Community connections: The Magnolia Park Oral History Project
A pair of gold and pearl earrings…just a pair of earrings, but something so simple can tell something so big…the story and history of a family, their neighborhood and a culture. Houston Community College Southeast is bringing stories like this, stories about the people of the Magnolia Park neighborhood, to life. Houston-area neighborhoods are filled with a wealth of history and culture that, in many cases, has yet to be discovered. One Houston neighborhood is rising out of obscurity by virtue of HCC Southeast’s “The Magnolia Park Oral History Project.” To appreciate, understand and promote the legacy of Latinos in Houston, the president of HCC Southeast, Dr. Irene Porcarello, commissioned the multi-part digital film project. The documentary features the people, history and legacy of one of the oldest neighborhoods of Houston and of Texas.
Established around 1890, parts of it on the site of the early Texas town of Harrisburg, Magnolia Park, in Houston’s East End, eventually became home to thousands of early Mexican and Tejano settlers and their families. The great Diasporas caused by the Mexican Revolution of 1910, and the social upheavals and wars in Central America later, caused many more to immigrate, resulting in a majority Latino neighborhood that is still vibrant today.
One family’s story centers on its patriarch’s journey to Houston. As he emigrated from Mexico at the height of the Mexican Revolution, he gave a pair of gold and pearl earrings to his bride-to-be as an engagement gift. During their trek to “el norte,” however, he had to sell them so that they could finish the trip to Houston. He asked a pawnshop dealer to hold them until he could get the money to buy them back. The couple made it to Magnolia Park and had a joyful wedding soon after their arrival. The young man was able to send money to the pawnshop dealer very soon after getting settled. But when the earrings didn’t arrive for several weeks, the couple was deeply disappointed and feared they were lost forever. The earrings bought out of love for his bride-to-be finally arrived one day by pony express. The heirloom earrings are now part of the family lore and still exist today, more than 100 years later.
Stories such as this that illustrate these families’ pride, determination and love are being uncovered in nearly 100 interviews and 2,000 photographs. Telling their stories, getting their histories known is making this one-time timid community stand a little taller. The Magnolia Park Oral History Project has given the community a new sense of pride, pride to be from Magnolia Park.
The neighborhood and its residents should be proud. Magnolia Park’s identity and unique culture produced great leaders and activism in the Sociedad Mutualista Benito Juárez or Benito Juárez Mutual Aid Society, and other groups focused on advocating for barrio cohesiveness and organization. This community-building started in the early 1900s and continues today with descendants of the original families including the Varas, Partidas, Ramirez, Antes, Gonzalez and Chairez, to name but a few. These families contributed, and continue to contribute, to this living history of Houston and Texas.
This unprecedented educational and oral history archival project, when concluded, will be a 30-part series highlighting Magnolia Park’s oldest families who were present for its historic foundation and subsequent growth. They will include witnesses to history and personal stories of their beloved colonia (neighborhood) since its early days. The series will also be used as part of the curriculum of the Mexican American Studies Program at HCC Southeast under the supervision of newly appointed Humanities Department chair, Dr. Grisel Cano.
Once completed, the series will be on permanent display and available for public viewing at the soon-to-be-established HCC Southeast Museum in the new Learning Hub Building on the Southeast Campus.
Involved with the project are award-winning journalist and former KTRK Channel 13 anchor Minerva Perez and Frank Partida of the Magnolia Park Historical Preservation Association as chief historical consultant.
Perez observed the profound affect the project has had upon her. “Learning about the beginnings of Magnolia Park and its amazing people has touched not only my heart, but my cultural conscience,” she said.
HCC trustee for District 3, Mary Ann Perez, and Trustee Eva Loredo, District 8, applauded the project, and recognized the value of preserving the history of the area. Having grown up in Houston’s East End and Magnolia Park area, the history will be of great personal interest to Perez.
“I am proud that HCC Southeast is undertaking this great project. It is so important to our community and to the great city of Houston to capture the history of the area. This history is our legacy, it is who we are, it is the history of the families with whom I grew up,” said Perez.
The compilation of video interviews, combined with each family’s personal photo galleries, continues at present. It will expand with the addition of the top 10Role Models of Magnolia Park. The Magnolia Park Oral History Project is expected to be ready for its debut at a presentation that will coincide with Diéz de Septembre, and Hispanic Heritage Month this year.
For more historical background on Magnolia Park, Texas, please visit the Handbook of Texas, the website of the Texas State Historical Association at: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvm06