The Casasola Archives: Our Neighbors, Ourselves

Jan 3, 2012

BOISE, ID – Agustin Victor Casasola founded the first photojournalism agency in Mexico one hundred years ago. Casasola and his photographers took images of early 20thCentury Mexican life.  Now more than one hundred thousand negatives, maps, and other documents make up the Casasola Archives.  You can see some of them at the Idaho State Historical Museum in Boise.  We report on what the Casasola Archives reveal about Mexico and Idaho.

Some of the Casasola photographs are like a freeze frame episode of “Law and Order”complete with corpses, murderers, prosecutors, and court rooms.  The Museum’s Anne Schorzman explains these photos from 1900 to 1940 capture everything from the Mexican Revolution to the industrial age with workers toiling away in factories and rail yards.

Anne Schorzman:  “He wanted to depict real people during hard times.  And if you look at them, even though some of them look a little posed, he seems to really capture the feelings of this particular era in Mexico.”

The photos start with the dictatorial regime of President Porfirio Diaz and end with portraits of famous Mexicans like the composer Agustin Lara and “Pancho” Villa.  The Mexican Consulate in Boise helped make this exhibit possible.  Ricardo Pineda leads the Consulate.

Consul of Mexico Ricardo Pineda:  “The Casasola Archive is one of Mexico’s historical treasures.”

Pineda says the photos came directly from Mexico City to Boise and have already been shown in Paris and New York.  It’s one of the many cultural events the Consulate sponsors. Errol Jones, an expert on Mexico and U.S. History at Boise State University, says Mexicans and their descendants are an integral part of Idaho’s story.

Errol Jones:  “Mexicans have been here, some of them ever since the fur trading period, not very many, but a few of them anyway. And they’ve made a contribution to Idaho’s economy greater than any other ethnic minority here in the state.”

According to the 2010 census, Idahoans of Mexican descent account for about ten percent of the state’s population.  They’re the fastest growing ethnic group in the state.  Jones says the numbers started to increase around the 1950s.  That’s when the agriculture industry began making higher value goods.  And migrant laborers settled down to work these new factory jobs.  Jones sees similarities between Mexican and American culture in Idaho and in Casasola’s work.

Errol Jones:  “The thing that dawns on me when I walk through that collection is how similar those people and their activities are to our own at that period of time. . . They’re wearing the same kinds of clothes, they’re driving the same kinds of cars.”

Anne Schorzman stops in front of a black and white photo from the Mexican Revolution.  A young man looks nonchalant, one knee slightly bent.

Anne Schorzman:  “He’s just standing there smoking right before execution.  I just – that’s one of the, the very poignant ones I think because it looks like he’s just standing there having a cigarette.”

The human cost of the Mexican Revolution was enormous.  Exhibit materials say one million people died.  But historians disagree on the exact number. Some say it could be as high as three million.  Despite the somber context of many of the photographs, Schorzman says the museum has received positive feedback from the Consulate and the Mexican-American community about the exhibit.

Anne Schorzman:  “It’s almost like saying we acknowledge you because we acknowledge your history. And we value you because of it.  You know, we value you being here in Idaho.”

Schorzman says several hundred people came to the museum when the exhibit opened.  The room filled with the sound of mariachi music, and people tasted Mexican appetizers, and mescal. More activities are planned with the exhibit including a traditional dance performance this Thursday.

The Idaho State Historical Museum will be open January 5th for First Thursday so you can see the Casasola Archives for free that evening.  Ballet Folklorico dancers will also perform.  The exhibit runs until January 14th.

Copyright 2011 Boise State Public Radio