Borderlands History is pleased to host this recap of the War Along the Border panel by panelist and author Miguel Levario.
The Teaching Diversity Across the Curriculum: Open Teaching Concept initiative at Texas Tech University hosted a panel featuring War Along the Border editor Dr. Arnoldo De León, historian of Mexico, Dr. John Klingemann who contributed a chapter to the volume titled “‘The Population is Overwhelmingly Mexican; Most of it is in Sympathy with the Revolution…’, Mexico’s Revolution of 1910 and the Tejano Community in the Big Bend,” and author of Militarizing the Border: When Mexicans Became the Enemy Dr. Miguel A. Levario to discuss the historical context of today’s “hot topic” issues of immigration, border security, and violence through the lens of De León’s award-winning edited volume, War Along the Border: The Mexican Revolution and Tejano Communities. The session was part of a two-week series of continuing dialogue and co-curricular activities on the Texas Tech campus centered on the larger-theme of the presidential and congressional elections.
Dr. De León began the discussion with a broad overview of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 all the while emphasizing the role of the United States, specifically Texas, had in the early phase of the Revolution. An intricate thread was woven throughout De León’s lecture that brought the political turmoil of Porfirio Diaz’s corrupt election in 1910 and the chaos that ensued after Francisco Madero, Pascual Orozco, and Francisco Villa defeated the federal army in Ciudad Juarez in 1911 positing Madero as the interim president until the elections in October. The role of the US-Mexico borderlands and Tejanos was never lost as De León discussed the importance of border cities and towns in supplying the revolutionaries with supplies, serving as havens for their organizational efforts especially in El Paso, and as thousands of displaced refugees, revolutionaries, and elites made their way to places like Presidio, Laredo, Brownsville, Eagle Pass, and El Paso.
Dr. John Klingemann gave an insightful and comprehensive presentation on the refugees arriving at the various ports of entry along the Texas-Mexico borderlands after Francisco Villa’s troops took up arms in Chihuahua against the dictatorship of Victoriano Huerta and sending the region into a tailspin. Klingemann shed light on the heterogeneous character of the displaced people as they included common laborers, former federal soldiers, and northern Mexico’s most prosperous hacendados like Luis Terrazas. More importantly, Klingemann’s presentation addressed several important questions arising from the conflict in northern Mexico that include how did the Revolution disrupt Tejano life? How did the violence in Mexico contribute to a flow of immigrants into the Big Bend? How did Tejanos participate in the Revolution? In order to address these broad questions, Dr. Klingemann examined the Madero Revolution of 1910 and the Constitutionalist movement of 1913 and their influences upon Tejano society in the Big Bend. Between 1910 and 1913, Chihuahua and Coahuila witnessed significant revolutionary activity with Chihuahua emerging as the center of what Klingemann called villismo. Two great examples of revolutionary conflict and its repercussions in the Tejano community throughout the Big Bend occurred in 1911 and 1913 on the city of Ojinaga, a small port of entry across from Presidio, Texas. The successful attacks gave the rebels control of the city’s garrison and prompted Mexican refugees to seek safety and opportunity in the United States. The massive influx of displaced peoples overwhelmed local and regional resources prompting an intervention by the US Army and state police. Moreover, the presence of revolutionary and federal forces in the area increased the flow of legal and illegal commerce to satisfy the demands of the soldiers on both sides of the boundary. Many Mexicans succeeded in fleeing the revolution; however, their fate in the Big Bend varied. Tejanos, on the other hand, adjusted to the war conditions that surfaced on both sides of the divide. Many served as intermediaries between revolutionary forces and merchants. While others served as soldiers in the ranks of Madero’s army or as villistas with Francisco Villa’s División del Norte. Nevertheless, the revolution impacted the Big Bend and Tejano communities economically, socially, and politically.
Dr. Miguel Levario closed the panel discussion by bridging the historical narrative of conflict, migration, and violence along the US-Mexico borderlands into a more contemporary context as both nations confront similar issues some one hundred years after the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Levario started his talk remembering the tragic death of Esequiel Hernádez, Jr. in Redford, Texas, by US Marines on a reconnaissance mission to apprehend drug smugglers. The seventeen-year-old American high school student was tending his goats near the family farm when he was mortally wounded by a single shot fired by US Marine Clemente Banuelos, who mistook the young teenager for a drug smuggler. By recalling the incident, Levario was able to demonstrate the criminalization of ethnic Mexicans residing in the US-Mexico borderlands since the Revolution. As militarization increased along the border at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ethnic Mexicans emerged as targets despite their innocence or guilt. Moreover, the increased vigilance over ethnic Mexicans’ activities along the border stigmatized many of them as what Mae Ngai calls “alien citizens” thus handicapping their full emergence into the main politic and fabric of US society. However, Levario’s case study of militarization advanced the concept of Other by arguing that increased militarization that includes the presence of local, state, federal authorities and civilian vigilantes positioned ethnic Mexicans as enemies of the state. Therefore, as was the case with Hernandez an ethnic Mexican male carrying a .22 caliber rifle and herding goats can be mistaken for a drug smuggler. The notion of Hernandez simply herding his goats and carrying the rifle to protect his herd never entered the mindset of the Marines who in turn followed protocol and the intelligence given to them by the Border Patrol claiming that nearly 75 of the 100 residents in Redford were involved in the drug trade. In other words, young Hernández never had a chance. He was an ethnic Mexican with a gun and required neutralization. Levario concluded that as mass migration, smuggling of illicit goods, and violence continue to plague the US-Mexican borderlands, ethnic Mexicans will continue to experience a limited and marginal position within the main fabric of US society.