Pachuco/Caló Oral History Project Collection

Last week I finished encoding the finding aid of the Robles Papers in an XML document, which is now available on Arizona Archives Online. Though I’m sad to move on from my first collection, I was excited when Veronica said she had a new collection for me to process called the Dr. Laura Cummings Pachuco/Caló Oral History Project Collection. It is a small box of 35 90-minute cassette tapes featuring interviews that Dr. Cummings conducted with nineteen people about pachuco and cholo culture in Tucson and the greater Southwest. I was beyond excited when I heard the name of the collection because I have been very interested in pachuco culture and the language forms of Mexicans and Latinx people in the United States, but also because I have been hoping to get some experience with audio/visual archiving.

Rewinding all the cassettes!

The first step was to assess the state of the collection and submit a processing proposal. The tapes are in good condition, physically, but after listening to about 15 tapes, it has become clear that many of them have quite low audio quality and some are even difficult to hear. It will be interesting to work with the Audio/Visual archivist, Trent Purdy, and learn more about how to preserve the tapes. The collection also includes some notes that Dr. Cummings took about the interviews.

Dr. Cummings’ book, Pachucas and Pachucos in Tucson: Situated Border Lives, 2009.

The oral history tapes were used as primary data for Dr. Cummings’ dissertation and book titled, Pachucas and Pachucos: Situated Border Lives, which uses an anthropological approach to pachuco culture and its associated language forms. The collection also includes two tape recordings done by anthropologist George Barker of pachucos conversing in 1947. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to listen to it, as the language form has evolved and changed with time and people don’t speak it as much. Hopefully the collection will be processed quickly so we can make some advances on cleaning up and restoring the tapes!

Processing is a Journey

It is rather hard to believe that after weeks/months of processing the Riggs Family Papers (MS 580), I am finally done. I feel excited that I have totally finished a collection from start to finish, but at the same time I feel a little melancholy, as though I am leaving an old friend. I haven’t put the boxes on the shelves in the basement yet. I’m stalling. I keep looking at the eleven beautifully arranged boxes with their bright white labels declaring “Riggs Family Papers,” and I can’t help but wonder when someone will come into Special Collections and ask to look at this collection.

Susan L. Mergenthal standing by processed Riggs Family Papers (MS 580)


Processing an archival collection like the Riggs Family Papers is a journey.  It is about following the systematic steps of processing — from the initial surveying, then writing a processing proposal, sorting and arranging documents and objects, labeling boxes and folders, and then, finally, describing the collection in the finding aid. Along with this final step is to encode the finding aid in an XML document that makes it computer-searchable. It has been a journey, and I have enjoyed the experience immensely. One thing is for sure, I will never forget this first collection, not just the processing steps, but the pioneers whose lives are documented and preserved for the future in eleven boxes at the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections. You can view the finding aid for MS 580 Riggs Family Papers.

Brannick and Mary Riggs with their 10 children, circa 1880. The Riggs family settled in the Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County, Arizona Territory in 1879; MS 580 and Box 7, folder 1. Collection: Riggs Family Papers
Brannick and Mary Riggs with their 10 children, circa 1880. The Riggs family settled in the Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County, Arizona Territory in 1879; MS 580 and Box 7, folder 1.
Riggs Family Papers

MLK at the U of A

Though we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day every January, it can be easy to overlook the significance and meaning behind the holiday. King would have turned 88 years old this year, and it has been 48 years since he was assassinated. It is important for our collective memory to never forget the sacrifices that King made and the vision he had for a more equitable world. It may surprise some people to learn that King paid two visits to the University of Arizona.image2

He came to the U of A to deliver lectures as part of the Sunday Evening Forum in 1959 and 1962.  His speech in 1959, “It’s a Great Time to Be Alive,” had to be rescheduled because King was stabbed while in New York just a few months before he was set to appear. His 1962 speech was titled “Stride Toward Freedom.” Mary Jeffries Bruce ran the Sunday Evening Forum for many years. She invited a wide range of speakers, from diplomats to literary experts, and even hosted a Barry Goldwater-Norman Thomas debate in 1962. The newspaper clippings concerning King’s visits to Tucson can be found in the Mary Jeffries Bruce and the Sunday Evening Forum Collection (MS 472) in UA Libraries Special Collections.

image1-1We also house books on King’s impact in the Grand Canyon State. Living the Dream in Arizona: The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a collection of essays that detail the state’s civil rights history. Victory Together for Martin Luther King, Jr. by Warren H. Stewart, Sr. is an historical account of the author’s fight to have Arizona officially recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I think it is important for everyone to keep Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memory alive, and as Arizonans this can be done in part by studying the materials found in UA Libraries Special Collections.