Borderlands of Southern Colorado

El Pueblo History Museum in Colorado is kicking off their Fall Borderlands Lecture Series today, October 4, 2018. Among the 2018 Fall line up is Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Graduate Research Assistant and University of Houston Hispanic Studies doctoral candidate, Sylvia Fernández. She will be presenting “Understanding US-Mexico Borderlands: Newspapers Mapping Geographical Boundaries” with her colleague, Maira Álvarez, on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 6:00 pm.

Abstract: “Understanding US-Mexico Borderlands: Newspapers Mapping Geographical Boundaries,” Maira Álvarez and Sylvia Fernández (University of Houston) Abstract cross-posted from El Pueblo History Museum website (See original page here.)

National discourses about the border continue to generalize, stereotype and invisibilize the history of communities along the region. But many are unaware that borderland identities have emerged throughout history as a result of the loss of territory, immigrations, exile and deterritorialization. Borderlands Archives Cartography was created to visualize, document and analyze the junction of several cultures and the diverse histories of borderlands “to embrace our past and honor the multiple experiences of our communities.” The project uses a digital map to display a U.S.-Mexico border cartography that records the geographic locations of 19th- and mid-20th-century periodicals in order to conceptualize this region before and after the current division line. BAC’s objective is to understand the complexity of borderlands history, identities and cultures to resist the continuing discourses against this extensive region.


El Pueblo History Museum is located in Pueblo, Colorado. For more information, visit:

Sylvia Fernández: is a Ph.D. Candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston and a Research Fellow with Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. Her research interests include U.S. Latina/o Literature with a focus on U.S.-Mexico Border, Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies, Archives and Digital Humanities. She is co-creator of Borderlands Archives Cartography.

Maira Álvarez: is a Ph.D. Candidate and currently a Research Assistant for the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston. Her research interests include the study of U.S. Latino, U.S.-Mexico Border, and Latin American Literature as well as Women’s Studies, Latinx Art and Digital Humanities. She is co-creator of Borderlands Archives Cartography.

¡Extra, Extra! The Hispanic Literary Heritage of Texas public exhibit

The University of Houston's Arte Público Press/ Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Presents: Extra, Extra! The Hispanic Literary Heritage of Texas at the Central Houston Public Library. September 7 through October 31, 2018. Free exhibit! Visit the Central Houston Public Library to view newspapers and rare books from the Arte Público Press/Recovery collection! Location: 2nd and 3rd floors of the Central Houston Public Library. 500 McKinney Street, Houston, Texas 77002. Visit Arte Puúblico Press website at Exhibit curated by Elena V. Valdez (Rice University) and supported by a grant frm the Rice University Humanities Research Center.

¡Extra, Extra! The Literary Heritage of Texas, on display Sept. 7-Oct. 31, 2018 at the Central Houston Public Library

¡Extra, Extra! The Hispanic Literary Heritage of Texas is an exhibit of Spanish-language newspapers and first-edition books from the Arte Público Press/Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage collections. This is a free exhibit located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Central Houston Public Library (500 McKinney Street, Houston, Tex 77002). The exhibit includes rare books, newspaper facsimiles, and photographs.

On the 3rd floor, a special exhibit explains the editorial process for Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público dedicated to the publication—in English, Spanish and bilingual formats—of children’s and young adult literature focusing on US Hispanic culture.

This exhibit was curated by Elena V. Valdez (Rice University) and supported by a grant from the Rice University Humanities Research Center.  It will be on display from September 7 through October 31, 2018.

Digital components of this exhibit coming soon!

Archival Research: Recovering Oppressed Voices

Yesterday (February 7, 2018), Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage/Arte Público Press hosted University of Houston Professor Leandra Zarnow’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) class “Issues in Feminist Research.”

Students sitting at a long conference table, looking toward back of the room. Dr. Villarroel standing at the back of the room, talking.

Dr. Villarroel speaks with Dr. Zarnow’s WGSS class about archival documents.

Professor Zarnow invited Recovery’s Director of Research, Dr. Carolina Villarroel, our Graduate Research Fellow and University of Houston Ph.D. candidate, Sylvia Fernández, and me to speak with the class about the importance of minority archives, intersectionality in our own research, archival research methodology, and the digital humanities.

It’s always a treat when I have the opportunity to nerd out about minority archives! Archival research is a bit of a treasure hunt—you can’t always go into it with the expectations of finding something very specific. More often than not, you need to go into in with an open mind and just let the archive lead the way.

The Archival Case of Leonor Villegas de Magnon

Leonor Villegas de Magnón and Aracelito Garcia dredsed in white next to the flag of La Cruz Blanca (White Cross), 1914

Leonor Villegas de Magnón and Aracelito Garcia with flag of La Cruz Blanca, 1914. From Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage’s Leonor Villegas de Magnón Collection

Sometimes, as Villarroel told the class, big projects can lead you across the world and back. Take the case of Leonor Villegas de Magnon’s manuscript, La Rebelde (The Rebel): Dr. Clara Lomas (Colorado College) was reading archival newspapers when she came across an excerpt of an unknown, unpublished memoir. In order to find out more about the author and the memoir, she had to locate the full newspaper. The newspaper wasn’t digitized, so Lomas had to travel to the archive that held the entire run of the newspaper—it was in the Netherlands! Her transatlantic trip yielded results, as she discovered the the name of the author: Leonor Villegas de Magnón. This led Lomas to Laredo, Texas. There, she learned that Villegas de Magnón’s family now lived in Houston, Texas. The manuscript and a large collection of photographs from the Mexican Revolution had been passed down three generations of Leonors. Publishers originally rejected the manuscript for the mere reason that the author was a woman (not to mention one writing about the Revolution). In 1994, Recovery/Arte Público Press made Villegas de Magnón’s dream of publishing her memoir a reality and published The Rebel (Villegas de Magnón’s own translation). A few years later, Recovery/Arte Público Press published the Spanish version, La Rebelde.

Of course, not all archival research will lead you across the globe, especially as more more archives are digitizing their collections. However, not all knowledge is considered “archivable” or important, so often minority collections are sitting in someone’s abuelita‘s attic. And sometimes minority collections that do make it to universities and cultural institutions, aren’t always indexed and women’s archives are sometimes “hidden” under their father’s or husband’s name.

Archival Research: Where to Start?

There are so many ways to start an archival project. One great way is to read historical newspapers and see what pops out at you. Try reading entire newspaper issues. Many times old newspapers published serialized novels in this way. You may have heard that Charles Dickens published his novels in this fashion, but did you know that the many Latina/o authors published their works in the Spanish-language press this way, too? For example, Daniel Venegas published Las aventuras de Don Chipote (The Adventures of Don Chipote). Every graduate student dreams of discovering some new, never-before-seen manuscript and producing groundbreaking work. Using minority archives is perfect way to do that! With such a vast collection of newspaper, manuscripts, letters, diaries, photographs and more, Recovery’s archives offer scholars the opportunity to write about something that no one else has ever written about or researched! Not to mention the fact that much of the history contained in the archive has been silenced and written out of mainstream history.

top left: a box of slides, bottom left: newspaper (visible article title:

Recovered archival documents written by Latinas on display during WGSS Issues in Feminist Research class (Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage collections)

If you’re working with digitzed newspapers in a database with OCR capabilities (Optical Character Recognition), then you can create a list of keywords and search for them across various newspapers. Don’t forget to look at the advertisements! They can provide some insight into daily life. As someone who does literary research, I like to start with historical novels and use archival documents to enrich our understanding of a certain time period, movement, etc.

Manuscripts, diaries, and letters are another place to start your research. Don’t be put off by handwriting! It take a little while to get comfortable reading handwritten documents, but the more you do it, the easier it gets (especially if you’re working with the same author). With social media, you can always enlist the help of an online community in deciphering messy handwriting!

Archives and Digital Humanities

Digital tools offer new ways to approach your research findings. They can help you create visual representations of author networks (that you may have discovered reading correspondence), you can map the trajectory of characters in a novel or the movement of authors, you can find old and new photographs of places mentioned in a memoir, and more. Remember that digital projects don’t necessarily solve any problems, they allow you to represent parts of your research or act as research tools for other scholars. As an example of a digital project, Sylvia Fernández showed the class the project she developed with Maira E. Álvarez, Borderlands Archive Cartography (BAC). This project came out of their research interests in border studies, newspapers, and Hispanic literature. (You can read more about BAC in Fernández’s blog post, “Borderlands Archives Cartography: The First Digital U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Newspapers Archive“).

There are many user-friendly software platforms available for free that you can use to develop your own digital humanities projects (Visit our DH Resources page for a sample list). And no, you don’t need to know how to code! The best way to launch into a project is to just do it. Fiddle with the software and learn as you go. Dr. Jeremy Boggs (Head of Research and Development in the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library), who visited UH last month as part of our Digital Humanities & Social Justice speaker series, strongly encouraged people to just play around with the different digital tools available and develop rapid prototypes to see if you like the way your project is turning out. You can always switch to a different platform if you decide you don’t like it.

Digitization and digital tools are just another avenue for preserving historical documents and conducting (as well as displaying) research. The most important take away is that the more we research and produce scholarship (traditional or digital) on minority archives, the more we are able to give voice to silenced histories and enrich the understanding of our past and present.

box car train in background with

Celebration with the General Múzquiz Chávez Band. Jul 17, 1914 (Leonor seated at left side of boxcar door). From Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage’s Leonor Villegas de Magnón Collection

Further reading:

Lazo, Rodrigo. “Migrant Archives.” States of Emergency: The Object of American Studies, edited by Russ Castronovo and Susan Kay Gillman, 2009, pp. 38–72.

Pérez, Emma. “Queering the Borderlands: The Challenges of Excavating the Invisible and Unheard.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 24, no. 2/3, 2003, pp. 122–31,

Spiro, Lisa. “Getting Started in the Digital Humanities.” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, 14 Oct. 2011,

Villegas de Magnón, Leonor. La Rebelde. ed. Clara Lomas. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 2004.

Villegas de Magnón, Leonor. The Rebel. ed. Clara Lomas. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 1994.

Lorena Gauthereau is a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage at the University of Houston. Find her online at

Borderlands Archives Cartography: The First Digital U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Newspapers Archive. By Maira Álvarez and Sylvia Fernández.


Borders are in a constant transition in the political, cultural, and geographic discourses. According to Rachel St. John, “walls and fences have become both physical realities and metaphors for the stark divide between the United States and Mexico and the attempt to control undocumented immigration and illegal drug trafficking that many people associate with the border” (1). Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) emerges from the constant, and current aggressive, political rhetoric that displays the geographic and ideological border between the United States and Mexico as a threat. However, the borderland “is a space where different cultures co-exist under strong political, economic, and social hegemonies; as well as, a space were regions influence each other, but maintain their own identities” (Álvarez)[1]. Therefore, the objective of BAC is to uncover literary sources, such as the newspapers published on the U.S. Southwest and Northern area of Mexico in order to represent the borderlands by their own communities.


Why the focus on periodicals? Though printing was first introduced to the Americas in 1533, fourteen years following the arrival of Spaniards to the region now known as Mexico, the persistent prevailing perception is that the United States has always been the neighbor leading innovation and dominant producer of cultural advancements. That is not the case, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans inhabiting the Southwest have been practicing literary production and self-documentation that predates the birth of the United States. In the borderlands, these cultural interactions gave rise to new identities as a result of the loss of territory, immigrations, exile, and deterritorialization. This is reflected in recovered material such as periodicals, which kept communities informed about daily affairs and advertised local businesses, among many other services. On the other hand, these publications helped individuals and [its residents] protect their rights by fighting segregation and discrimination, particularly after the cession of the borderlands to the United States in 1848. Newspapers preserved language and culture, elevating communities’ education levels by publishing creative literature in Spanish, including poetry, literary prose, serialized novels, and plays (Kanellos and Martell 7-8). Additionally, newspapers have documented diverse political, social, and economic processes from U.S. colonial times to more recent events that helps [to better] understand the [borderland and transnational] cultures (Chávez Chávez).


Borderland Archives Cartography is a digital humanities project that works in collaboration with the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage. Its legacy inspired the founders of the Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) project, doctoral students from the University of Houston, Maira E. Álvarez and Sylvia A. Fernández, from borderland cities of Laredo, Texas and El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, respectively. Their experience as Research Fellows in the Recovery Program gave them an understanding of the importance of archives and their cultural and historical legacy, as well as, training on equipment and procedures necessary for the preservation of such materials. Their exposure to a database with more than 1000 recovered newspapers led the founders to a series of questions regarding the periodicals not only from the United States border, but the material found in archives along the Mexico border region as well. These academic experiences along with their personal interest on U.S.-Mexico border is reflected on their dissertations and the BAC project, which initiated in early 2017.

The project is significant because it crosses multiple borders: geographic, linguistic, and disciplinary. The following is an overview of the logistics involved in undertaking such a project, the philosophy for creating this corpus, a description of the borders, and the historical periods and communities involved. Furthermore, the objective of BAC is to gather periodicals archives from both sides of the border in order to understand the region and its communities before and after it became a division line. This project takes a digital humanities platform to expand the notion of borders, methodologies, and data analysis with the purpose to facilitate the access to the material recovered and promote diverse forms of research. BAC’s digital map displays the U.S.-Mexico border newspaper cartography that records geographic locations of nineteenth and mid-twentieth century periodicals. The corpus gathered until now is projected using, a geo-analysis tool, which helps to analyze and represent visually the data.


By following the cataloging material standards of the Library of Congress, the information coded in the map is categorized by newspaper title, location (city, state, and country), address, number of issues available, years of publication, language (Spanish, English, French), editor/s name, source (name of the collection), and historical periods (period one, period two and period three). The selection of newspapers from both sides of the border followed BAC’s protocols, in which the historical periods dictated the states and regions (cities and counties) to be considered as part of the borderlands.

The US border includes the states California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. The latter state is included due to the influence of the press during the nineteenth century. Currently, the U.S. data collected is from the Recovering Program. This material is available through microfilm at Recovery located at the University of Houston, or digitally through the NewsBank/Readex database: America’s Historical Newspapers under the Hispanic American Newspaper Collections and EBSCO database: under Arte Público Hispanic Historical Collection Series 1 and Series 2.

From the Mexican border, BAC includes the periodical from the states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. The data of newspapers collected comes from the Recovery Program, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, a unit of the University of Texas Libraries, and the Hemeroteca de la Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas under the Fondos Documentales Joaquín Meade. The material of the Recovery Program can be accessed through the online sources previously mentioned. The newspapers from the collection of Joaquín Meade can be found in the Hemeroteca de la Universidad de Tamaulipas’ website. The Benson Collection is available in microfilm form at the University of Texas Libraries.


Furthermore, the process of gathering data from the northern states of Mexico is currently underway. By using the Colegio de la Frontera Norte’s online directory[2], a description of the project, as well as the objectives of the research was sent via email. Some of the specialists provided contact information of archivist and directors in charge of newspapers archives related to BAC. The project was received with great excitement and their responses provided an extraordinary amount of information found in their archives. The digitized newspapers obtained by these colleagues were included in the database, the newspapers on microfilm will be requested to be digitized, and the newspapers in print form, which is a larger portion of the collections in Mexico, will be slowly integrated to the database because of travel, equipment, organization, and time required.

As mentioned before, the data from both sides of the border followed BAC’s protocols, in which the historical periods dictated the selection of states and regions (cities and counties) to be considered as part of the borderlands. Presently, BAC considers nineteenth century newspapers from the entire states, and the twentieth century periodicals are selected based on border cities from both sides. This is due to the fact that the U.S.-Mexico border went over a geographical and political transition that established what the current division line is now. With this in mind, the periodicals found in BAC are categorized in one of the three historical periods, according to the year published, in order to provide an understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands:

  • Period One (Colonial ruling), covers the years 1808 to 1846.
  • Period Two (Mexican-American War) extends from 1847 to 1854.
  • Period Three (Transition to the current division line) runs from 1855 to 1930. 

Periodicos periodos historicos Currently BAC has been well accepted in regional, national and international conferences such as 25th Anniversary Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Conference (Houston, TX), International American Studies Association 8th World Congress (Laredo, TX), 83rd IFLA World Library and Information Congress (Wroclaw, Poland), 6th Annual Digital Frontiers Conference (Denton, TX) and invited as speakers for The Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp) at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Gradually, BAC’s missions are being reach while the project continues to work on building bridges globally among the academic and borderlands communities. This digital humanities approach not only facilitates research with archives, it also enables and encourage other disciplines’ studies, and forms of methodologies to better understand the material.

BAC as a digital humanities project promotes the use of diverse knowledge since different skills are essential for engagement, interaction, research and most importantly, understanding the histories of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. As Roopika Risam (2014) emphasizes, these types of texts can aid in the theorizing of digital archival practices. In the case of BAC, the integration of borderlands’ newspapers created the first digital archive of U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Newspapers. is a repository platform that displays the digital map, historical context of the borderlands, online resources, publications, a monthly newspapers exhibition, social media (facebook, twitter, instagram), and graphs that help visualized the data collected. BAC integrates in its platforms other borderlands digital projects to better understand the region and fill some of the historical lacunae from Mexico and the United States.

In conclusion, more than an digital project, Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) is a personal commitment to the borderlands communities. As fronterizas, we want to bring the legacy of Recovery to our communities through BAC because just as we found ourselves represented and empowered by the heritage recovered, that made us aware of the right histories of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, we intend to bring this knowledge and non-traditional literary sources to others to deconstruct the political discourses that have been persistent throughout the years. With this in mind, BAC, as a borderlands archive, strives to continue uncovering voices from the past to destabilize statism.

bac logo


Chávez Chávez, Jorge. “El Archivo Municipal de Ciudad Juárez.” Cronología Siglo XXI (1992). Accessed May 28, 2017.

Kanellos, Nicolás and Helvetia Martell. Periodicals in the United States, Origins to 1960: A           Brief History and Comprehensive Bibliography. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2000.

Risam, Roopika. Professionalizing via Digital Humanities. (powerpoint slides for a talk at the New England American Studies Association Spring Colloquium-“Professional Realities Inside and Outside the Academy, May 3, 2014)

St. John, Rachel. Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border. New            Jersey:Princeton University Press, 2011.


[1] Maira E. Álvarez’s dissertation title, Mexican and Mexican-American Fronteriza Writers: A Counter Discourse from a Militarized Border.

[2] El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (El Colef) is an institution of scientific research and graduate education, which is part of the System of Public Centers for Research of the CONACYT (National Council for Science and Technology). Regional Headquarters: Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey, Ciudad Juárez, and Mexicali.