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UTPA archive chronicles history, culture of border

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Posted: Friday, April 13, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 10:58 am, Fri Jun 14, 2013.

EDINBURG -- Reynaldo Anzaldua’s story blends both the present and the past.

A descendent of families who once controlled thousands of acres of ranchland through Spanish land grants, Anzaldua represents part of the borderlands’ unique history and culture. But Anzaldua also was at the forefront of Granjeno’s battle against the Southwest border wall, part of a debate on its sociological impact that continues to shape modern history in the Rio Grande Valley.

Both stories — covering European arrival in South Texas to issues that define the modern day — are documented in the University of Texas-Pan American’s Border Studies Archive, a living collection of photographs and videos, oral histories and other materials that chronicle the U.S.-Mexico border region.

Anzaldua, a retired customs officer who fought against the loss of land to build the border wall in his native Granjeno, said that history must be preserved.

“A lot of people here don’t know the history. This is why places like this are so important,” Anzaldua said Friday at the grant opening of the archive where his story will be chronicled. “It might not be important to other people, but to us on the border, it’s very important.”

Part of the archive’s mission, however, is to show the rest of the world the border’s unique history, folklore and lives of people who reside here.

Intended as a resource for the community and scholars, the archive contains audio, video and other material from six primary collections: border music; the border wall and border security; Latina and politics; Spanish land grants; traditional Mexican-American folklore and visual border stories.

Its highlight is the Mexican-American folklore collection developed by UTPA anthropology professor Mark Glazer. Appraised at more than $1 million, the collection contains more than 100,000 items on topics ranging from La Llorona (the legend of the Weeping Woman); Mexican folk doctors, or curanderos; to the chupacabra, the legendary beast claimed to slaughter livestock by sucking their blood.

The folklore collection served as the foundation for the border studies archive, said curator Margaret Dorsey, an anthropologist who arrived in South Texas in 2008 to study the border wall and later was hired to build the archive. But Dorsey soon secured nearly 3,000 photographs and government documents relating to the construction of the border wall and its sociological and ecological ramifications.

Another collection containing more than 30 detailed reports on local families given Spanish land grants was built through the Community Historical Archaeology Project with Schools, or CHAPS, a UTPA program that teaches K-12 students about the Valley’s history.

Dorsey said the archive will serve as a repository where local residents and scholars can learn about the border, but she also wants it to provide the rest of the world visions of the Valley they don’t receive from the national media.

“Everyone here knows this is what we look like, but the rest of the world doesn’t,” said Dorsey, describing media portrayals of South Texas as an “otherworldly” region. “Part of what we’re doing is being conscious of the national and international image of this region to let the rest of the world know what an amazing place this is.”

The archive will keep the Valley’s “cultural roots alive” by allowing the community to discover its history and providing a place for future research by the university’s faculty and students, said UTPA president Robert Nelsen. The university plans to establish a master’s degree program in border studies, where anthropology students can contribute to an understanding of the region’s music, art, history and other characteristics.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, whose service in the Vietnam War and the Texas Legislature is among a group of seven Valley veterans whose lives are chronicled in an archive exhibit, said South Texas melds the language, food and people of two countries together.

“The Valley is a unique place in its culture and history,” said Hinojosa, joking that he considers the region south of the Border Patrol checkpoint as “U.S.A-Tex-Mex.” “It’s important for our students to learn about where we came from, where we are now, and where we’re going to be in the future.”

Jared Janes covers Hidalgo County government, Edinburg and legislative issues for The Monitor. He can be reached at jjanes@themonitor.com and (956) 683-4424.

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