Technologies over the Body: A Brief History of Discipline and Control in the US-Mexico Borderlands

During the mid-to-late nineteenth century, in the U.S. southwest, the new Anglo elite that arrived in the region, used an array of technologies to try and remake local populations. Transportation infrastructure, like the railroad, alongside medicine and sanitary regimes imposed a hierarchy of mobility that restricted peoples’ movement, fostered dislocation, and choreographed behavior. Michel Foucault’s work is instructive to consider how technology, broadly defined to include industrialization, medicalization, and governmentality, have affected and recast interpersonal relationships and how we think about the body.

The clinic and the school, in Foucault’s view, are ideal spaces to monitor and discipline the body. Social norms and the limits of acceptable behavior are clearly delineated in these institutional settings. They order the activities of the group and discipline persons who fall outside the bounds of approved conduct. A consideration of the border in Alexandra Stern’s work on El Paso reveals how a preoccupation with population and immigration flows caused a reinforcement of territorial boundaries. The medical technologies used to monitor new entries served as one of these “apparatuses of security” as described by Foucault. Likewise, Pablo Mitchell’s study of Indian children’s bodily comportment in New Mexican schools speaks to this notion of security. Administrators sought to “Americanize” these populations in order to reinforce the privileged position enjoyed by whites as well as to “secure” the idea of the United States as a modern, Eurocentric, and Anglo-Saxon society. Finally, these power structures are reinforced in the private sector as businesses consolidate and regiment the behavior of laborers; issues that Neil Foley has considered in the case of south Texas. Although Foucault does not explicitly discuss race, these scholars bring his work in to consider how power shapes racial hierarchies across the borderlands.

In The History of Sexuality, Foucault explores how the state enhances surveillance of individuals to protect the “safety” of the general population. Power is an essential component of the author’s discussion and one that helps to influence subsequent scholarship on sexuality and gender. It is important to remember Foucault’s observation that “sexuality must not be thought of as a natural given” but rather engaged as a social construct formed by state institutions and society.[1] He shows how a new generation of medical professionals in the nineteenth century drew upon clinical technologies that sought to “correct” perceived notions of the abnormal. Foucault argues that the therapist served as a modern representation of the cleric; the ideas of confession and disclosure are central to the relationship both specialists maintain with their “flawed” subjects.

Moreover, in Discipline and Punish, Foucault examines the role of the body as a site where power is exercised through physical control and the punishment of an individual. The sovereign applies violence to regiment and organize the populace. The level of pain associated with a given punishment was a chief concern within the process of state retribution. Foucault notes that this framework shifted away from a focus on pain to one increasingly concerned with “an economy of suspended rights” which sought to regulate the body. No longer was the criminal seen as a direct enemy of the sovereign, but rather became a subject of the law to be controlled and reformed by “a whole army of technicians who took over from the executioner… [including] chaplains, psychiatrists, psychologists, [and] educationalists.”[2] Modern public institutions, such as schools, hospitals, barracks, and prisons operated as controlled spaces that “trained” individuals to accept social norms through regulation of bodily comportment.

Concerns about public health and safety have seen government officials eagerly implemented reforms that furthered the state project of control and domination. During the early 1900s, in El Paso, and other border crossing zones, the U.S. Public Health Service imposed a set of rituals that spoke the language of science. The government, in the name of protecting society, adjudicated the acceptability of foreigners entering the country. The project sought, as Stern has observed in her work, to “ensure the putative purity of the ‘American’ family-nation” against outsiders it saw as a threat.[3] Federal agents imposed a social and racial hierarchy at the border, couched in scientific vocabulary, reducing Mexican and Chinese bodies to carries of disease that reiterated deeply held notions of white superiority.

Education has also served as a powerful center of state power and social control in the borderlands. Mitchell writes about school administrators in New Mexico during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They were deeply preoccupied with the bodily comportment of Native Americans and Hispanos, forcing them to conform to activities and ways of racialized behavior deemed acceptable by white elites as part of “normative” American society. In terms of social training, Foucault has observed that the school serves as a different site of surveillance and examination where the body and conduct are reviewed by “experts” to reinforce notions of “acceptable” behavior and dress. The relationship of knowledge between teacher and pupil reinforces notions of hierarchy, while the examination itself serves as a process that is “woven into… a constantly repeated ritual of power.”[4]

Alongside government priorities, corporations imposed other social hierarchies on borderlands communities. Scientific management presumed to control the bodies of laborers in the name of greater efficiency. In south Texas, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, corporations began consolidating the agricultural sector and deployed management techniques that transformed farmers into workers within large, industrialized operations. Foley shows managers controlled the types of seed each farm used and approved planting methods. They also segmented the work force along racial lines, dividing the Mexican, African American, and poor white laborers.[5] In doing so, companies transformed the farm into another site of modern surveillance, discipline, and control. Alluding to Foucault’s work, we can identify the institutionalization of “approved” activities that came with the centralization and consolidation of the farming sector in Texas. They created company towns and stratified labor relations along racial lines under a progressive system of management that produced a controllable, obedient workforce. Those who did not follow the rules could be simply expulsed and replaced.

These studies show how the process of “othering” operated through specialized language and rituals. Foucault and other scholars have demonstrated the role that institutional spaces served to draw distinctions between human beings, render certain physical and cultural attributes as undesirable, and promote a framework that “educated” target individuals through the disciplining of their bodies. Schools, clinics, and industrial farms served as spaces to regulate behavior and favor certain forms of activity over others. Government officials and corporate managers were acutely focused on controlling how individuals acted in society as a means to reinforce power relations that favored Anglo Americans. Throughout this historical process in the borderlands, U.S. officials “integrated” Hispanos, Native Americans, Mexicans, and African American into a national racial hierarchy that labeled them as inferior. This paradigm drew extensively from bodily comportment as a means to differentiate “American” cultural practices vis-à-vis “non-white” forms of expression.

[1] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1.

[2] Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

[3] Alexandra Stern, Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America.

[4] Pablo Mitchell, Coyote Nation: Sexuality, Race, and Conquest in Modernizing New Mexico, 1880-1920.

[5] Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture.

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Conference Notes: WHA 2017

The Western History Association conference is one of my favorite conferences of the year. Reuniting with old friends and colleagues living far away and, of course, discussing what is new in Borderlands and Western history. This year, however, something was off. Many spoke about the tense energy suspended like a low cloud over conference attendees making it difficult to fully engage in panels and discussions. Maybe we were feeling weathered. The one-year anniversary of the 2016 Election was just days away. It has been a very rough year.

Despite the melancholy, there were several moments of brightness, energy, and riveting conversations. I attended numerous borderland panels, sometimes walking in and out due to my own meetings. We also started a new short interview format called “Conference Capsules: Historians in a Flash” where we spoke to Katrina Jagodinsky about a new volume she co-edited with Pablo Mitchell about law in the borderlands. It was an information-filled conference to be sure and I started it off with a 5:00am flight from San Jose’s Mineta International into San Diego’s Lindbergh Field arriving to the conference hotel minutes before my first, must-hear panel of the conference.

After grabbing my third piping hot cup of coffee that morning, I quickly headed to the first panel on my list: “Reproductive West” with Professor Elena Gutiérrez at the helm. This panel is indicative of the more recent interest in the history of reproduction and decentering narratives starring Margaret Sanger in the Northeast. Moreover, all of the panelists on the roundtable were discussing aspects of their forthcoming manuscripts, which signals further interest among publishers for cutting edge work on reproduction during a time when women’s health is under attack by conservative forces in the country. Natalie Lira began by discussing her ongoing research on the history of sterilization in twentieth-century California. Using disability studies theory along with racial formation analysis, Lira was concerned with understanding the potential for resistance among wards of the state demeaned “feebleminded” and thus candidates for involuntary sterilizations. Brianna Theobald presented her work on the history of reproductive policies and practices among Native American women on the Crow Reservation in Southern Montana. She described the centrality of oral histories to her research and how using a reproductive justice framework allowed her to contextualize the experiences of women of color beyond current discussions in reproductive history.

Next, Alicia Gutiérrez-Romine’s research examined the borderland abortion networks that flourished in the years before Roe v. Wade. She described the countless women—at one point a group of women rented a bus— who crossed the border into Tijuana to obtain illegal abortions sparking the claim of so-called butchers across the southern line. Continuing with discussions of the U.S.-Mexico border, Heather Sinclair discussed questions of reproduction within what she called a “settler-colonial relationship” between Anglos and Mexican-origin people in El Paso, Texas. While Mexican labor, particularly of women as domestic workers, was prized, Mexican women’s reproduction was considered a threat for the racial makeup in the city. Finally, Jennifer Holland tied many of these themes together as she discussed the centrality of abortion politics in redrawing the political map of the Rocky Mountain West. It was a lively discussion, and given my own research on the history of Planned Parenthood, contraception and abortion in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, I was all too eager to join in. Elena Gutiérrez, author of Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-Origin Women’s Reproduction, guided the discussion and asked the panelists about the significance of population control rhetoric and policy during the twentieth century and how this might inform a deeper analysis of immigration, incarceration, and women’s access to reproductive care and overall concerns for reproductive justice.

Reproductive West

This roundtable could have gone on for another hour, but at this point folks were hungry and eager to get back out into the halls of the lovely Mission Bay Hilton to continue meeting and greeting colleagues from across the country. Unfortunately, this was one of the only complete panels I was able to attend during the conference. Meetings and conversations over coffee filled my time during the conference, so I either missed large parts of panels or had to leave in the middle of them. What follows are snippets of some of the partial sessions I was able to attend.

I made it to most of the plenary celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Patricia Nelson Limerick’s groundbreaking Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. As a newly minted PhD I was struck by the legacy of the Legacy of Conquest and of its reception at the Western History Association conference nearly 30 years prior. Steve Aron (UCLA) moderated the panel and began by saying how Limerick’s book had up ended traditional histories of the West and made many of the old, white men in the organization uncomfortable to say the least. We enjoyed commentary from Paul Hutton (UNM), Katrina Jagodinsky (UNL), Amy Lonetree (UCSC), Noam Maggor (Cornell), Mary Mendoza (U of V), David Wrobel (U of O), and Thomas Andrews (UCB). Hutton also noted that Limerick’s book had unleashed a “crap storm” in an organization that was dominated by men with a membership of just 15 women at the time of the book’s publication. He reflected that Limerick had brought life back into the profession and no one since Frederick Jackson Turner had managed such a feat!

Mary Mendoza regaled the audience with 30 year-old reviews of Limerick’s book that just about called Limerick’s analysis heretical. She noted Limerick’s revolutionary influence on the field: “What was once understood as New Western History, is now just known as Western History.” As each panelist stood to describe the impact Legacy of Conquest had on their research and careers, I was fortunate enough to be sitting directly behind Patty (as many affectionately call her) in the audience. She chuckled, grumbled, and talked with her neighbors as speakers recalled all the chaos surrounding the book back in 1987. Limerick’s overall mood suggested she was truly moved by how her work had inspired so many to view the American West, Southwest and Borderlands fields with a more critical lens and how it continues to influence new generations of scholars three decades later.

Jenn Lina Celeste

The following day, between my own panel (where I presented with Sandra Enriquez [UMKC], Jennifer Macias [U of U], and chaired by Marisela Chavez [CSU-DH] to discuss the significance of oral history in recuperating Chicanx/Latinx history), I also managed to interview Katrina Jagodinsky, Associate Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We talked about her new co-edited volume she put together with Pablo Mitchell tentatively titled Laying Down the Law: Critical Legal Histories of the North American West. At the crossroads of Critical Legal History and New Western History (or just Western History), the volume’s contributors analyzed the various ways the lines between law and society are blurred in this region. Ten scholars from across various historical fields included chapters: Sarah Deer, Brian Frehner, Andrea Geiger, Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Katrina Jagodinsky, Pablo Mitchell, Danielle Olden, Allison Powers Useche, Tom Romero, Alicia Gutierrez-Romine, Jeff Shepherd, and Dana Weiner.

You can listen to our 15-minute conversation here.

Also celebrating a thirtieth anniversary was Gloria Anzaldúa’s path breaking book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza and panelists David Gutiérrez (UCSD), Natalia Molina (UCSD), Elliot Young (Lewis &Clark College), and Ana Elizabeth Rosas (UCI) discussed significance of her work for historians of the American West. Sadly, this was one of the panels that I was not able to fully enjoy as I arrived late, after my interview with Jagodinsky, and then had to leave early due to another meeting. Fortunately, I had just enough time to hear comments by Gutiérrez and Molina who both praised Borderlands/La Frontera for its profound rendering of the U.S.-Mexico border as a queer, Chican@, and multilingual borderlands. As Molina pointed out, most Chicanx/Latinx scholars have been moved by Anzaldúa’s analysis for decades, in fact her work has inspired much of our own, but rarely is she cited for her theoretical analysis. Gutiérrez explained that he was most affected by Anzaldúa’s queer, feminist rhetoric at a time when machismo ruled. Her work against misogyny, Gutiérrez declared, broke new ground for building solidarity and her “study of and commitment to ambiguity” had unlocked doors to greater historical questions within Chicana/o studies. Anzaldúa’s articulation of nepantla, the Nahuatl word that signifies the interstices, the in-between spaces, has been fundamental to my own work.

Historians WHA17

The following morning, I was only able to go to one session, titled “Reel History: Useful Videos for Teaching Race in the American West.” This was organized by the Committee on Race in the American West (CRAW) and panelists included: Kathleen Brosnan, University of Oklahoma, Cathleen Cahill, Pennsylvania State University, Ernesto Chávez, University of Texas, El Paso, Sara Gregg, University of Kansas, Mary E. Mendoza, University of Vermont, Kathryn Morse, Middlebury College, Marisela Ramos, Phillips Academy, Douglas Sackman, University of Puget Sound, and Traci Brynne Voyles, Loyola Marymount University. Now this was a fantastic panel for those interesting in using film/cartoons/commercials/ documentaries or other types of film in their classes that can visual assist in the conversation about race and racism in the American West and borderlands. Cahill showed an excellent short-cartoon from Disney describing American concerns for WWII. Slogans like “Spend for the Axis or Save for Taxes” were juxtaposed against the images of two different versions of Donald Duck. One, a slick talking zoot suit wearing criminal type, luring people to spend their hard-earned money; the other Donald was a spend-thrift Scotsman help bent on doing his civic duty.

Reel History

Another interesting example was Ernesto Chávez’s use a laundry commercial from the 1970s that feminized and racialized the labor of Chinese workers. Before I had to leave, I was able to see Mary Mendoza’s Warner Bros’ clip from a Speedy Gonzalez and Sylvester the Cat cartoon. Running across the U.S.-Mexico border where a fence is already in place, Speedy easily fools and out-runs Sylvester who is protecting a giant cheese factory on the U.S. side. Using film to unpack the ubiquitous racial stereotypes of the twentieth century can help students understand how engrained these ideas and images are in our collective imaginations and, unfortunately, how they so often rely on tropes of the Wild West and borderlands to survive.

After this panel, I grabbed a quick lunch, headed off to the airport and flew back to San Jose. Despite the fascinating panels and excellent conversations with friends, there was still something not quite right about the WHA this year. Perhaps its location on the Mission Bay, while beautiful, seemed isolating from the rest of San Diego and had some of us feeling a bit trapped. Or maybe this sensation was caused by the one year anniversary of this dystopian nightmare we call Trump’s first year in office. Conversations about the job market, working, writing, and even attending conferences were marred by the continued assaults against the academy, freedom of speech, access to healthcare, student loan debt, sexual assault, and so much more. Yet, we presented our findings, discussed our conclusions, and engaged in the human and necessary exchange of ideas. I cannot think of a better way to continue to #Resist.

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Job Alert: UC-Merced, Latin American History

Dear readers, this month, the School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts has launched a new search to fill the tenure-track position of Assistant Professor of Latin American/Caribbean History, focused on the 19th and/or 20th centuries. The school also specifically invites historians of Mexico to apply. Preferred candidates will specialize in: “comparative social history, gender and sexuality, race relations and racialized social systems, imperialism or transnationalism and migration.” From the job posting:

The successful candidate will be expected to participate in both the History major and the Interdisciplinary Humanities Graduate Program, an interdisciplinary PhD that includes scholars in Latin American literature, anthropology, and Global Arts Studies. Candidates must be able to teach an undergraduate course in the History of Mexico, as well as graduate and undergraduate courses in the field appropriate to their research interests.

A PhD in Latin American/Caribbean History, or a related field, must be completed by July 1, 2018. The deadline to apply is November 15th, 2017, and letters of recommendation must be submitted by December 1st.

For more information, or to apply, follow the link.

 

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BHIP: Emma Pérez

Emma

Dr. Emma Pérez. Photo by: Dr. Ernesto Chávez.

While completing my undergraduate studies at San Francisco State University, I was handed The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History by a professor in Ethnic Studies. He knew I was interested in writing about women, specifically Chicanas and Latinas, but I was finding it difficult to find “traditional” sources.  After wrestling with the introduction to the book for several weeks, I gave up. Theory, I reasoned, was not for me. But, I did not give it away. I held on to it for years, believing that one day I might gain the knowledge that would help me uncover the deeper meanings held within—or at the very least assist me through its intro.

In graduate school, I was fortunate to take a class called “Theory and History.” We began with Karl Marx and made our way through the works of some of the most famous thinkers, including Sigmund Freud, Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Homi Bhabba, Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak, Judith Butler, and Emma Pérez. Through time and space, we traveled the globe and the ages to find thinkers, philosophers, and theorists who had asked questions about the notions of capital, consumption, fetishes, consciousness, sexuality, power, performance, gender, race, and resistance.  The Decolonial Imaginary was one of the last books we read in the course. Studying borderlands history, on the U.S.-Mexico border, students tackled Pérez’s book with fervor.  What did she mean by “decolonial imaginary”? What is interstitial space? Why were these concepts useful in “writing Chicanas into history”? We turned the book inside out. It was a marvelous discussion that included the use of the dry erase board for visuals.

Many years later, I finally had an opportunity to ask Dr. Emma Pérez herself these questions that had transformed our classroom so many years ago.  Currently, Pérez is Research Social Scientist at the Southwest Studies Center at the University of Arizona, and she is also Professor in Gender and Women’s Studies.  She received her M.A. and PhD. in history from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1982 and 1988 respectively.

She has written several books including her major historical monograph, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Indiana University Press, 1999), as well as some well received works of fiction. Her book list includes, Gulf Dreams (Third Woman Press in 1996 and mostly recently reprinted by Aunt Lute Books in 2009), her award-winning novel Forgetting the Alamo, OR, Blood Memory (published out of the Chicana Matter series through University of Texas at Austin in 2009. Forgetting the Alamo was awarded the NACCS Regional Book Award. Her most recent novel is Electra’s Complex (Bella Books) in 2015. Dr. Perez has published several noteworthy articles as well, including “Gloria Anzaldua, La Gran Nueva Mestiza Theorist, Writer, Activist Scholar,” in the National Women’s Studies Association Journal 2005; “Queering the Borderlands: The Challenges of Excavating the Invisible and Unheard,” in Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies (2003); and an article she co-wrote with Scarlet Brown titled “Women’s Studies on the Border: University of Texas at El Paso,” Women’s Studies Quarterly (2002).

Dr. Pérez was ready for my first question, in fact, she’d been asked it many times before. “Why use postmodern theory, specifically Foucault, when attempting to write Chicanas into history?” I pondered.  When she first read Foucault’s History of Sexuality, she said, she was moved by his ability to synthesize historical information, always foregrounding the “bigger picture.” Foucault’s concerns with power—who wields it and why—helped Pérez grapple with larger historiographical questions about Chicana’s visibility in U.S. history overall.

One of Pérez’s greatest insights came in the discussion of silences in Foucault’s theory. As historians, we are taught to read the sources, to examine the evidence, but what if none exists? How do we read the silences? For Pérez documentary omissions and silences have the profound ability to produce erasure, and thus must be excavated. The “voices” of colonized people, of Chicana/Chicanx people, Pérez contends, are in the interstitial spaces.  She comes back to the notion of interstices and the interstitial when she talked about her time with Homi Bhabha.

With her students Pérez introduces the method of critique, which Foucault stealthily employed, in order to locate sources of power. Why are certain narratives considered “mainstream,” why are particular stories reified in our everyday lives, while others are not only forgotten, but purposefully excluded from our day-to-day interactions with history? In this manner, Pérez explains, students begin to ponder the way institutions hold power over these histories and control what is considered valuable for examination.  We find that power is located at the cross-sections of race, gender, sexuality, and class, and held by those who seek to gain most by keeping marginalized voices at bay.

These lines of inquiry bring students to further critique the reasons why the history of Chicanx and Latinx are obscured in U.S. history, why this history is marginalized in history departments across the country, and why they are generally excluded from historiographies of particular regions—like the Southwest.  But, as Pérez asserts, critique is not enough, we must then remediate the damage done.

We returned to a dialogue about interstitial spaces and her connection to Homi Bhabha, a renowned post-colonial theorists, and his own analysis of interstices.  Drawing from her own history of engaging the concept, Pérez recalled when she was accepted to the School of Criticism and Theory, during her tenure at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), in 1993.  During this summer institute she took several seminars with Bhabha, who had scholars read about the “interstices”—the “in between” spaces. She remembered talking with him after a class one day, mentioning that his concern for articulating the “interstices” was similar to Gloria Anzaldúa’s deployment of “nepantla” in Anzaldúa’s visionary work Borderlands/La Frontera.  Published in 1987, Anzaldúa used “nepantla” a Nahuatl word that signifies, “in the middle” or “in between,” as a concept to describe the production of a hybrid identity for Chicanx in the borderlands.  It was important to reference Anzaldúa’s use of this term, since, as Pérez noted, so often others believed they were the first to engage its meaning. It was in this moment, during our interview, that Pérez so beautifully illustrated how to “write Chicanas into history.”

Our interview continued in this manner for nearly an hour and a half as we discussed what it means to “queer” borderlands history, as well as the politics of diversity in academia, her recent move to the University of Arizona, her joy in returning to the borderlands, and the overall fatigue we, as scholars of color, feel in the era of Trump.  Despite the fatigue, Pérez reflected, we cannot afford for a moment to be lax.

As we interpret theory, as we reach into the deepest regions of our consciousness for solace, we must constantly confront the material circumstances that deprive us of freedom and peace.  She remarked that while identity politics has been stripped of its meanings, we must continue to fight for justice through an intersectional lens. “Race is just not enough,” she responded. We must understand the ways gender, race, sexuality, and class work in concert to oppress and marginalize in our society. Fortunately, Pérez sees positive moves in this direction.  The generation of scholars that are coming forth, she says, have her “err on the side of hope.”

Enjoy the full audio of Dr. Emma Pérez’s BHIP here and stay tuned for more from the Borderlands History blog this coming fall. Remember to ‘like’ us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. Until next time…

Special thanks for audio editing to Marko Morales.

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A conversation with Omar Valerio-Jimenez, Santiago Vaquera-Vasquez, and Claire Fox, editors of “The Latina/o Midwest Reader.”

In The Latina/o Midwest Reader (University of Illinois Press, 2017) editors Omar Valerio-Jiménez, Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez, and Claire F. Fox bring together an exceptional cadre of scholars to dispel the notion that Latinas/os are newcomers to the Midwest. Through seventeen penetrating essays, this collection explores the trajectory of Latina/o migration, their demographic transformation of the Midwest, importance as laborers, neighbors, and community builders, as well as their struggles to obtain social and economic justice. Collectively, the essays within this anthology make several important interventions concerning the distinctiveness of the Midwest in the Latina/o experience and the effect it has had on identity formation and social activism. The presentation of the Midwest as a “border space” (i.e., contact zone) for Latina/o migrants from various parts of Latin America is a central theme that runs throughout the book. This anthology is an essential addition to Latina/o studies scholarship as it challenges the bi-coastal normativity and exclusivity of existing scholarship.

Listen to the full conversation on the New Books in Latino Studies podcast.

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Job alert: UNL History & Ethnic Studies

Dear readers, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of History is conducting a search for applicants to fill an opening for a tenure-track position at the rank of assistant professor. An emphasis on Latin@ history is essential; the preferred candidate will “teach undergraduate and graduate courses in History and Ethnic Studies.”

The selected candidate must have her/his PhD in History completed by August 2018. Additionally, UNL lists preferred qualifications applicants may have as: “Interest in immigration, transborder issues, and/or the Great Plains; ability to contribute to digital history or digital humanities; ability to contribute to American West program.”

The position begins in August 2018. In order for your application to be given full consideration, submit before October 16th, 2017. For more information, or to apply, follow the link. Questions can also be directed to Dr. Jeannette Jones, the search committee chair.

 

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Industry, Community, and Social Change: Brief Reflections on the Impact of Infrastructure Development in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

This short essay is a spiritual sequel to a post I wrote for the blog in February 2015, adapted from a conference paper about infrastructure, economic development, and state formation presented at a meeting of the WHA. -MK

The implementation of new infrastructure technologies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had a profound impact on society in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. The desire to improve the mobility of goods and people conflicted with desires to control who could be considered part of the towns and settlements that appeared around mining operations. It is a history that informs many contemporary political discussions about the border, foreshadowing future problems that can emerge from state and national governments hostile to diversity.

The growth in national rail networks linked once remote regions together and greatly reduced travel times. Sam Truett describes how the desire for access to copper reserves in Sonora drove economic expansion, which was facilitated by the arrival of new iron pathways. Whereas entrepreneurs had long lacked access to mineral resources due to the high cost of extraction and transport no longer faced such an insurmountable, railroads changed this condition. In Nacozari, Sonora, the U.S. firm Phelps, Dodge and Company expanded copper operations and connected the town to its burgeoning transportation network. Despite environmental challenges, corporate managers and engineers were more concerned with growth that fit within the parameters of the “regional empire” being built by Phelps Dodge.

Examining social change and racial division, Katherine Benton Cohen’s work on the creation of a “white man’s camp” in Bisbee, Arizona is a key example of the role of infrastructure development in the borderlands. She notes that whereas whites had tended to assimilate into Mexican cultural norms in the region in the mid-1800s, this gradually changed. The growth in Anglo migration, in conjunction with the removal of hostile Indian communities in 1886 undermined previous social dynamics. Phelps Dodge also had a hand in this process as they expanded mining operations and developed labor hierarchies that inscribed different racialized ideas onto the local community. A dual wage system for workers favored whites and rendered Mexican labor as “inferior” by paying them a lower rate. By the late 1800s, in Bisbee, Phelps Dodge had been the town’s largest employer and had used socially divisive labor hierarchies to its advantage. Company managers forged paternalistic practices through the construction of schools and development of other social services for whites, placing these activities under the guise of “modernizing” the community.

Benton Cohen’s research parallels Truett’s work on Cananea, Sonora, where Phelps Dodge representatives imported “American-styles” of living, going so far as shipping pre-fabricated homes from Los Angeles for Anglo residents. Both authors note how these architectural norms reinforced notions of racial inferiority as the company constructed smaller, cruder dwellings for Mexicans. In many respects, industrialization and urbanization brought new social pressures as local elites sought to inscribe a tiered notion of status not only in people’s pay, but also in the spaces where they lived. The idea of “America” championed by Phelps Dodge and others sought to reinforce these uneven relationships among Anglos, Mexicans, and other participants in the industrializing project that transformed the frontier into the border.

Miguel Tinker Salas approaches the question of border society and infrastructure development from the perspective of Mexico. He attempts to bridge the scholarly divide by drawing transnational connections between Arizona and Sonora as a Latin Americanist scholar studying the borderlands. Tinker Salas discusses the motivations for railroad construction among contemporary Sonorans, who saw the technology as an “instrument of progress.” He finds that local elites’ embrace of this new form of transportation went beyond economic calculations and included a socio-cultural impetus. Since railroads represented a modernizing project with substantive transformative aspects, Sonorans hoped the technology could allow their state to assert itself vis-à-vis regional economic competitors in the United States.

By the early twentieth century, government officials and popular opinion among whites, especially during the Great Depression, turned against the on-going demographic changes that greater mobility had afforded the borderlands. In response to the country’s economic crisis, state governments and federal authorities began rounding up and deporting Mexican immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. These openly racist program, which Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez study, merged with policing practices to become an infrastructure of deportation that affected thousands of families across the region. Its dire consequences left a lasting impact on the country’s history, while also harkening to present-day concerns around hostility to the Dreamers and millions of other undocumented residents of the United States. The past has shown that officials have been willing to adapt existing infrastructure and policy norms in order to carry out government orders to identify and persecute whole communities.

The study of infrastructure transformation in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century borderlands uncovers a complex history that incorporates the significance of modernization alongside compelling critiques related to notions of “progress.” Transportation technologies played an integral role as railroads facilitated the flow of people and goods across the region. The history of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands represents a useful tool to better understand the role of industrial development. These processes are fraught with socio-political challenges and unfulfilled economic promises, but also speak to the robust character of exchange, as millions of individuals on both sides of the international boundary interact with one another and influence broad trends of identity production.

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A conversation with Raul Coronado, author of “A World Not to Come: A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture.”

In A World Not to Come: A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture (Harvard University Press 2013) Dr. Raul Coronado provides an intellectual history of the Spanish America’s decentered from the dominant narrative of Enlightenment, revolution, and independence stemming from Protestant Europe and British America. Examining pamphlets, broadsheets, manuscripts, and newspapers, Coronado situates the emergence of Spanish American revolutionary thought at the moment of rupture, when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain and deposed King Fernando VII in 1808. It was at this moment, Coronado argues, when subjects of the Spanish Crown were thrust into the modern era with the task of envisioning and producing an alternative to the ancien regime.

With an engaging and sweeping narrative that transports readers across time and space, Coronado explores the central actors and ideas that intersected in and developed out of the Spanish American borderlands to lead independence movements throughout Latin America during the first half of the 19th century. Rooted in the region that would become modern-day Texas, A World Not to Come explores the formation of community and identity, as well as the transmission of ideas, among Texas Mexicans during the eras of Mexican independence and U.S. westward expansion. In the process, Coronado provides a different history of modernity (“alternative west”) that is truly transnational in scope and content.

Have a listen to the full podcast interview on New Books in Latino Studies.


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Double Job Alert: Tenure Track LATAM Dartmouth & Rutgers

Dear readers, it’s that time of year again when the job listings begin to pile up in our inboxes and online message boards. We wanted to let you know about two opportunities for specialists of Latin American history. Dartmouth College and Rutgers University-New Brunswick have launched searches for candidates for positions beginning in the second-half of 2018.

For Dartmouth, candidates specializing in any period of history related to Latin American and the Caribbean are encouraged to apply. Excellence in teaching undergraduate must be shown in the applications. The position is tenure track and the successful candidate will enter at the rank of assistant professor. PhD must be completed by July 1st, 2018. The deadline to apply is next month, September 29, 2017, and all documents must be submitted via Interfolio. For more information, follow the link.

For Rutgers-New Brunswick, the Department of History is looking for candidates specializing in Modern Latin America (excluding the Caribbean) whose research focuses on themes of gender and/or race. The position is tenure track, open rank. Excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching must be shown. The search committee will begin reviewing applications on November 1, 2017; the Interfolio submission system for this position will close on February 1, 2018. For more information, to apply, follow the link.

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Summer Series: A ‘Nation of Immigrants’ at the Border

By Dr. Juilian Lim, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University

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This is the last installment of our Borderlands Blog Summer Series. We’d like to thank everyone who contributed to this short, but incisive series and much love to all those who read our posts and stayed tuned over the summer. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the current atmosphere of anxiety that looms over us as we head back to work in the fall. Just last week a young woman, Heather Heyer, was killed as hundreds of anti-fascist protesters confronted white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The night before, the University of Virginia was overrun by angry, white men wielding torches. It is not a coincidence that they sought to intimidate students and faculty on this college campus.  The university/college campus has long been a site for social upheaval, protest, and transformation.  Students have been at the forefront of political change in this country for decades, however, now higher education finds itself in the cross-hairs of a major social and political battle for the minds of the future. Thus, the task before us is greater, and potentially more dangerous than ever.

While historical distortions will continue to run rampant, we, as historians, are armed with sources, evidence, and analysis, striking out simplistic ideologies that breed desperation, hate, and violence. The Borderlands History blog will play its part in this endeavor as a space where historical analysis about the region serves to contextualize and enlighten the current political and social climate.

Please enjoy our final post in the series by Assistant Professor of History Julian Lim currently at Arizona State University. — Lina Murillo

Earlier this month, President Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller stirred up quite a bit of controversy after attempting to disassociate Emma Lazarus’s famous poem from the Statue of Liberty.  When pressed by CNN reporter Jim Acosta about the tradition of immigration and the identity of the United States as a “nation of immigrants,” as invoked by Lazarus’s powerful words emblazoned on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, Miller countered with a historical lesson of sorts.  “I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here,” he responded, “[but the poem] was added later. It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”  Because the Statue of Liberty was not initially designed to serve as a symbol of immigration, Miller seemed to suggest, the United States is not necessarily a nation of immigrants.

As many have already observed, Miller’s seemingly fine-tuned attention to chronology actually reproduced a common alt-right tactic to dismiss the poem as an irrelevant distraction.  For those who embrace the U.S.’s identity as a nation of immigrants, Miller’s comments and Trump’s support for restricting immigration – especially from non-Western countries[1] – are not only anti-immigrant, but fundamentally un-American.  As the grandfather of modern immigration history, Oscar Handlin, famously wrote in 1951, “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then, I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”  This statement, of course, obscures the role of Native Americans in American history.  But to the extent that the United States today is comprised of 322 million persons who are not of Native American heritage, this massive population was only possible through immigration – by colonists, capitalists, and laborers; by Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans, and Africans; and in free, coerced, and enslaved forms.  What makes the United States so great – even exceptional, in this regard – are the immigrants who have come to these shores and have helped to make this country a diverse, complicated, and, yes, hopeful place.

Still, Miller is not entirely incorrect.  Putting aside purely demographic considerations for the time being, the United States has not always been a “nation of immigrants,” at least not in spirit.  As immigration historians have been pointing out for some time now, American history has been shaped by opposition to immigration as much as by immigration itself. (For a helpful overview, see #ImmigrationSyllabus.)  Beginning with the Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion laws, and evolving over the course of several decades into the Immigration Act of 1924 and the rise of the Border Patrol, the United States steadily expanded its federal power to regulate and restrict immigration based on race, class, and gender.

Although the Statue of Liberty is celebrated by many as a beacon of hope and Ellis Island is revered as the entry point for millions of new Americans, many turn-of-the-twentieth century immigrants arrived at Ellis Island only to be separated from family, detained in segregated quarters, and – not infrequently – denied admission and forced to return to their home countries. Angel Island, of course, served as the port of entry for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from more than 80 countries, but is most infamous for its operations as a detention center for Chinese immigrants, who were routinely targeted for extra scrutiny, subjected to a variety of invasive and humiliating inspections, held in prolonged detentions, and, in many cases, subsequently deported.

The U.S.-Mexico border provides its own unique set of historical lessons about immigration and national identity.  In many ways, immigration regulation at the U.S.-Mexico border begins with the attempt by both the United States and Mexico to police and restrict indigenous mobility in the borderlands.  Over the course of the nineteenth century, the indigenous borderlands were radically transformed, and violently so.  Fusing colonization programs with Indian removal policies, both Mexico and the United States assembled an unofficial but tragically effective immigration regime that functioned in ways familiar to us today—to regulate the admission, exclusion, and removal of persons deemed unfit for inclusion in the body politic.  Sovereign, autonomous groups – such as the Comanches and Apaches – who rejected Mexican and U.S. claims to the territory experienced brutal forms of removal.  Despite their spectacular wielding of political and commercial power in the borderlands, the onslaught of Mexican and American violence, coordinated by the 1870s into a transborder military campaign, whittled away their dominion in the region.  Captured and deported to reservations, if not killed outright, Native peoples became foreigners in their own lands.

The chase after the Apaches, which came to a close with Geronimo’s capture in 1886, quickly morphed into a chase after Chinese immigrants, which became possible following the passage of the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.  (It is no accident that the doctrines of plenary power in the context of immigration and Native Americans developed in tandem, with the Supreme Court’s decisions in U.S. v. Kagama (1886) and Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. (1888) falling within two short years of each other.)  In the turn-of-the-century borderlands, the federal government soon exchanged uniforms; instead of soldiers, customs officers and immigration inspectors – or “men who were hunting for Chinamen,” as some Chinese immigrants called them – now regulated movement across the region.  Tasked with enforcing the Chinese exclusion laws, immigration agents at the U.S.-Mexico border aggressively attempted to make the nation’s anti-immigrant sentiment a reality.

Mexican immigrants as well would soon become targets of anti-immigrant restrictions.  For the most part, Mexicans did not immigrate in any substantial numbers before 1910.  There was a small trickle of Mexican immigration during the late 1800s, closely tied to a booming economy in the American southwest in railroad, mining, and agribusiness and a need for cheap labor by American employers.  This changed dramatically following the start of the Mexican Revolution; fleeing revolutionary violence, political exiles as well as short- and long-term refugees from all cross-sections of Mexican society arrived in droves at the U.S.-Mexico border.  Rejection rates climbed steadily over the course of the revolutionary decade as Mexicans arrived in progressively more impoverished and desperate conditions.  U.S. officials increasingly applied immigration bars against “persons likely to become public charges” to deny admission to Mexicans, especially women.  Immigration officials also worked with public health officials to implement more extensive measures at the international border, systematically subjecting Mexican immigrants to an invasive and humiliating process of being deloused, bathed in kerosene, and examined for physical and mental fitness.  Over the course of the first six months of 1917 alone, officials inspected 871,639 Mexicans for potential exclusion.

Ultimately, it was only the powerful demand for Mexican labor in the U.S. Southwest that kept the border relatively open for Mexican immigrants.  As the famous Dillingham Immigration Commission put it, “In the case of the Mexican, he is less desirable as a citizen than as a laborer.”  It thus seemed to work in the Mexican immigrant’s favor to present himself as a potential laborer as opposed to a political refugee.  As one Arizona immigration inspector explained in 1915, although Mexican immigrants were admissible under the immigration laws, “they cannot be properly termed desirable immigrants.”

By the 1920s, then, fueled by postwar xenophobia and supported by a vocal eugenics movement, the U.S. government had severely tightened the exclusionary policies of its immigration laws, barring not only Chinese immigration but all Asian immigrants, and rendering the “less than white” immigration of Mexicans and southern and eastern Europeans legally suspect. Through its immigration laws and border surveillance, politicians and immigration officials actively reshaped the nation’s racial “destiny,” bringing the laws that regulated race relations at the borders in line with the notions of white supremacy and racial segregation that policed black-white relations within the country.  It should be no surprise today that the politics of immigration restriction go hand-in-hand with the resurgent aspirations of white supremacy.

So yes, despite our extensive history of immigration, the “nation of immigrants” ethos is much more complicated.  The question is, will Americans choose to repeat the mistakes of the past?  And undoubtedly, it was a mistake to restrict immigration based on undemocratic ideas about race, class, gender and sex, and religion.  This is not to say we do not need to reconsider our immigration laws today – reform is seriously needed.  But in advocating for reform, will we replicate the patterns of nativism and prejudice that have marred American history, or learn from these historical moments to push toward a more democratic vision of America?

Dr. Lim’s book, Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, will be published by the University of North Carolina Press in November, 2017.

[1] President Trump’s support for restricting non-Western immigration is most clearly represented by the largely stalled “Muslim ban” executive orders, his criticism of family-based immigration (which has provided a major avenue for immigration from Asia and Latin America), and his support instead for skills-based immigration.

 

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