Monthly Archives: November 2015

Review of “Bordertown” Prescreening



Last week I attended an advance screening of Fox’s upcoming animated series Bordertown, co-sponsored by USC El Centro Chicano, the Institute for Diversity & Empowerment at Annenberg, and the USC Annenberg Third Space Initiative. The event featured the showing of two episodes followed by a Q&A with the show’s creator Mark Hentemann, co-writer & cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, actor Nicholas Gonzalez, and USC Annenberg Professor Josh Kun. Produced by Seth McFarlane, creator of Family Guy, Bordertown is set in the fictitious Mexifornia, a desert town that supposedly blends the characteristics of Arizona, Texas, and California. Bordertown takes a satirical look at cross-cultural interaction and conflict along the U.S.-Mexico border and pulls no punches in pointing out the absurdity of U.S. immigration policy and politics.


(From left to right: Bill Vela, Prof. Josh Kun, Mark Hentemann, Lalo Alcaraz, Nicholas Gonzalez, Maria Jose Plasencia, and Prof. Robert Hernandez)

The first episode, “the engagement,” appears to be the pilot and it will introduce audiences to the families of Bud Buckwald and Ernesto Gonzalez, neighbors in Mexifornia, as the town deals with the passage of an AZ SB 1070-like piece of anti-immigrant legislation. The second episode, entitled “Borderwall” will air around the middle of the first season and as the title implies spoofs the aftermath of constructing an outlandish concrete wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to Mark Hentemann, not all episodes will feature political issues and themes, but the show does seek to highlight the social friction emanating from cultural shifts in the country, like the emergence of a minority-majority populace.

Bud Buckwald is Archie Bunker-like in his take on the demographic, cultural, and economic transitions occurring in Bordertown. His family’s roots go back to the town’s establishment and he longs for the good old days when the town reflected his WASP heritage. Bud is disgruntled at work and home. He works for the Border Patrol, has a Mexican American supervisor, and is repeatedly outsmarted by a coyote that looks like the Mexican bandits featured in Warner Bros. 1948 film The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Even more aggravating for Buckwald, is that his immigrant neighbor is doing better than he is economically.

Ernesto Gonzalez is an immigrant from Mexico and the successful owner of a landscaping business. While Buckwald is bitter and nostalgic, Gonzalez is optimistic and sees America as truly, “the land of opportunity.” While Buckwald is rude and condescending in his interactions with his neighbor, Gonzalez is good natured and amicable, either ignoring, or apparently not picking up on Buckwald’s bigotry. Although posing contrasting figures, from the screening of the two episodes, it seems the two form somewhat of a friendship (or mutual tolerance) as the season progresses.

Clearly, the show plays with numerous cultural stereotypes, which according to Alcaraz are intended to shock, offend, and provoke a national dialogue surrounding the absurdity and incipient racism that underlies much of the popular discourse surrounding immigration, border security, the economy, demographic change, and multiculturalism. While not offended, I was certainly surprised by the show’s breakneck pace—rapidly moving from one social/political issue to another—as well as its reliance on cultural caricatures, misogynist representations of hyper-sexualized women, and its light-hearted depiction of border violence and death. In fairness, this is satire, and the show’s creators, writers, and producers certainly understand the seriousness of the topics they cover and feel comedy is the ideal medium to bring audiences together to laugh, think, and discuss these polarizing issues.

Debuting amidst an election year that has already witnessed a flood of anti-immigrant rhetoric ranging from the mildly xenophobic and ethnocentric to the blatantly racist, it seems Bordertown is ideally positioned to attract a lot of attention. Naturally, the true test will come in the weeks following its nationally televised release on Sunday, January 3rd 2016.

The show’s official trailer can be viewed here

Thanks to Adam Goodman for providing the photo of the panelists.

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BHIP #5: We Speak to Alexandra Minna Stern

This is the fifth installment of the Borderlands History Interview Project (BHIP), a series that showcases the voices of respected historians in the field to discuss their current projects and views on the present and future of borderlands history.

As November draws to its end and the foliage has reached its zenith here in Ann Arbor, we at Borderlands History Blog are happy to present our next installment in the Borderlands History Interview Project with Dr. Alexandra Minna Stern. Several of the Borderlands History Blog writers already share a repertoire with Professor Stern, including our very own Lina-Maria Murillo. Stern has served as both a great mentor, advocate, and friend, and I am pleased to have caught up with her earlier this month. We conversed in the Department of American Culture for a while, both speaking about research interests, and well, borderlands.

Alexandra Minna Stern is a historian of science and medicine and Professor in the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Culture, and History at the University of Michigan. She is also the current director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and serves in various capacities in two Public Health units as well. Stern received her PhD in History from the University of Chicago in 1999. She is the author of the Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America, which was published by the University of California Press in 2005, and of Telling Genes: The Story of Genetic Counseling in America, which was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2012, an exploration into genetic counseling. Currently, she is underway on two projects, including a history on sterilization in California, and the history of the “gay gene.”


Dr. Alexandra Minna Stern

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A conversation with Ana Elizabeth Rosas, author of “Abrazando el Espiritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border”

The Emergency Farm Labor Program (a.k.a. Bracero Program) was initiated in 1942 as a bilateral wartime agreement between the governments of the United States and Mexico. The program’s initial objectives were two-fold, address labor shortages in U.S. agriculture, and promote the modernization of rural Mexican peasants through a type of worker training (i.e., contract labor) that would infuse the Mexican economy with cash remittances. In the standard narrative established by scholars over the last few decades, the Bracero Program was a boon to American corporate agriculture as U.S. and Mexican government officials subsidized the profits of the industry by turning a blind eye to numerous reports of worker exploitation and employer abuses throughout the continuous twenty-two year history of the program. Additionally, scholars have highlighted the period as essential to understanding the evolution of U.S.-Mexico migratory trends, the rise of so-called illegal immigration, and the entrenchment of restrictionist-minded federal immigration policy towards Mexico.

In Abrazando el Espiritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border (University of California Press, 2014), Ana Elizabeth Rosas, Associate Professor of History and Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of California, Irvine, observes that the top down focus of previous scholarship has missed the Bracero Program’s impact on families (women and children in particular) left behind by the husbands, fathers, and brothers that sojourned to the U.S. as contract laborers. Providing a bottom up perspective rooted in rural Mexicans villages like San Martin de Hidalgo, Professor Rosas narrates the experiences and development of transnational Mexican immigrant families. Complimenting previous studies that have emphasized Mexican worker vulnerability and victimization, Abrazando el Espiritu (“embracing the spirit”) highlights the agency of Bracero families confronting the challenges of separation and alienation. In addition to official government archives, Professor Rosas relies on family photographs, love letters, popular songs, and oral histories to provide an intimate tale of family survival that transcended international borders. A truly landmark study, Abrazando el Espiritu deepens our understanding of the costs of transnational labor migration on families and the efforts undertaken by women, children, men, and the elderly to preserve familial bonds amidst government surveillance and abandonment.

Listen to our conversation at New Books in Latino Studies.

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Organizing the Oscar R. Castillo: Documenting Chicano Life and Activism Exhibit at the 55th Annual Western History Association Conference in Portland, OR

When fellow contributor Dr. Michael Bess inquired as to my interest in writing an essay about why the Oscar Castillo exhibit was organized as part of the Western History Association, I wholeheartedly accepted his offer. One of the reasons we organized the exhibit was to show that the study of history is not separate from engaging with communities we are researching and writing about. Secondly, we felt organizing the exhibit would add another dimension to a 55th Annual WHA Conference in Portland, October 21-24, 2015. Having had the experience of attending numerous conferences over the years as an academic librarian and archivist, I feel it is important to engage with the communities where we hold our conferences and what better way than via an exhibit. I want to preface my essay by acknowledging that the exhibit was the product of a 10-month process and a group effort. Also, if not for the intervention of Dr. John W. Heaton, Executive Director of the Western History Association, it probably would not have been included in the conference program at all.

Organizing the Exhibit

On December 20, 2014, my paper titled “The 1972 Raza Unida Party Convention,” was accepted for the 55th Annual Western History Association as part of the panel “The Chicano/a Movement as Western History Emerging Scholars.” I had the idea to organize a parallel event in the community to accompany the panel. I approached the photographer Oscar R. Castillo, a Los Angeles-based photographer whose archive is housed at the Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) at UCLA where I was employed in 2008, to see if he would be interested in exhibiting his photography in Portland, as part of the WHA. I had organized events remotely before. In 2008-2009, I was chair of the Southwest Oral History Association (SOHA) conference and working with a group of volunteer oral historians, faculty members and librarians, we organized a regional meeting at the University of Southern California, via e-mail and phone calls. For the Castillo exhibit, I felt all I had to do was locate a venue, perhaps a university or community college gallery in Portland willing to host the exhibit.

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Lecture on The “Lost” Apache Treaty of 1851, November 14, 2015 at 2 p.m.

Lost Apache Lecture

You are invited to attend a lecture by UTEP Professor Dr. Jeffrey Shepherd on the “Lost” Apache Treaty of 1852, on Saturday, November 14, 2015 at 2 p.m. at El Paso Museum of Archaeology.  FREE.

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Notes on the UTEP Borderlands History Conference

In August 2014 the UTEP History Department decided that they wanted to host a binational/bilingual borderlands history conference to showcase the growing doctoral program given its location on the border. Heather Sinclair, a doctoral candidate in the borderlands history program, was brought on to plan and organize the event which would take place one year later in November 2015.

As the concept began to form, Chicano historian Ernesto Chávez suggested a broad theme that would help to bring scholars from both sides of the line together. While Latin Americanists have long articulated theories on the significance of the state during the colonial and national periods, U.S. historians have long danced around its significance. In the spirit of emerging histories about the state—think Margot Canaday’s The Straight State—as well as a larger discussion about the state of borderlands history, Chávez suggested the State in/of Borderlands history as the conference theme.

UTEP History faculty members formed a committee to help steer and coordinate the conference. Sam Brunk, Yolanda Leyva, Jeff Shepherd, Paul Edison, Ignacio Martinez and Heather Sinclair met over weeks and months to discuss the call for papers as well as the other activities that the conference would offer to all those attending. Over sixty proposals were received for the first annual borderlands conference, and the committee read and grouped papers in order to advance the theme of the meeting. In the end 14 papers were chosen. While there were great papers from borders around the globe, the committee wanted to focus primarily on the U.S.-Mexico line in order to highlight the location of UTEP as a border institution. Chávez recommended Kelly Lytle Hernandez (UCLA), author of MIGRA! : The History of the U.S. Border Patrol, as the keynote speaker. Her studies underscore the significance of state actors, particularly the emergence of the border patrol and also her current work on the use of incarceration on the U.S. side of the line, as foundational to the creation of the borderlands region.

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Putting together a conference is never easy, with support from the Graduate School and the conference committee, Sinclair balanced the logistical aspects of lodging, food, and meeting space, with questions about abstracts and paper deadlines, panel chairs and commentators, and volunteers. There were many volunteers, mostly doctoral students from the Borderlands History Program, who worked to create the poster and the program, as well as during the event. Over the course of the year committee members took on different roles in the department, Leyva ended her three years as history department chair and Brunk began his with a seamless transition. Their borderlands expertise and overall investment in the conference helped to move things forward. As the conference approached, scholars registered and program notes were fine tuned.

DSC_0407 (2)The conference was a two-day event overflowing with panels and discussions about the state. Lytle Hernandez kicked off the event with a fantastic keynote address held at UTEP’s El Paso Natural Gas Conference Center that traced our contemporary crisis of over incarceration to its origins in the borderlands. In the vein of Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, Lytle Hernandez shifted the discussion to understand the genesis of ethnic Mexican incarceration in the United States. The Immigration Act of 1929, championed by Senator Blease, not only criminalized the migration of ethnic Mexicans into the United States, but also the incarceration of Mexicans, Lytle Hernandez argued, further racialized them as permanent foreigners in need of removal from the body politic. Using settler colonial theory that posits land acquisition—the formation and reproduction of colonizers social structures on stolen land—as the ideological framework for understanding mass incarceration of ethnic Mexicans in the early twentieth century, Lytle Hernandez discussed the creation of La Tuna, in Anthony, New Mexico and blank prison in Arizona as the first major federal prisons designed to incarcerate immigration violators along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Her passionate call for greater study of and activism against the grave crisis of migrant incarceration in the borderlands, left many graduate students feeling energized and euphoric as we celebrated Lytle Hernandez during the evening’s reception. The wine flowed and the food was plentiful as Mexican and U.S. scholars of the Borderlands were introduced or reconnected during the festivities. Students socialized with each other and waited to speak with the many prominent historians that attended the event. Mario T. Garcia, Fernando Saúl Alanís Enciso, and Cheryl Martin among others engaged with up and coming graduate students throughout the evening. Continue reading

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Upcoming Event on the Legacy of the Revolution in Northern Mexico

Dear readers, if you’re going to be in Mexico City between November 17th and 19th, we wanted you to know about a great series of panels that will be hosted by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). The venue for the conference is the Museo de la Revolution en la Frontera. Panels include a retrospective on Friedrich Katz’s work and his perspective on the Revolution in northern Mexico. The event also has workshops and other exhibits scheduled. We’ve included the poster INAH is circulating. For more information, you can also check out the museum’s website:


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UTEP Borderlands History Conference, Nov. 6-7, 2015

Keynote Speaker, Panels and Panelists:


Friday, November 6, 2015.


Dr. Kelly Lytle Hernández (above) from UCLA presented the conference keynote address from her latest work titled: “Caged Birds: immigration and the Rise Of Mexican Incarceration in the United States” — at El Paso Natural Gas Conference Center, University of Texas at El Paso.


Saturday, November 7, 2015. 


Dr. Julian Lim (above), Assistant Professor, from Arizona State University, presents her paper titled: “Space Outside States?: Borderlands, Statelessness, and Migrations” at the Hilton Garden Inn El Paso/University as part of the Panel 1: “Borders, Bodies and the State.”



Conference organizer Heather Sinclair (above), Doctoral Candidate at the University of Texas at El Paso, presented her paper “Borders, Bodies, and Babies: The State and Precarious Reproduction In the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1922-1942.” at the Hilton Garden Inn El Paso/University.
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Sunday Reading Suggestions: “The Refugees at Our Door” and “Erasing the U.S.-Mexico Border”

Last month, the New York Times ran an excellent profile about how the United States has outsourced to Mexico a crackdown against migrants looking to reach the U.S.-Mexico border. The author, Sonia Nazario, travels to Mexico to meet and write about the people affected by this policy, many of whom are living in shelters across the country. She describes the exhaustive ordeals migrants have endured, walking great distances through difficult mountain terrain, and fearing for their lives against abuse from gangs, the police, and others. The profile includes compelling photography of people’s living conditions. Nazario writes:

Although President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico said when he announced the so-called Southern Border Plan that it was to “protect the human rights of migrants as they pass through Mexico,” the opposite has happened. By the Mexican government’s own accounting, 72,000 migrants have been rescued from kidnappers in recent years. They are often tortured and held for ransom. The survivors tell of being enslaved working in marijuana fields or forced into prostitution. Many are killed — sometimes they have organs harvested — in what’s become an invisible, silent slaughter. The government push has been interpreted as open season on migrants who have become prey to an exploding number of criminals and the police who rob, rape, beat and kill them.

In another story we wanted to bring to your attention about a new exhibit along the border that combines art and activism. Writing for the Phoenix New Times, Lynn Trimble describes how artist Ana Teresa Fernández and volunteers have begun painting portions of the border fence that separates Nogales, Sonora from Nogales, Arizona. They “erase” the fence by painting it sky blue, allowing it to blend in with the horizon. It is part of a broader campaign that has seen people do the same elsewhere along the border. Trimble writes:

Fernandez conceived both “paint outs” as a way of erasing the border. By painting the border fence blue to match the sky, she created the illusion that the fence no longer existed along a portion of the border. In each case, she worked alongside others to make it happen. About three dozen people painted with her in Nogales, including ASU students, community members, and her mom — whom Fernandez credits with raising her consciousness of the border.

For the full stories, follow the links. Enjoy!

The Refugees at Our Door

Artist Ana Teresa Fernández on Erasing the U.S.-Mexico Border with Blue Paint

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A conversation with Geraldo L. Cadava on “Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland”

Due in large part to sensationalist representations in contemporary media and politics, the U.S.-Mexico border is popularly understood as a space of illegal activity defined by threats to national security. Viewed through the late-20th and early-21st century prisms of drug wars, immigration restriction, terrorism, surveillance, and resurgent American nationalism, the border itself appears to be a definitive boundary between dichotomous societies, nations, and people. Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University Geraldo L. Cadava challenges this view in his book Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland (Harvard University Press, 2013). Focusing on the Arizona-Sonora segment of the U.S.-Mexico border during the mid-to-late 20th century, Cadava narrates the interlocked histories of Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and whites as regional boosters (i.e., politicians and businessmen on both sides of the border) envisioned the formation of a Sunbelt Borderland extending from the urbanizing centers of Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona to the industrializing locales of Nogales, Hermosillo, and Guaymas, Mexico. Engaging the findings of scholars that have focused on the hardening of the U.S.-Mexico border through restrictionist federal immigration policies and the increased policing of the boundary itself during the first half of the 20th century, Cadava argues that recent borderlands history is “defined less by the international line itself and more by the range of economic, political, social, and cultural relationships that transcended the line.” What emerges is a rich history of transnational communication and movement throughout the region by a host of complex figures including businessmen, politicians, consumers, students, artists, and undocumented laborers; resulting in the development of a “regional culture forged through the institutions and traditions of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Listen to our conversation on New Books in Latino Studies.


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