A New Academic Institution is Born: Introducing the Center for the Study of the American West

We’re excited about the new undertaking our blog bollaborator, Tim Bowman, has at West Texas A&M. In the following post, he describes the launch of this great new center for the study of the U.S. West and Borderlands, as well as his work as its Associate Director.

I am delighted to announce the formation of a new academic institution at West Texas A&M University (WT). In the fall of 2016, a small group of scholars launched the Center for the Study of the American West (CSAW), which is housed in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (PPHM) on the campus of WT. CSAW is devoted to the promotion and development of interdisciplinary scholarship on the High Plains as well as the greater North American West through undergraduate and postgraduate education, research development, public outreach, and the coordination of collaborative opportunities between CSAW and the PPHM, the Cornette Library on WT’s campus, and other institutions and community partners. Our mission is a straightforward one: to promote the study of the North American West as a product of broad historical forces.

How do we accomplish this? Part of it  is through an endowed lecture series. The purpose of any endowed lectureship is to create a corpus of funds to generate an annual income substantial enough to attract noted scholars; our program, in particular, includes a public lecture, classroom lecture, and an event focused on student interaction and discussion. The biannual Gary L. Nall Lecture Series does all of the above, in keeping with CSAW’s mission. CSAW’s launch event in October of 2016 featured none other than noted western scholar Patricia Nelson Limerick, while the spring semester will feature writer, historian, and journalist S.C. Gwynne. Future Nall lectures will be given by prominent scholars such as borderlands historian Brian DeLay, who will be speaking on campus during the fall semester of 2017.

CSAW is also offering research grants to sponsor research for faculty, students and staff from WT to travel to other institutions, as well as for scholars from other institutions who would benefit from the use of WT and PPHM archives. Grants of up to $2,000 are available depending on the researcher’s need. Additionally, outside scholars will receive support from CSAW’s interns with arrangements for their stay in Canyon. Information on the grants—which include the CSAW Research Grant, the Jo Stewart Randel Grant, and the CSAW Student Research Grant—can be found here.

Another innovative program that CSAW offers is a minor field in Western American Studies for WT undergraduates. The minor is an interdisciplinary program designed to provide students a specialization in issues that are important to the region. Students will also gain experience in community involvement through an internship requirement as well as being presented with the opportunity to publish an original piece of written work in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Review, which is an historical journal devoted to studying the immediate region. Courses cover a variety of subjects, such as North American Borderlands History, Environmental Law, American Regionalism, Herpetology, Literature of the Southwest, Mexican-American History, as well as many other exciting fields of study relevant into understand the local and greater Wests.

CSAW’s director Alex Hunt, assistant director Maureen Hubbart, and myself (as associate director) are thrilled about these as well as several other opportunities and programs that CSAW is currently developing. It is my sincere hope that readers will contact me should they like any additional information about the goings-on at CSAW, the PPHM, or the larger WT campus.

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Migration and Asylum of Central Americans in the Trump Era

By Sonja Wolf

Dr. Wolf is a CONACYT Research Fellow with the CIDE Región Centro in Mexico and author of Mano Dura: The Politics of Gang Control in El Salvador (University of Texas Press, 2017).

During his campaign for the presidency of the United States, Donald Trump had taken a hardline stance on immigration. In his “Contract with the American Voter”, the Republican candidate had pledged to begin removing “the more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country” and subject travelers from “terror-prone” countries to “extreme vetting”. A new “End Illegal Immigration Act” would fund the construction of a southern border wall and impose harsh sanctions on repeat immigration violators. There was widespread skepticism about whether the Trump administration would follow through on these and other outlandish campaign promises. But in his first week in office, the President has shown that he intends to do precisely that.

The Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” seeks to temporarily bar the nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, reprioritize minority (i.e., Christian) refugee claims, and exclude Syrian refugees indefinitely. When it came into effect, the Executive Order resulted in the revocation of tens of thousands of visas and disrupted travel for legal permanent residents as well as recognized refugees. Vaguely phrased and broad in scope, the document sparked protests at US airports and drew the ire of immigration lawyers and activists that condemned the travel ban for its discriminatory nature. The Trump administration appealed against a federal judicial decision that provisionally blocked the Executive Order on a nationwide basis, a federal appeals court prohibited its enforcement.

Unnoticed by many, the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program was also suspended. The initiative had been launched in December 2014, a year that saw an apparently heightened influx of unaccompanied Central American migrant children flee gangs and violence to the United States. The CAM Program allows youths under the age of 21 who qualify for refugee status and live in Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras to join their legally residing parents in the United States. Although the Central American countries have no terrorism concerns, the future of this program is uncertain now that anti-immigration Senator Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as Attorney General.

Even before Donald Trump was sworn in as President, Customs and Border Protection officers have been unlawfully turning asylum seekers away at the US-Mexico border. This situation has put an additional strain on shelters and public services in border cities. Throughout 2016 Tijuana, one of the busiest crossings, saw the arrival of more than ten thousand Haitians who had fled their earthquake-devastated country before abandoning recession-hit Brazil in the hope of obtaining Temporary Protected Status in the United States. They were joined by African migrants who feel unwelcome in Europe and by Cubans who became stranded at the border when in January 2017 the Obama administration ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

This state of affairs is bound to be exacerbated by two additional Executive Orders. “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” takes a narrow view of asylum provisions, foresees an expansion of the southern border wall, and steps up immigration enforcement. “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” targets for deportation undocumented immigrants who “have been convicted of any criminal offense” or “pose a risk to public safety or national security”, categories that would include suspected street gang members. However, this executive order also prioritizes for removal those who “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” or “have engaged in fraud…before a governmental agency”. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, there are some 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, about 8 million of whom engage in some form of remunerated labor. To be able to do so, many may have claimed to hold a valid work permit or used a fake social security number. In Mexico and Central America there is already unease about the impact of intensified deportations of offenders. A potentially much larger pool of returnees, however, would place even greater stress on remittance-dependent countries that are struggling to create employment and effective public services.

Migration dynamics in Mexico itself are diverse, but the largest group is that of undocumented migrants and displaced persons from the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras). For many years, the economic situation and the desire to reunite with relatives in the United States, annually prompted tens of thousands of Central Americans to travel north. Increasingly, however, young people, and sometimes entire families, abandon their homes to escape gang violence. The victims, who are harassed for refusing to be recruited, rejecting extortion demands or opposing these groups in some way, generally find it impossible to relocate internally and escape gang intelligence networks. Many hope to obtain asylum in either Mexico or the United States. But gang persecution is often difficult to prove, and both countries are reluctant to grant asylum to victims of gang violence.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio Dieciocho, the main street gangs operating in the Northern Triangle, originally formed in immigrant barrios of Los Angeles. Impoverished, overcrowded, and rife with gang activity, these neighborhoods received Central American war refugees that were denied legal status. Their children felt alienated in a foreign culture, and some turned to gangs. The United States has traditionally sought to eliminate its gang problem not through social policies, but through the removal of non-citizens. In the early 1990s stepped-up deportations exported the MS-13 and Barrio Dieciocho to the Northern Triangle. Their members encountered no insertion opportunities and absorbed some of the existing youth gangs. These were small, localized groups that had constituted no significant public security threat.

Over time, however, the gangs developed not only a nationwide presence, but also began using more sophisticated firearms, strengthened their internal structures, became more criminally involved, and committed more brutal and indiscriminate violence. Today the gangs target adolescents in marginal communities for forced recruitment and sexual violence, extort small and medium-size businesses, and exercise strict territorial control. These geographical boundaries limit access for state institutions providing municipal services, companies delivering goods, civil society groups carrying out prevention projects, and outsiders generally. Students are perhaps particularly affected, since many need to commute between rival gang territories on their way from home to school.

Central American governments have tended to tackle the gangs through mano dura (“iron fist”) policies that prioritize neighborhood sweeps and mass arrests of suspected gang members over prevention and rehabilitation. In El Salvador, for example, the strategy has proved popular with voters, but has had detrimental effects on gang evolution and homicide rates. The administrations of the leftist FMLN party, in power since 2009, have stated their commitment to pursuing a comprehensive security policy. The Funes government (2009-2014) even promoted a gang truce in order to curb the country’s homicide rate, but its failure to adopt social measures contributed to the collapse of the ceasefire. Political pressure for results and resource deficits make the implementation of a holistic security policy difficult. Worse yet, the post-truce escalation of violence has also entailed renewed gang attacks on police and “confrontations” that in some cases mask extrajudicial executions by law enforcement. US security assistance has perhaps done more to deter perceived security threats to the United States than to address inequality, corruption, and institutional dysfunctionality in Central America. As long as the climate of violence persists, migration and displacement will continue.

Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has for some time made greater efforts to detain and deport undocumented migrants heading north, most recently through the Southern Border Program. In late 2014, the Obama administration also announced the creation of the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, a co-financed initiative that seeks to boost economic development, strengthen institutions, and improve public security in Central America. While these are important objectives, making them a reality will necessarily be a long-term endeavor, even with the greatest amount of resources and political will. In the meantime, more effective ways need to be found to process asylum applications and relocate victims of gang persecution. At the moment, it is uncertain what direction US immigration and refugee policy will take under the Trump administration. It seems clear, however, that a regional approach is required that will not consider deterrence as the only possible response to irregular human mobility, but strike a balance between labor market demands and people’s need for jobs and safety. Above all, perhaps, the current era calls for greater activist and educational efforts that help immigration opponents understand why strangers make a long, perilous journey and that diversity make societies richer, not weaker.

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Site Update: Book Reviews and Conference Notes Sections

Dear readers, continuing in our mission to better serve you by making our content more easily available, we’ve added two new sections above the masthead of the blog: Book Reviews and Conference Notes.In each, you’ll find posts we’ve published going back over years.

Also, we’re always looking for new contributors and content, if you want to write a book review or conference report for the blog, write us!

We’d love to publish it and include your name in the growing list of participants. Remember, the blog is a labor of love for readers by readers. Have you voice heard!

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We’ve Updated Our Sections Content!

Dear readers, a quick note: now when you visit BHB we’ve created two new sections above the masthead. Each one offers a different collection of essays that we’ve written over the years that we hope you’ll find helpful. These include our essays on pedagogy and teaching strategies, as well as a new section on our experiences writing and researching work as we moved through graduate school and entered the job market. We also plan to keep these sections updated as we add new content. This is the first big change we’ve made in a while to our sections, but it won’t be the last. We want to make sure the blog remains a useful resource for you throughout the year!

We’re excited to unveil the new sections:

Pedagogy

Research & Development

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Bridging National Borders in North America

This summer an excellent series on Borderlands scholarship is planned and the organizers are looking for participants! Titled, “Bridging Borders in North America,” Benjamin Johnson at the University of Loyola Chicago is coordinating this National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Seminar for College and University Faculty. It will be held at Chicago’s Newberry Library and the team of scholars leading this series include Patricia Marroquin Norby, Julianna Barr, Kornel Chang, and Geraldo Cadava.

The seminar is scheduled to occur from July 10th to August 4th, while the deadline for applications is March 1st with notifications made at the end of that month. Also important to note: at least three spaces are reserved for non-tenure-track or adjunct faculty members!

From the seminar description:

The Newberry Library’s D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies will be hosting a four-week summer 2017 NEH seminar for college and university faculty that explores the history of North America’s border and borderlands. In keeping with the recent work in the field and the collection strengths of the Newberry Library, this seminar will take a broad geographic approach, framing borderlands as distinct places at particular moments in time where no single people or sovereignty imposed its will.

The organizing theme is the process of border-making. We will examine three aspects of this theme: how nation-states claiming exclusive territorial sovereignty re-drew the continent’s map; the intersection and sometimes collision of these efforts with other ways of organizing space and people; and the social and political consequences of the enforcement of national territoriality.

Two questions guide our examinations of these developments: how did diverse peoples challenge national borders, or use or alter them for their own purposes? And, how does consideration of these topics recast our understanding of the intertwined histories of indigenous peoples, Mexico, the United States, and Canada?

For more information, or to apply, follow the link

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“Why is There No Ida B. Wells of the Borderlands?”

Notes from “Linking U.S. and Mexican Histories of Violence: Extralegal Justice on Both Sides of the Border,” a panel presented at the 131st Annual American Historical Association Meeting in Denver, Colorado.

Since the publication in 2013 of William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb’s The Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence Against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928, the question of extralegal violence against Mexicans has gained significant attention in borderlands studies.[1] In the introduction to The Forgotten Dead, authors Carrigan and Webb ask a simple but profound question: why were the lynching deaths of Mexicans forgotten? The answer to this question is not that the lynching of Mexicans was few and far between. In fact, the opposite is true, as Carrigan and Webb point out:

“From the California Gold Rush to the last recorded instance of a Mexican lynched in public in 1928, vigilantes hanged, burned, and shot thousands of persons of Mexican descent in the United States. The scale of mob violence against Mexicans is staggering, far exceeding the violence exacted on any other immigrant group and comparable, at least on a per capita basis, to the mob violence suffered by African Americans. Yet despite its importance and pervasiveness, mob violence against Mexicans has never been fully studied.”[2]

This panel, chaired by Michael J. Pfeifer from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York and featuring comments by William Carrigan, presents new research on the topic of mob violence against Mexicans that contributes to filling this lacuna in borderlands historiography as well as the history of violence more broadly.

Michael Pfeifer opened the panel by posing a series of questions:

  • How can we think in comparative terms about violence in Mexico and the U.S.?
  • How did the history of conflict in the borderlands, including racism against Mexicans, shape extralegal violence in the border?
  • How do these histories of violence influence the larger history of the U.S.-Mexico border and the larger histories of these two nations?

The first paper, (Bi)national Border Rebellions, Linchamientos, and the (Bi)centennials of the Mexican Revolution by José Angel Hernández from the University of Houston, addressed Pfeifer’s questions through an examination of linchamientos (lynching) of Mexicans at the border.

Hernández asked how the use of the Spanish term linchameinto, an importation of the American word lynching, complicates understandings of extralegal violence in the borderlands. He explained that in Mexico linchameinto does not exclusively refer to a public hanging, but could be used to describe a public burning, beating, or killing. Linchameinto could also refer to a revolt or other kinds of extra-legal violence. To demonstrate the elasticity and instability of this term, Hernández described instances of extra-legal violence that took place in the connected borderlands communities of La Mesilla, New Mexico and La Ascención, Chihuahua. He described two different and distinct instances of extra-legal violence – a fight between Republicans and Democrats that took place in the 1870s in La Mesilla where nine people died and 100 subsequently fled to Chihuahua, and an instance of narco violence in 2010 that occurred in the same region – both labeled linchameintos.

Next, Hernández posed two very interesting questions:

  1. What makes a lynching a hate crime?
  2. Why is there no Ida B. Wells of the borderlands?

In response to these questions, William Carrigan offered some ways to clarify terminology. Carrigan argues that the following three things must be present in order to call an event a lynching:

  • Community support for the event
  • Premeditation (this distinguishes between rioting and lynching)
  • How the violent act is justified: is it done “for the greater good”?

Hernández added to this list, suggesting that another important characteristic of lynching is the ritualized nature of the violence committed. Further, he stated that because the meaning of lynching has changed over time, a researcher must look for patterns of ritualized violence specific to time and place to understand what lynching looked like and what it meant in specific historical contexts.

Continuing with this discussion of terminology, Carrigan spoke about how Republicans did not want the word lynching used to refer to anti-black violence in the South during the post-Reconstruction era because at that time its meaning was not strong enough to describe the violence that African Americans were being subjected to. Carrigan explained that during the nineteenth century, lynching was associated with the Gold Rush in somewhat of a positive way– it was men taking care of law and order when there was none. Republicans wanted a stronger term to describe the awful things happening to blacks in the South. However, it was the crusading journalist Ida B. Wells who took the word lynching to describe the “Southern Horrors” committed against African Americans in the South. Wells gave the word lynching the meaning it still has today.[3]

The second paper, Out of the Ashes: How the Burning of Antonio Rodriguez Led to an Increase in Anti-Mexican Mob Violence during the 1910s by Nicholas Villanueva Jr. from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, examined how the Mexican Revolution influenced cross-border violence, particularly in Texas.[4]

Villanueva described two cases of extra-legal violence against ethnic Mexicans that occurred in Texas during the Mexican Revolution. Villanueva began with the story of the lynching of Antonio Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a 20-year-old Mexican looking for work as a farmhand in Texas. While in Texas, he was accused of murder. A mob broke into the jail cell where he was being held, forcibly removed him, tied him to a tree, and burned him alive. Rodriquez had no trial, and no one in the mob who brutally killed him was charged with a crime. This enraged Mexicans. Throughout Mexico there ensued a series of anti-U.S. boycotts, riots, and the use of rhetoric such as “Death to Yankees” and “Death to Americans.” Consequently, these rhetorical “attacks on Americans” caused anti-Mexican feeling in the U.S.

Villanueva then described the lynching of 14-yr-old Antonio Gomez. Gomez was harassed and beaten by the owner of a saloon because he was lingering outside the business. While the saloon owner was beating him, Gomez took his knife out and stabbed him. A mob formed around Gomez and lynched him. The mob was not punished. Villanueva made the point that violence against ethnic Mexicans during the Mexican Revolution escalated yet was not punished. Villanueva also compared this to events today, when hate crimes against Mexicans – especially those crossing the border or deemed here ‘illegally’ – often go unpunished. However, Villanueva argues that the lynchings of Rodriguez and Gomez were not products of the Mexican Revolution, but rather, signs of the increased racist sentiments and accompanying violence against Mexicans in Texas. To demonstrate how the State, in the form of the Texas Rangers, also took part in this violence against Mexicans, Villanueva invoked the work of South Texas attorney J.T. Canales, who wrote about the corruption of the Texas Rangers and their techniques of “Mexican Evaporation,” how they “disappeared” Mexican men who were on the Ranger’s “black list.” (To answer José Angel Hernández’s question, maybe J.T. Canales was the Ida B. Wells of the Borderlands?)

The third paper, Savage Yanquis and Enraged Mexicans: Extralegal Justice and Its Representations in Mexico and the U.S., by Gema Karina Santamaría Balmaceda from the Instituto Technológico Autónomo de Mexico, connects the history of lynching to nineteenth and early-twentieth century discourse about savagery and civilization. Through an examination of this discourse in Mexican and U.S. newspapers, this paper demonstrates how lynching served as a measure of civilization in each country. In particular, Santamaría Balmaceda shows how this discourse was deployed as justification for state violence.

Santamaría Balmaceda’s paper (she was not able to be there in person, so her paper was read by a colleague) describes how in many newspapers, the Mexican Revolution represented lawlessness, and a regression from civilization into savagery. For example, the Mexican newspaper El Universal published articles about how post-revolutionary Mexico, absent the “law and order” of Porfirio Díaz, had devolved into a place of savagery. However, in the pages of Regeneracion, a Mexican anarchist paper published in the United States, editor Ricardo Flores-Magón criticized Americans with the same language the U.S. press often used to describe Mexicans and Indians. Responding to the lynching of Antonio Rodriguez, for example, Flores-Magón chastised Americans for their “backwardness,” “ignorance,” and called them “barbarians of the U.S.” because of the lynchings that took place there. He also called these Americans religious fanatics and savages – words often used by the Mexican press to describe Indians and Mexicans in rural communities believed to be under the influence of the church.

The major point that Santamaría Balmaceda’s paper makes is that representations of lynching were used by different groups on both sides of the border to make points about “savagery and civilization” in order to defend various positions. Like the other presenters, Santamaría Balmaceda argues that the conception of lynching as only American is problematic, that there needs to be a comparative dimension in lynching historiography.

There were many excellent questions for the panelists, including questions about lower levels of mob violence, or even the threat of mob violence and how that fits into the history of racialized violence at the border. One audience member asked about the chronology of lynching: when does it begin? In 1848, as Carrigan and Webb’s book has it, or might it be placed earlier than that? These questions provoked deeper discussion of the importance and difficulty of defining terms when discussing lynching and extralegal violence.

As a borderlands historian and an instructor of U.S. History, I found this panel immensely interesting. I teach Ida B. Well’s Southern Horrors in my “Multicultural America” course, where many of my students are of Mexican descent. The challenge of teaching “Multicultural America” is to shed light upon those people and events that have for too long been on the margins of history. What I learned from this panel will, I hope, help me do that with my students when I ask them, “Why is there no Ida B. Wells of the Borderlands?”

[1] William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, The Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence Against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). See also the public history project: Refusing to Forget https://refusingtoforget.org

[2] Carrigan and Webb, 1.

[3] Jacqueline Jones Royster, ed., Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900 (Boston and New York: Bedford Books, 1997).

[4] Nicholas Villanueva Jr., The Lynching of Mexicans in the Texas Borderlands (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017).

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BHIP: 19th Century Borderlands Scholars and the Rise of Trump

raulramos_blog

Dr. Raúl Ramos

There is no greater irony than celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Monday and bearing witness to Donald Trump’s inauguration as our 45th president on Friday.  If King’s name is synonymous to justice and equality, Trump’s name is its antonym.  The Borderlands History blog has yet to make a formal statement on the recent election. As we thought of what to say, everything seemed trite.  So we decided to leave it to others to share their thoughts on the election through a special BHIP series we’ve titled: 19th Century Borderlands Scholars and the Rise of Trump.  We’ve interviewed two well-respected historians that will contextualize and historicize the “Mexican Problem” and it origins in the 19th century, as well as how we can teach against Trump’s policies and continue a long legacy of resistance within the historical profession.

While the president-elect has left no stone unturned, attacking through his vitriolic rhetoric various racial and ethnic groups, women and the LGBTQI community, as a borderlands historian I am deeply concerned by his statements about this region.  The U.S.-Mexico border played a significant role in the presidential campaign, and Trump relied on an imagined national figure: the vicious, unlawful alien crawling across porous our southern border in search of American jobs. But as I sat down with Raúl Ramos and Deena Gonzalez just a week after the presidential election in November 2016, we examined how Trump was merely tapping into a long history of using ethnic Mexicans as scapegoats for a failing economy and crumbling infrastructure.  Social ills have been attributed to this so-called “problematic population” since the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, particularly in the American Southwest, and Trump capitalized on every imagined racist stereotype to win.

We’ve split the series in two. First we’ll hear from Raúl Ramos, Associate Professor of History at the University of Houston, and his take on Trump, the history of ethnic Mexicans in Texas, and teaching against racism in the present and future.  Ramos received his A.B. in History and Latin American Studies from Princeton University in 1989 and his Ph.D. in History from Yale University in 1999.  He is author of Beyond the Alamo: Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821-1861 with the University of North Carolina Press, 2008. The following year, his manuscript received the T.R. Fehrenbach Award from the Texas Historical Commission. He is co-editor with Monica Perales of Recovering the Hispanic History of Texas with Arte Público Press, 2010, and his most recent article “Chicano/a Challenges to Nineteenth-Century History,” was published in November 2013 in the Pacific Historical Review.  Ramos was a Fellow at the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University from 2000-2001.

We spoke at length about his last book, Beyond the Alamo, and how identity formation in this frontier area and the convergence of various empires and nation-states in the nineteenth century, help us understand the political positions of ethnic Mexicans and even Native communities today. “We are at a particularly exciting time, because once we take these local, regional, and national histories seriously, we see that they have the ability and the power to rewrite the larger narrative: the larger narrative of American history, in particular,” Ramos explained.  We talked about the power of nineteenth century history and its connections to racial formation in the borderlands. While some historians have described a hardening of racial categories in this time period, Ramos described the malleability of these categories in the borderlands.  However, Ramos explained that histories like his, those that focus on a particular locality and the creation of identity, will become increasingly important as we face political struggles now.  The construction of race at the intersections of class, gender, and sexuality, Ramos suggested “was a much more iterative process [in the borderlands] and its one where the way American colonialism and expansion to this region took place in the nineteenth century did set up structures and a way of relating to each other that we are still dealing with. Its legacy is still around us.” Although racial identification was pliable, the edifices created by the American empire to govern the region in the nineteenth century continue to enforce a racial hierarchy, particularly in regards to ethnic Mexicans and Native peoples in states like Texas, today.

This historical analysis guides Ramos’s approach to teaching and the larger questions asked in his courses. For instance, “Every year when I teach my Chicano history class, which focuses on Chicano history up to 1910, the question that dominates that class is: Is Mexican a race?”  Ramos continued, “We ask that question not in order to get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but in asking that question itself we get a better understanding of the way race operates, what power if has, the ways it structures relationships, and the way it becomes imbedded and hidden in other categories.”  The borderlands offers a distinct space to view American racial history.  It complicates the black/white binary of the standard historical narrative, but also expands our knowledge of racial formation in this period by viewing the relational forces that impacted other socially constructed categories of identity in the nineteenth century.  Ramos concludes, “Of course every generation is struggling with that question and what they see is going on in that time, but we also see the power in how that question is addressed and how that question is answered. And that’s what the nineteenth century allows you to do, we can point to it in much more stark relief, so whether you are looking at Laura Gomez’s work in New Mexico in the nineteenth century, she lays out a racial classification system that helps us understand the ways a nation can expand this region, this territory and incorporate new racial subjects.”

The conversation quickly moved to present connections between the creations of nineteenth century racial systems to the ways in which these systems infuse racist actions against ethnic Mexicans today.  In what Ramos called “barely coded language” recent chants of “Build the Wall” shouted by teenagers at football games against schools of predominantly ethnic Mexican students, Ramos declared “here we have that instance where the border itself is a stand-in for racial difference.” Thus, Ramos reflects on the power of nineteenth century borderlands history in the twenty-first and the ways in which historians must make these links between the past and the present.  However, we also talked about the lessons history teaches us about the ability to resist these oppressive racial systems, how historical actors, negotiated, but also vehemently resisted racial categorization. Ramos stated, “It is important to find, and identify, and support alternative networks of power. Not only does that remind you of the power that does exist, but it also points out the ways that the rhetorical force that is looking to disempower people is overplaying that hand as well.”

There is so much more that we spoke about as Ramos effortlessly wove the current despair over Trump’s electoral-college win with politics and identity formation in the nineteenth century borderlands.  I should say that while I was in deep mourning Raul Ramos’s talk along with Deena Gonzalez’s conversation, which you will hear next week, filled me with enthusiasm. We’ve been fighting these battles for centuries and still we thrive. We must be careful, as Ramos warns, not to let the powers that be delineate our ability to resist.

Please tune-in next week for the second part of our series dedicated to understanding the Age of Trump from the perspective of nineteenth century Chicana/o historians of the borderlands. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Be sure to check out our new Borderlands History Channel on Youtube where we’ll be adding all of our BHIP interviews!!

Note to listeners: With deep disappointment, I must warn our listeners that our recording software was corrupted and that various parts of this audio interview are difficult to listen to due to loud peeping sounds and static (they begin at around minute 50:00).  Also, there are times when our voices overlap, another side-effect of this software issue. We thank you for your patience and hope to continue to bring you good audio quality interviews in the months to come.

Special thanks to Marko Morales for his audio technical editing and Mike Bess for his efforts in uploading our first interview to YouTube!

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From the Bookshelf: Linking the Histories of Slavery – North America and Its Borderlands

Linking the Histories of Slavery: North America and Its Borderlands
Edited by Bonnie Martin and James F. Brooks

(cross-posted at bwrensink.org)

Students and scholars of the North American Borderlands of a certain vintage will surely have read James F. Brooks’ Captives and Cousins. In that seminal work Brooks used the framework of slavery, raiding, and kinship to discern order in the seeming chaos of the colonial Spanish-American borderlands. This topic of slavery is enjoying renewed (and much deserved) interest and again serves as a useful framework to understand the region’s history. Unfree labor – in all of its forms – rise as an essential, but oft overlooked, component in what drove borderlands histories. At times, it held the region together, at times it drove it apart. If the present anthology signals a new wave of monograph-length studies, the field is prepped for growth. The popularity of Andrés Reséndez’s new (hemispheric) The Other Slavery: The Untold Story of Indian Enslavement in America also signals that readers are ready to grapple with this important subject.

The anthology grew out workshops jointly hosted by the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University, and the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe. Those institutions deserve praise for the expenditure of considerable funds and energies to conceptualize, execute such programming and to publish its results. In the throws of undertaking a similar workshop/anthology myself for the BYU Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, I know it is no small undertaking. The potential payout, however, is immense. In this case, their hard work definitely paid off!

The volume is divided into 3 parts.

  • Part I, “Links to Early Slavery” includes two essay that link familiar contexts of African slavery in the east with indigenous forms of slavery and some of their integration with commercial slave worlds in the east.
  • Part II, “Links to Expanding Slave Networks,” moves beyond the initial interfacing of indigenous and Euro-American slaving practices/networks/commerce, to investigate extensive connections between these worlds. 6 chapters range from California to the American South, and along the southern borderlands from the southwest to Texas to Cuba – three struck me in the following ways.
    • Paul Conrad’s work explore “An Apache Diaspora to Cuba” may prove the most astounding – demonstrating how the breadth of Spanish colonial enterprises could result in captives being traded off the American mainland. The potential integrating of southwest borderlands and Atlantic world slave networks is intriguing. Considering Cuba, I immediately turned to Jace Weaver’s The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World, 1000-1927, to see how much slavery was considered there – a bit, not enough. Likewise, I love how Conrad unmoors us from the mainland. I felt similar excitement at being pulled into indigenous maritime experiences by Joshua Reid’s The Sea is My Country and Andrew Lipman’s The Saltwater Frontier. Conrad does not dwell much upon the extra-continental aspect or intrigue of his story, but being jarred from the familiar Apacheria where my previous readings of Apaches and slaving in the SW caused pause and encouraged me to set aside the assumptions of that familiar world. Perhaps, there was a historical experience here I truly knew nothing about (as did Reid and Lipman’s work). This is at the foundation of why Borderlands history proves so endlessly fascinating – it constantly confronts us with unfamiliar historical worlds and contexts.
    • Boyd Cothran’s work on the Upper Klamath region treats us to a glimpse at the inner working of indigenous economic, political, and diplomatic worlds. Klamaths adapted existing slave traditions to new opportunities afforded by Gold Rush developments. There is nuance here too often lacking when we consider indigenous actors – deliberate economic decision-making and political acumen. Cothran is currently working on a wonderful new project, and his Remembering the Modoc War was wonderful, but I do wish he would take this chapter and expand it into a full monograph.
    • Natale Zappia explores economic networks within the inland SW – trade and slave networks expand from inland California into Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, with Indians both slaving and being slaved. This aligns with Zappia’s Traders and Raidersa much needed contribution. Those inland California, SW, and Great Basin indigenous worlds – the Colorado Basin – are in need of more work, one of many geographic backwaters that too few people investigate.
  • Part III, “Links to Legacies of Slavery” warrants a full anthology in and of itself. The three chapters explore cultural memory of slavery in New Mexico, Twentieth Century Relocation, and Twenty-First Century sex slavery. The latter two were particularly hard hitting
    • Sarah Deer links the trauma of dislocation via boarding school and relocation programs to increased risk and occurrence of sex trafficking and exploitation of Native women. I was pleased to find that this work was included in a broader collections of essays she published in 2015, The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America. Building further, Melissa Farley explores the fraught circumstances of contemporary sexual exploitation and prostitution (legal and illegal). These two final essays deliver such a gut-punch, reminding us that the evils and horrors of history are still very much alive today. Too few of our investigations into the past succeed in drawing attention to the oft-dire present

Much of this volume unfolds in traditional southern “borderlands” worlds, but there is some variance in geography and themes that link the borderlands to other context. I would like to see more of this. The preponderance of southern focus perpetuates familiar narratives while other possible locations for the study of unfree indigenous labor are passed over. Cothran and Zappia’s California treatments introduce some new regions. However, what of the northern borderlands? What of the Great Plains, Pacific Northwest, Canada? Benjamin Madley recently published an article in the Pacific Historical Review that conceptualizes slavery in more nuanced terms – “unfree” labor. (See Benjamin Madley, “Unholy Traffic in Human Blood and Souls”Systems of California Indian Servitude under U.S. Rule.” Pacific Historical Review 83 (November 2014): 626-667). There is a rich field to be plowed here – the various forms of “slavery” or “unfree” labor in indigenous North America (too little Canada in a book on “North America”!). Perhaps with this and other new work, historians of the North American West and indigenous peoples will pause to consider how systems of unfree labor may actually be a part of stories they are telling, but hadn’t thought to consider them.

Much thanks to James Brooks for mailing me a copy of this book to review and to the hard work of its contributors. Borderlands, West, indigenous, and other scholars should all take note of this anthology and start googling around for concurrent or upcoming work by its authors.

Categories: Book and Journal Reviews | 2 Comments

Western History Dissertation Workshop

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is hosting the 2017 Western History Dissertation Workshop. It’s the twelfth annual gathering, which will occur from May 12-14 in Lincoln, Nebraska. It is described as a “vigorous dissertation support to advanced western history PhD students in a collegial group of 10-12 leading scholars from participating institutions across the United States.” Ideal candidates for the workshop will have already made written progress on their dissertation, expect to defend in the coming academic year, and will share a chapter with the group for feedback. Continue reading

Categories: News and Announcements, Teaching/Professional Development | Leave a comment

Utopian Visions: A Panel on Exiles and Identity at the AHA

We’re back from the American Historical Association and had a wonderful time! This essay is the first installment in a series covering panels we wanted to share with you, our dear readers. -ed

After my first day at the AHA, I met up with Brandon Morgan, one of our colleagues at the blog, who was presenting on a panel with the intriguing title, “Utopian Visionaries, Exiles, and Other Stateless Peoples in the Americas.” Over dinner at the Sheraton with a group of friends, I talked with Brandon and two of the other panelists, Travis E. Ross and Julian Dodson, about their work. I decided to attend their panel the next day.

Following an introduction of the panelists by Colin Snider (University of Texas at Tyler), Travis Ross, who recently defended his dissertation at the University of Utah, discussed his work on the identity of the nation-state in the context of historical memory, studying nineteenth-century interviews of residents of Alta California. One of the points that struck me most was that although ethnic Mexicans and Anglos disagreed on many things about society and politics in the state, they shared common ground with the regional identity of Alta California.

Travis´s research uncovered how people who had lived in Alta California before its transfer to the United States worked hard to maintain their community identity as revolutions and other political unrest threatened this reality. Irrespective of which government was in charge, locals wanted to protect the distinct identity of Alta California. Nevertheless, as new waves of gold rushers and other Anglos flooded into this space, this fight was unsuccessful as most of the Californios, Spanish-language residents who had lived in Alta California under Spanish and Mexican rule, lost everything after California gained U.S. statehood.

Brandon Morgan, who works at Central New Mexico Community College, continued the panel discussing his work on Mormon exiles in Mexico during the late nineteenth century. He described the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 and its aggressive prosecution of Mormons in the nineteenth century over polygamy. Mormons believed the legal proceedings to be a miscarriage of justice and felt that the government not only wanted to punish polygamy, but also eliminate their religion.

In response, some coreligionists decided to relocate to Mexico, establishing settler communities they called “colonies” to continue to practice their religious beliefs without interference from the U.S. government. Brandon argues that by crossing the border Mormons gained the status and economic power that had eluded them in the United States. In doing so, they also reasserted their claim to whiteness, and largely remained separate from the local community even as they benefited from policies of the national government under Porfirio Díaz, which permitted them not to pay certain duties.

Finally, Julian Dodson (Washington State University) studies the social networks that Mexican exiles formed across the U.S. southwest in the early twentieth century. He finds that in exile the political enmities that divided these groups against one another in Mexico largely evaporated once they relocated north of the border. Julian identified the exiles as the “revolution’s losers,” highlighting how they were reviled in Mexico as members of a defeated elite that had benefited from Díaz’s long rule (1876-1911). Across the border, the exile community was sustained on a healthy diet of rumors and conspiracies about the new revolutionary government as it asserted its power. Moreover, the exile community took on a diverse characteristics as members of different failed rebellions and counter-revolutions also headed north to escape their enemies.

Julian described the formation of these exile groups, noting that militant Catholic activists played an important role. They cultivated contacts with military figures who supported the exiles during times of political unrest. Members of the Catholic contingent also operated as intelligence brokers between Mexican officials and the exile community. Later, as the revolution transitioned into its state-building period after 1920, opposition to the political strongman and president, Plutarco Elías Calles, who was a committed anti-Catholic leader, helped to unify aspects of the exile community.

Afterwards, Colin read the observations written by José Angel Hernández (University of Houston) who served as commenter, but was unable to attend. José Angel provided excellent constructive critiques of the work presented, urging the panelists to more clearly identify how the subjects were stateless or to consider using a different concept to identify them. In the audience discussion, someone asked whether location reflected exiles’ loyalties. Julian responded affirmatively, explaining that Catholic exiles tended to go to San Antonio and El Paso, whereas Callistas went to San Diego and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Huertistsas went to Tucson and also had ties with Los Angeles.

As the discussion continued, Travis posed a question for his other panelists. He acknowledged the difficulty in defining the people in their work as stateless, and wondered about other ways to conceptualize these subjects. Julian said that, perhaps, the idea of “statefulness exiles” rather than stateless exiles was more applicable, emphasizing that the networks these groups formed attempted to take advantage of state ties at different times and in different contexts. Moreover, a point that Brandon and Julian agreed on was that while these exiles lived in states freely, they were to a certain extent out of reach, defying law enforcement in their home countries.

Brandon concluded, saying that Mormon colonies in the late nineteenth century were trying to use policies in Mexico to their benefit, while maintaining ties with the United States. This strategy gave them some choice about identity. For instance, Mormons who naturalized has Mexicans had begun to take up the role of jefe politico in their locality. Many Mormons viewed their time in Mexico as sojourners, ready to return to the United States once the problems had been resolved politically.

Categories: conferences, Essay Series, News and Announcements | Leave a comment

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