Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor
El Progresista, Periodico Semanario 1903-1904. Edited by David Pinera. Fascimile Edition. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma. 1982. Reviewed by Thomas E. Case, Professor of Spanish at San Diego State University and author of a recent article on biographers of San Diego de Alcala.
From 19 April 1903 to 26 June 1904, Ensenada, then the capital of Baja California, Norte, witnessed the publication of the weekly, El Progresista. Curiously, in spite of an increased circulation to 1864 copies – Ensenada only had 1726 inhabitants in 1904 – it lasted only fourteen months. The Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico has published a facsimile edition of the weekly to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California and the centenary of the founding of Ensenada. Prof. David Pinera, Coordinator of the Center for Historical Research of UNAM-UABC has written a scholarly introduction on the history of Ensenada, the editor of El Progresista, Carlos R. Ptacnik, and the more fascinating aspects of the newspaper.
Pinera’s introductory study almost stands as an essay apart. It lucidly summarizes the history of Ensenada from the time of Cabrillo’s discovery to the period of El Progresista. It passes through the granting of the land to the Ruiz family early in the nineteenth century, the later building of the city by the International Company of Mexico in 1886, and the sale of the latter’s holding to the English firm, the Mexican Colonization Company. Pinera’s sketch of Ptacnik, the son of Eduardo Ptacnik Schadendorf, a German engineer, and of Maria Terrazas of a wealthy cattle family from Chihuahua, provides us with a glimpse of the type of enterprising pioneer of the early 1900’s.
To read the issues of El Progresista is to drift lazily back to a time when life in our area was simple and unassuming. Each issue consists of only four pages and about half is advertising. Without the wire services of today, international news barely appears. The main fare is local news, vignettes, poetry of all kinds, and bits of Masonic wisdom (Ptacnik was a 32nd degree Mason). Of prime interest are editorials on the development of Baja California, urging action on such issues as water services, port facilities and public lighting. There are also articles on progress in the United States, in particular in San Diego and the recently irrigated Imperial Valley, and on the arrival of the various merchant ships to Ensenada. Amidst all this, El Progresista conducted a local beauty contest, the winner of which Ptacnik subsequently married and with whom he had seven children. The advertisements are most intriguing – M.K. Clement’s saddle and harness store, the Chinaman Yun Kuy’s dry goods and shoe store, Fortino S. Carrillo’s stagecoach service to Tijuana and San Diego, and John Hussong, “Dealer in Imported Wiskies, wines and cognacs.”
Beyond being merely a public document of its time, El Progresista reflects the intrahistory – the daily affairs of life – of Ensenada and San Diego and their interdependence. It is easy to forget that time so close yet so far when a stagecoach took twenty-six and a half hours between San Diego and Ensenada, and the same trip, on the steamer San Denis, was twelve. For the historian, this reprinting in facsimile will serve as a vital source of economic, journalistic, and social materials. For most readers, this edition will recall with curiosity and nostalgia the last days of the Pax Porfiriana of the port city of Ensenada, Baja California.