The Fuentes Family: Pioneer Home-Film Makers

Fluid migration has long shaped the Southwest of the United States — certainly since well before the U.S. fashioned the region from large tracts of Mexico during a military invasion in the 1840s, and certainly ever since.

Unfortunately, even after the invention of moving film, audiovisual records of Mexican-American life were rare; but the Library of Congress has just designated a collection of home movies from border life during the 1920s as worthy of permanent preservation.

The Fuentes Family Home Movies were among 25 films or groups of films added this month [December 2017] to the National Film Registry, an annually enlarged listing of works that the Library of Congress considers highly significant “culturally, historically, or aesthetically.”

Antonio Fuente Jr. learns to ride a tricycle.

The Fuentes films record aspects of life in the Latino community of Texas. Using a French-made Pathex camera and 9.5mm film, an amateur format popular in Europe but uncommon in the Americas, Antonio Rodríguez Fuentes (1895-1988) recorded everyday activities in border life, Mexican-American parades, his own children on Christmas morning, and much else.

Fuentes was born and raised on his family’s ranch in the northeastern Mexican state of Nuevo León, near the current-day Texas border. He moved to Laredo, Texas, as a young man, and took up residence in Corpus Christi sometime in the 1910s. In 1918 he married Josefina Barrera (1898-1993), a native of Corpus Christi and member of a Mexican-American family well-known in the Gulf of Mexico city. They had five children, and played key roles in community organizations.

“The Fuentes’ films beautifully document life on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border, and illustrate the rich confluence of cultures that has made, and continues to make, Texas’ story vital to understanding the United States,” said Caroline Frick, the executive director of The Texas Archive of the Moving Image, which since 2002 has worked with Texas institutions and individuals to digitize and provide web access to moving images related to Texas history and culture.

Antonio Rodríguez Fuentes (1895-1988), filmmaker. Photo: Texas A&M U.-Corpus Christi.

TAMI has preserved the Fuentes films in a collaboration with Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. A selection is available for view on the TAMI website, and more of the films are on the YouTube page of the Special Collections of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

One of the Fuentes’ three daughters, Mercedes Fuentes Peck, gave the films to the university in 1995 as part of the Antonio Rodríguez Fuentes & Josefina Barrera Fuentes Family Papers. Those consist of 65 boxes of such materials as correspondence, unprinted manuscripts, photographs, still and motion-picture cameras, and an array of records of community organizations to which the Fuentes belonged, such as Woodmen of the World.

All that makes the Fuentes collection not just a trove of rare films of early Mexican-American life in the city, but also of key community records.

Among the family-related films is one (above) from 1928 of Josefina Barrera Fuentes and four of her children coming out of their house, and of one of the Fuentes’ sons, Antonio Jr., learning to ride a tricycle.

Also from 1928 is film of the family’s Christmas.

In 1929, Antonio Sr. and Josefina took turnings shooting images of their family, and themselves, in a local park.

Another film, from 1928, depicts Fuentes’ parents showing a man from the city around their part of the world, near Montemorelos, in Nuevo León state, Mexico.

Again in 1938, Antonio Fuentes recorded images of the family’s visit to his parents’ ranch. Fuentes’ father is seen riding on horseback, while his mother tends feeds chickens and crops.

Antonio Fuentes also recorded such events as Corpus Christi’s Fourth of July Parade, in 1929, as well as parades relating to local Mexican-American civil-rights organizations, including the Order of Sons of America and the Obreros y Obreras.

The former, founded in San Antonio in 1921, was one of the first statewide Mexican-American civil-rights organizations in Texas. It served as a mutual-aid society, pro-labor organization, civic group, and political association. The Corpus Christi chapter fought for the establishment of Mexican schools and promoted desegregation and inclusion of Mexican Americans on juries.




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