Arts Council publishes Calexico history book

CALEXICO – After months of research, interviews and writing, a new book chronicling the history of the Calexico region has been released to the public.

The bilingual book “History of Calexico: The Origin” or “Historia De Calexico: El Origen” was written by a Mexicali scholar and was released on Tuesday, April 5.

Community members gathered to hear author and historian Yolanda Sanchez Ogas speak about the book at the Carmen Durazo Cultural Arts Center in Calexico on the evening of Tuesday, April 4.

As part of his research, Sánchez Ogas collected testimonies from Indians such as the Kumeyaay, who are believed to be the first inhabitants of the area now known as Calexico.

Some of the artwork used in the book was on display at the cultural center, including photographs and a hand-drawn pencil portrait of a Native American woman.

Sánchez Ogas also spoke of the men whose efforts would help found the city, Charles Rockwood, WT Heffernan, and Anthony Heber, by diverting water from the Colorado River to irrigate the fields of Calexico and the rest of the valley.

“This is the origin of Calexico. The water introduced on June 20, 1901, was what opened the faucet for the development of Calexico and the Imperial Valley in general,” she said in Spanish.

Settlement of Calexico was already underway in 1901, but it was not recognized by the state as a city until 1908.

Sánchez Ogas talks about the foundation of education in Calexico, which she says is the most important part of the city’s development.

The publication of the book was funded by the nonprofit Calexico Arts Council with support from the Imperial Irrigation District and the county.

This is the first part of a planned series of bilingual paperback books that will present a comprehensive account of Calexico’s history. The timeline for the first book ranges from about 1900 to 1920.

Sanchez Ogas was among several candidates who applied to be chosen to write the first installment.

Known as the official chronicler of Mexicali history, Sánchez Ogas is also considered an expert on the history of the Cucapa indigenous people who settled in the states of Baja California and Sonora in Mexico.

One story she shared during her presentation was that of a Native American family whose names were changed to Spanish surnames to escape persecution by government authorities.

Descendants of the family reported that their ancestors were buried in Calexico Cemetery, one of the first families buried there. During her investigation, Sanchez Ogas said she was unable to find evidence of their burial in Calexico.

“She’s not putting in family lore, she’s asking for historical data,” Arts Council President Carmen Durazo said during a translation of Sanchez Ogas’ remarks.

Sánchez Ogas also talks about Spanish expedition leader Juan Bautista de Anza, who led a group of Spanish settlers from Sonora, Mexico (now Arizona) to San Francisco in the late 1700s.

The route that de Anza established, which passed through the region that would become Calexico, was subsequently used by about 50,000 travelers, Sánchez Oga said.

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“The story of Calexico is very interesting,” she said.

Durazo said the Arts Council wanted a simple book full of information about Calexico, one that people could pick up or keep on a favorite bookshelf. She added that they also want it to be used at the college or university level.

“We wanted the book to reflect Calexico, so we wanted it in English and Spanish,” Durazo said.

Sánchez Ogas quipped that the Arts Council actually got frustrated with her for making the book too long and asked her to shorten it.

The book was originally supposed to be released during Calexico’s upcoming 115th anniversary celebration, but Sánchez Ogas and others wanted the book released as soon as it was ready.

“Everybody wants the latter now,” Arts Council President Durazo said.

The planned second part of the book will focus on the years between 1930 and 1960. Before prospective authors are asked to apply to write the second book, the Arts Council must find donations and grants to fund the effort, Durazo said.

Those interested in receiving the book are asked to make a $35 donation to the Arts Council. Durazo can be reached at 760-791-2218 or through the Calexico Arts Council Facebook page.

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