As a trained historian whose strong suit is producing written works, Calexico Historical Museum vice chairman Carlos R. Herrera said his recent foray into film production was an opportunity for him to learn something new.
Indeed, using film and images, voices as well as music to tell the tale of Calexico’s founding and history in a 16-minute documentary had quite an effect on Herrera.
“I was obsessed,” he said of the project that took him about half a year to research, write, direct and produce.
The short film, “Calexico: An Early History,” debuted at the inauguration of the historical museum about two years ago.
Originally produced to be an instructional tool, Herrera, who also teaches history at the San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, is in the process of securing the rights to make the documentary available for public viewing on the museum’s Web site.
During his research and examination of publically available archival documents, Herrera said he often encountered old photographs that tended to highlight the role non-Hispanic whites played in the development of the Valley.
“There was little (documentation) of other ethnic groups,” Herrera said. “It was very frustrating to me.”
To get their story, Herrera said he relied on a series of interviews with Calexico’s “old-timers.”
“Part of my motivation was to get the Hispanic side of the story,” Herrera said, referring to his undertaking. “Until really recently it has gone ignored.”
The documentary starts by telling of the area’s earliest Native American inhabitants, as well of its Spanish settlers, who arrived during the latter part of the 1770s. American expansion, and Manifest Destiny in particular, then brought the area’s first Anglo settlers.
The desert’s harsh conditions also tended to produce an emphasis on survival and mutual assistance among the area’s diverse groups, Herrera said. The outcome of that convergence is a cultural phenomenon that is still visible to this day.
“What we know as the U.S.-Mexico border has always been a meeting place that has resulted in a hybrid culture,” Herrera said.
Calexico had gotten its start when a group of land surveyors nearly perished in the desert in 1849. A watering hole saved them and earned the location its name, Camp Salvation.
The documentary also shares how the area was impacted by Spanish explorer and one-time New Mexico territory governor Juan Bautista de Anza during the late 18th century.
In the film, which Herrera narrates, images from the past and present were used, along with short film clips from various locations around the Valley.
Of note is how the development of the area went hand in hand with the development of the Mexicali valley, Herrera said. As it does now, water rights and commerce were significant issues for both sides of the border.
“It’s important to show the continuum,” Herrera said, “because the social problems and themes (of that era) are still relevant today.”
Although he said he did not access any Mexican documents for the documentary, he does plan to produce future installments that also focus on Mexicali, as well as the rest of the Valley.
“It’s a never ending process,” Herrera said.
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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