Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Esperanto in the Socialist Utopia

Kamaradoj! Parolu ni en Esperanto!
The Llano Colony was an experiment in socialism that started in California’s Antelope Valley and lasted there just 1914 through 1918 (some of the members relocated to Louisiana at that point and created a commune that lasted until 1939). The colony was formed after Job Harriman lost his bid to become governor of California. Mr. Harriman ran on the Socialist ticket.

The Llano Colony largely turned on agricultural operations, as detailed in A. R. Clifiton’s “History of the Communistic Colony Llano del Rio,” for the Historical Society of Southern California.[1] Additionally, the colony produced rugs, soap, canned fruits and vegetables, and a printing plant where the monthly Western Comrade and the weekly Llano Colonist were produced. The plan was to build houses as well, but during the time the colony was in California, they had tents and adobe dwellings. And they had an Esperanto club.

The Colony’s Esperanto teacher at one point was Marcus L. DeVine, who is listed in 1919 copies of Amerika Esperantisto as president of the Bridgeport Esperanto Society. It’s a bit of a trek between Bridgeport, Connecticut and either Palmdale, California or New Llano, Louisiana (and it seems likely that Mr. DeVine taught Esperanto in their Louisiana location). He was also the author of an article in the Colony News (which seems to be the Louisiana successor to Western Comrade), “Concerning the Adoption of Esperanto.” This was advertised in the December 30, 1920 Vernon Parish Democrat of Leesville, Louisiana. Unfortunately, none of the institutions with copies of the Colony News have made their holdings accessible online, so I have no idea what Mr. DeVine wrote.

“Peak Esperanto” in the Llano colony seems to be from 1919 through 1922. In those three years, there are fifteen references to the colony in Amerika Esperantisto. The Colony did advertise in the pages of Amerikia Esperantisto from 1917 onward (as they were making their move to Louisiana), and there is one reference (not viewable online) in 1923, and another in 1933. In October 1920, Amerika Esperantisto wrote that
The Colony Co-operator of Llano, La., gives us an interesting write-up every month.
It’s not clear from the scant information available to me how entrenched Esperanto was in the the Llano Colony. There are names that can be connected to Esperanto within the colony, and Esperantists who provided materials in Esperanto to Llano, for exampleCreston Coigne wrote up Esperanto news for one issue of the Colony Cooperator.[2] There is more to uncover about Esperanto in the Llano Colony, though records to make clear that although it was a socialist colony, it really wasn’t a utopia.

  1. Which can be read here.  ↩
  2. I have just stumbled upon a likely origin for Mr. Coigne’s given name and that of the film company his father started. Rather than the company being named for his son, both were likely named for the street, Creston Avenue, that ran through their part of the Bronx.  ↩

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