La Gaceta Mexicana, one of Houston's oldest Spanish-language newspapers, was first published in 1928 by José Sarabia, a local entrepreneur who published the newspaper at his family's print shop at 1811 Congress Street. He operated it with his brothers Felipe, Socorro, and Jesús. La Gaceta served as a forum for the family's views on issues of nationalism and culture, and also became an important forum for Houston's growing Mexican-American business community. A free newspaper, La Gaceta was financed almost entirely by paid advertisements and was distributed every two weeks. One of La Gaceta's primary goals was to provide publicity for Mexican-American businesses, thus helping them compete with other commercial establishments. Many Mexican Americans shopped outside the colonia, either because they were unaware of the Mexicano-owned businesses, or because they erroneously believed that they sold inferior products. La Gaceta's editorials challenged these beliefs and stressed the advantages of shopping in neighborhood businesses-among them, the ability to talk to salesmen in their native language. Only when their businesses prospered, wrote editor José Sarabia, would the community prosper as well. The newspaper advertised such Mexicano-owned businesses as the Botica Guadalupana, the Clínica Moderna, and El Alamo Furniture Store, as well as numerous other businesses in Houston's Second Ward and Magnolia Park, including tailors, ice cream vendors, drugstores, bakeries, barbershops, candy stores, photography studios, record stores, markets, restaurants, and butcher shops. The newspaper advertised other Sarabia family businesses, as well, including the Teatro Azteca (the local moviehouse) and the Librería Hispano-Americana (a combination curio shop and bookstore that sold everything from spices, tortilleras, and molcajetes, to books, records, magazines, and newspapers). Occasionally La Gaceta published ads for businesses owned and operated by non-Mexicanos, but they had to meet certain criteria. Only those businesses that employed Mexican Americans or that distinguished themselves in their fair and polite treatment of Mexicanos earned the opportunity to advertise in the newspaper. The September 15, 1928, issue of La Gaceta paid special tribute to the leading entrepreneurs in the Mexican-American community, among them John J. Ruiz, Pánfilo Tellez, Antonio Canales, Gonzalo Mancillas, Angel Leyva, and of course, the Sarabia brothers.
José Sarabia was highly nationalistic, and La Gaceta became a forum for his views on culture, patriotism, and education. As a political exile, forced to flee his home in Guanajuato, Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution, he was as preoccupied with his homeland as he was with his new community. Sarabia hoped to return to his native country once conditions settled-a dream he shared with numerous other political exiles in Houston. Concerned about the generation of Mexicanos being born and raised in the United States, he wrote editorials urging his compatriots to instill in their children an appreciation of the Mexican cultural heritage, and in particular, an appreciation of the Spanish language. Such knowledge was indispensable if they were to one day return to Mexico. He particularly chastised those Mexicanos who in trying to "Americanize" themselves, denied their heritage. "Racial features do not change simply by adopting an alien citizenship," wrote Sarabia, "and no matter how hard we Mexicans may try to americanize ourselves, we will always be regarded as Mexicans by the people of the United States." To help parents teach their children the basics of Mexican history and culture, each issue of La Gaceta included biographies of Mexico's most important historical leaders and stories about important events in the country's history. Special issues were devoted to the fiestas patrias and other Mexican holidays. One section, entitled "Mujeres Célebres" ("Notable Women"), dealt with women's history and highlighted such figures as Doña Marina and Sor Juana de la Cruz. Each issue also contained a section entitled "Biblioteca del Niño Mexicano" ("Library for Mexican Children") which included folktales as well as excerpts from popular children's books.
José Sarabia had very definite ideas about how Mexicanos should comport themselves in the United States. He urged his compatriots to take pride in themselves and their community so that the Norteamericanos would respect them, and so that they could return to their homeland with pride. One way they could express both their pride and their patriotism, he wrote, was to patronize neighborhood businesses. He urged his countrymen to learn from American entrepreneurs and to develop their business acumen, so that they could later invest in their homeland and make it prosper. Mexico could rid itself of foreign exploitation, wrote Sarabia, if Mexicanos took charge of their own economy. The Sarabias strove to keep their paper free of Mexican politics. The colonia, composed largely of exiles from the Mexican Revolution, was too divided, and La Gaceta urged Mexicanos to put their political differences aside and work towards building a strong and vibrant community. While the newspaper avoided any discussion of Mexican politics, it did not always avoid local politics. The Sarabias chastised Houston police for their brutality and criticized the criminal justice system for abusing their civil rights; they also chastised their compatriots who committed crimes in the United States, arguing that they were not true Mexicanos. La Gaceta provided the community with a variety of news and entertainment features. It announced weddings, baptisms, and dances in the Houston-Galveston area, and published job announcements, as well as news from the various civic organizations such as the sociedades mutualistas, the Comité Patriotico Mexicano, and the Asamblea Mexicana. It advertised the variety shows and silent movies running at the Teatro Azteca and printed stories about popular musicians, artists, and entertainers. La Gaceta also listed the latest recordings by Mexican artists on the Columbia record label, and the most popular books in Mexico (most of which could be purchased at the Librería). Excerpts from these books were printed in the newspaper, as were essays and poems sent in by readers. La Gaceta also printed jokes, riddles, and puns; recipes and household hints; and good old-fashioned advice on a variety of topics. Often the paper paraphrased Ben Franklin, one of José Sarabia's personal heroes. José Sarabia served as the paper's official editor until mid-1928, when he hired Luis Yañez to assume that position. The paper, however, continued to reflect the Sarabia family's cultural and national ideals, and each editorial was written by José Sarabia. When the paid advertisements failed to adequately finance the newspaper, Sarabia provided the funding himself. The paper continued publishing until the early years of the Great Depression. At that time local businesses were forced to cancel their advertisements because of financial hardships, and the Sarabias discontinued publication.
Margarita B. Melville, Mexicans in Houston (Houston Center for the Humanities, 1983). Alfredo and Socorro Sarabia, Oral History Interview, August 28, 1980, Houston Metropolitan Research Collection, Houston Public Library.
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
Texas in the 1920s
Upper Gulf Coast
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