this debate agree to disagree; that they disagree agreeably

I pray that everyone agrees to move forward as a community, as family.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Newspaper reporting Part 3

Not all news is breaking news

(Since I ran two blogs on newspapering in Duval County, I thought it appropriate to run a column I wrote in 2006, which gives my approach to news reporting. Brought back fond memories of my days reporting the news of Duval County.)
Thankfully the silliness over Vice-President Cheney’s accidental shooting of a friend did not get legs, as they say in the business, but it certainly created a stir for a week. It brought back to this writer memories of the days when getting the news was work done by news reporters and not provided in a silver platter by spokesman. Besides, no reporter worth his pay would trust a spokesman as far as he could throw him.

What the President’s spokesman should have said to David Gregory of NBC News and his fellow White House press corps was to go do their job. More importantly, Gregory’s editor as well as the other editors that lay claim to Washington news should have told their reporters to do their job. It is not the President’s spokesman’s job to report for the Washington media.

Washington reporters, and I use the term loosely, have forgotten how to do their jobs. Or perhaps they never knew the ins and outs of newsgathering. There is no better place to practice the art of reporting than in a small news setting for a weekly newspaper.

The county sheriff or the local justices of the peace do not have spokespersons to dole out information. Highway patrolmen, deputy sheriffs, police chiefs, ambulance operators, hospitals, bailiffs, district clerks, county clerks, county judges, school superintendents, principals, water district managers, and assorted other local movers and shakers do not have spokesmen to assist the local editor with his news gathering.

The Washington media fretted over the fact that Vice President Cheney did not speak to them for four days. When he did come out they fretted that he spoke only to one source and that a friendly one at that. Meanwhile, the local and area newspapers in Corpus Christi, Kingsville and Alice, were applying the shoe leather and burning the telephone lines getting the facts. Ironically, it was the guys that were doing the real reporting that were being ridiculed by the so-called lions of the media. No less a respected journal than the Corpus Christi Caller-Times was referred to a small town newspaper and Podunk by the national media; the gall of the Washington bums.

The truth is that there was no real public interest in the story. It did not involve the vice-president in his official capacity, nor did involve the development of public policy. The facts were simple. The Vice-President of the United States decided to go quail hunting. Experienced hunter that he is he knew the best quail hunting is in South Texas. Naturally, he called up friends in the area and got invited to a quail hunt. Pretty typical of most hunters I know. Other friends tagged along and some time during the hunt someone got their wires crossed and bang a hunting accident occurred. Fortunately for everyone involved, especially the injured party, no one was killed or gravely wounded.

None of these facts point to a public interest, other than the fact that the shooter is the vice-president of the United States. Sure that’s newsworthy, but it is not fodder for the 24-hour news channels to go berserk over it. After all, no one was killed, no car chase ensued, no kidnapping, no torture, not much of anything.

Still if the national media thought it deserved more coverage, then by all means do the coverage. Contact the sheriff in Kenedy County; call the hospitals in Kingsville and Corpus Christi; talk with the ranch owner and ranch hands that served as guides; track down the injured party’s family members; in short do what reporters in Podunk markets do everyday.

Oh, glory were the days, days when I had coffee with the sheriff’s office folks every Monday to see what happened over the weekend. I still fondly remember visiting the district clerk’s office to see who had been indicted or who was going on trial that week. And then I would follow up with the district attorney or the defense counsel involved. 

Fortunately, I did not have the deadlines that the electronic media or big time dailies had and much of the breaking news could hold a few days until I could get around to it. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Newspapers in Duval County, Part 2


In June 1958, Clarence Schroeder, another Freedom Party supporter, began publication of the Duval County Maverick. Like Marroquin’s New Duval, it lasted only several months in business before suspending publication in November of the same year.

Schroeder also doubled as the Republican County Chairman in Duval County. Like Marroquin, Schroeder served a healthy dose of political fare. Unlike Marroquin, Schroeder, made an effort to keep his opinion in the editorial rather than the news columns.

Besides the Facts and the Picture, the only other newspapers in Duval County to publish for an extended period were La Libertad, a Spanish language weekly started circa 1903, the Freer Enterprise and the Freer Press. Records of other publications are sketchy but it shows a number of other newspapers attempted to make it a go in Duval County.

The earliest mention of a newspaper is of The Bell Punch in 1882. Other newspapers of the early era included Eco Liberal (also owned by La Libertad publisher Francisco P. de Gonzalez, circa 1889), El Sordo (1889), The San Diego Weekly Sun (1891-1897), The Duval County Circuit (1910), San Diego Journal (1928) and La Voz (1930s).

The only newspaper of record to report the shootout in San Diego in May 1912 that gave rise to the Parr regime was La Libertad. Five months later, on Oct. 12, 1912, it published a special edition "In Memoriam" of the fallen Mexican-American officials. The newspaper pointed out that the history of San Diego had been one of unequaled harmony up to that time. After the May assassination, mourning and hate filled the town’s residents.

La Libertad asked what the community could expect from a political party that had its genesis in the spilling of Mexican blood. It reported that talk was already circulating that Democratic Party Chairman Archie Parr would be the next victim of assassination.

In its Aug. 3, 1912 edition, Gonzalez prophetically wrote that if the people were loyal to Parr, his party would not lose but would go on to enjoy "triumph after triumph until all citizens of the county joined the banner of just one party."

No one assassinated Parr and he went on to establish himself as the only political party in Duval County for decades to come.

By the time I began publication of the Duval County Picture, the political turmoil in the county had calmed down a great deal. To be sure, people still took their politics seriously, but violence was no longer part of the culture.

The 1980s and 1990s in Duval County were much different from the 1950s. Back then, it was war. During my era, it was a time of rebuilding and reconstruction. Reformers were on guard not to slide back to the bad old days, but it was a not a violent era.

In 1986, after thinking hard about it and consulting with my wife, we decided to pursue my childhood dream of operating a newspaper. My father had published the Spanish weekly La Voz in Duval County for a short period in the 1930s, well before my birth. My only experience in journalism had been as editor of the award-winning El Vaquero, the school newspaper at San Diego High School.

The only newspaper in the county at the time was the Freer Free Press, which had started publishing in 1983. The newspaper later changed its name to the Freer Press because too many readers thought the "free" in the name meant they did not have to pay for it, instead of its real meaning as in a constitutionally free press. Its circulation and coverage, however, was limited to Freer. The remainder of the county had no local news outlet.

Armed with a Radio Shack Color Computer, a modest investment from a silent partner and a dream, I set out to publish a newspaper. The first issue took a full two weeks to produce and I wondered what I had gotten us into. How would we publish a weekly newspaper if it took us two weeks to put one together? We pushed on, never missing a deadline. We sold the newspaper in 1998 and I continued as editor until the end of 1999.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Efforts at reporting the news in Parr’s dukedom, Part 1


The journalistic profession has not always been a safe one in Duval County. Neither has it been boring. Newspapermen and women covering Duval County over the years have won a Pulitzer Prize and a pass to the graveyard. At least one reporter has lost his life while in pursuit of the truth of Duval County corruption.

Such was the volatility of the county’s political history, especially in the 1950s. In 1952, returning World War II and Korean War veterans launched their own assault against the decidedly undemocratic Parr regime. It made for a decade-long struggle, making the 1950s tense times in Duval County.

While the Duval County Facts was a newspaper of longstanding in Duval County, it had never been an activist organ. The Facts, which began publication in the 1920s and seized printing in the mid 1960s, reported information that did not make waves. It served an important function as the chronicler of the weekly affairs of the community but it shied away from the political controversy of the Parrs.

Outside news organizations had to report the dicey political developments in Duval County. In nearby Alice, the Alice Daily Echo and the Alice News (a weekly) picked up some of the slack. The metro daily, the Corpus Christi Caller, also fed off the Duval County scene. Another Corpus Christi newspaper, the Spanish weekly La Verdad, also actively reported the Duval County political shenanigans. In its heyday of the 1950s, every major Texas newspaper had an interest in Duval County and the Duke of Duval. Even the auspicious New York Times reported many a Duval County tale.

One reporter, Caro Brown, with the Alice Daily Echo, won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting of Duval County and George B. Parr's escapades. Her colleague, Bill Mason with an Alice radio station, was not as fortunate. Mason was shot and killed because of his stories. Ironically, the story that did him in did not involve Parr corruption.

Mason aggressively reported the Duke’s political skullduggery but it was a story about a bar-owning daughter of a Jim Wells County deputy that caused his demise. The deputy gunned down Mason after an unfavorable report about his daughter.

Given the atmosphere of the times, most folks believed that Mason’s death resulted from his uncompromising reporting of Parr’s activities. Parr pointed out that he was part owner of the radio station at which Mason worked.

It is no wonder, that when I started the Duval County Picture in 1986 so many people would ask whether I feared for my life in reporting so straightforwardly about Duval County politics. The truth is I never feared physical harm. One childhood friend, who was actively involved in politics with the faction most adversely affected by the Picture’s reporting, informed me that my antagonists had a nickname for me.

"What is it," I asked.

"Marroquin," he responded.

Manuel Marroquin had been the owner of a tortilla factory and drive-in restaurant in the outskirts of San Diego, just across the county line in Jim Wells County. He joined the Parr opposition, known as the Freedom Party, and eventually was forced to leave town. In January 1956, Marroquin began publication of New Duval, an independent weekly of general information. It proclaimed in its banner (in Spanish) “To tell the truth is to serve the society and community you represent.” He published his newspaper for less than a year before Parr's pistoleros forced him into exile.

My detractors’ nickname for me was their way of sending me a message that they would force me into exile as well.

"Tell your friends that they do not have the nerve Parr had and I have more mettle than Marroquin," was what I told my friend. I actually used cruder language.

I tendered the retort as self-protecting bravado. I certainly had no intention to besmirch the memory of Manuel Marroquin who was indeed a very courageous man. I remember Marroquin as a short, barrel-chested man. He was my parents’ compadre, although I do not know exactly which of my siblings he was Godfather to or for which sacrament.

As a news reporter, Marroquin held nothing back. His style, while strongly biased, was very blunt, often referring to George Parr as a "clown."