Monthly Archives: May 2016

Race and Identity in Borderlands Food Culture

Dear readers, the New Yorker has just published a fascinating essay about the Afghanistan immigrant, Zarif Khan, who arrived in Wyoming at the turn of the twentieth century. His life crossed national and cultural boundaries as he made his home in North America. Khan went one to become famous for selling tamales across the region and not only gained the nickname “Hot Tamale Louie,” but also U.S. citizenship (twice). The feature, by Kathryn Schulz, explores historical issues tied to race and ethnic identity, and also how these characteristics are interpreted by local and foreign groups. Likewise, the impact of food culture and how it is viewed by communities is an important part of this story.

For more on Khan’s life, read the full article, here.

Categories: News and Announcements | 2 Comments

Seminar Notes: Developing Transboundary Institutions

Last month, the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, where I work, hosted Dr. Debora VanNijnatten, an Associate Professor and Chair of the Political Science and North American Studies department at Wilfrid Laurier University. She specializes in issues of bilateral governance across North America, and is working with a research group examining how institutions coordinate across borders to tackle environmental challenges, including climate change. Although she has also studied the U.S.-Mexico border, currently her work is focused on the Great Lakes region to understand how the United States and Canada handle shipping, resource management, and other activities. It is a region with a long history of treaties and binational agreements, which has forged a highly institutionalized space to address concerns of land and water use.


Dr. Debora VanNijnatten. Photo credit: Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega.

During the seminar, Dr. VanNijnatten noted that although there are a number of binational institutions in place, significant environmental problems that are difficult to resolve continue to face the region. Organizations have successfully addressed targeted problems, but larger, and more complex issues, such as dealing with cross-sector challenges that affect numerous communities and public/private interests, are a much harder task. Many scientists who study the Great Lakes area are concerned that this border region is at an ecological tipping point.

As a historian of the US-Mexico borderlands, what struck me most about Dr. VanNijnatten’s work is the importance of thinking about the history of institutions and transboundary governance. Certainly, issues of water and land use have deeply marked the U.S.-Mexico border region as well; from the impact of building of the Hoover Dam for the Colorado River Basin to modern-day disputes over water management in times of severe drought. A multidisciplinary approach that incorporates an understanding of policymaking and quantitative/qualitative methods, within an historical context, can be useful to chart the longue durée of local, state, and federal decision-making in everyday life along the border. The industrial and transport infrastructure built between nations affects economic access for regional communities (benefitting some places more than others) and also leaves a lasting mark on the natural environment. An historical understanding of the institutions that were formed to determine and enforce bilateral agreements is critical to developing a clearer view of how people cope with the challenges of managing borderlands resources.

Returning to Dr. VanNijnatten’s work, her group is developing a model to understand transboundary governance. They’re looking at a wide range of topics that affect communities and institutions, including degrees of compliance, info-sharing, and legal and political legitimacy. She notes that an important aspect of transboundary governance is how networks (people and communities) interact with institutions (government agencies, etc.) to understand and respond to regional problems. Her team finds that even in borderland areas, like the Great Lakes, with a long history of bilateral agreements, there still occurs considerable amounts of fragmentation and lack of coordination between nation-states. Thinking about how these themes address the history of the U.S.-Mexico border can inform our own work on the institutionalization of political and economic priorities in this region.

For more of Dr. VanNijnatten’s work, click here. My colleague, Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega, has also written about this seminar, here.

Categories: conferences | Leave a comment

Summer Book Sale at OU Press

Dear readers, like any academic, we love a good book sale, too. The University of Oklahoma Press has just announced its summer sale with a large selection of titles available for up to 40%. For more details, follow the link.


Categories: Book Sale, News and Announcements | Leave a comment

Q&A with Michel Hogue about “Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People”

On October 5, 2015, the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University hosted Michel Hogue (Associate Professor of History at Carleton University in Ottawa) to speak about his new book, Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People. You can watch the video of that talk below. His book was published in 2015 by the University of North Carolina Press with the aid of a Redd Center grant. Ever one to remind our community of scholars that there are borderlands to the north as well, I highly recommend his work and thankfully I am not the only one singing Hogue’s praises. Since its publication and his talk for the Redd Center, Metis and the Medicine Line has won the Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize, was a finalist for the Canada Prize in the Humanities, and is still a finalist for the prestigious Sir John A. Macdonald Prize (winners to be announced on May 31).  Prof. Hogue was kind enough to participate in a Q&A below about the book. Questions by Brenden W. Rensink, responses by Michel Hogue.


Continue reading

Categories: Interviews | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

BHIP #8: We speak to Dr. Grace Peña Delgado!

Grace Delgado (3)

Dr. Grace Peña Delgado. Photo credit: Dr. Ernesto Chávez.


It was a lovely morning drive to Santa Cruz, California to meet with and interview Dr. Grace Peña Delgado. Dr. Delgado is currently Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Making the Chinese Mexican: Global Migration, Exclusion, and Localism in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (Stanford University Press: 2012) which was distinguished as a CHOICE Academic title. Additionally, she co-authored Latino Immigrants in the United States (Polity, 2012) with Ronald Mize.

Delgado has penned several noteworthy articles including her latest piece, “Border Control and Sexual Policing: White Slavery and Prostitution along the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1903-1910,” in the Western Historical Quarterly which garnered several awards including the Judith Lee Ridge Award for best article in history published by a member of the Western Association of Women Historians and the Bolton-Cutter Award for best article on Spanish Borderlands history. We had a wonderful conversation about her past projects and her current and future research. Delgado discussed the significance of migration, immigration, race, gender, and sexuality in the borderlands, and about the ways in which the state as a focus of study is becoming more important as we understand the history of the making of the Mexico-U.S. and the Canada-U.S. boundary.

Delgado explained how she discovered the topic for her first book Making the Chinese Mexican. Listening to her grandparents recall the expulsion of the Chinese community out of Sonora, Mexico, Delgado realized she had no historical knowledge of this event. She saw promise in this little known topic and this transnational story became the focus of her dissertation and then her book. In the end Delgado believes her manuscript is a critique of nationalism on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. While there is a strong historical understanding of the dangers of American nativism at the turn of the twentieth century, her book shows the ways in which Mexican nationalism/nativism pushed back and forged a distinct border culture along the border of Arizona and Sonora, specifically as it related to the racialization of Chinese and Mexican communities in the region.

Her current project emerged alongside her research for her first book; as she dug through archival material that discussed the exclusion of Chinese from the United States and Mexico, she discovered documents that related to white slavery and the policing of women’s bodies along the border. While her first book revealed the layers of racial justifications for national exclusion, her current research unpacks the gendered and sexualized modes of exclusion, particularly for women. Delgado believes that a deeper and more nuanced analysis of state bureaucracy will reveal the ways in which sexuality lay at the foundation of state control along the border. She contends that the state and state formation mechanisms have been absent from the ways in which we analyze identity formation and the creation of communities along the border.

We also talked about the influence of Chicano/a and Latino/a historiography and methods in her research. Delgado made clear that her next book will reclaim borderlands history as Chicano/a history and vice versa. As borderlands scholars begin to address different questions, Delgado suggests this work has not been attributed to Chicano and Chicana historiography. She explains that as scholars we have “lost track of the contributions of Chicano historiography of 40 years past and we’ve also lost track of the way in which they’ve talked about the state and state formation on the border…” Dr. Delgado explains that her next book, focusing on prostitution, white slavery, and state formation will bring Chicano/a scholarship back in conversation with borderlands historiography and firmly place Chicano/a history back in the borderlands.

I asked Delgado about how she approaches teaching U.S. history, given her research and analysis of borderlands history. “I teach histories of American empire-building through critiques of citizenship and nationalism that also include the Mexican side of the equation,” Delgado explained. She places Chicano/a history, specifically, within a hemispheric framework and teaching through a postcolonial lens. Delgado believes that these ideas as well as her tenure in Pennsylvania inspired her to write her book Latino Immigrants in the United States in order to show linkages between Chicano/a and Latino/a scholarship and experiences in the United States. Delgado states that bridging this scholarship and translating this historical knowledge for students can help them to understand the roots of collective activism against American nativism in this country.

There is so much more we discussed, specifically in regards to state building and the management and control of bodies along the border. I recommend listening to the entirety of the interview in order to truly appreciate the scope of Delgado’s work and knowledge. I could have asked Dr. Delgado a million more questions about nativism, bureaucracies, immigration and the power of the state in the borderlands. It was a pleasure to interview her and yet again confirm the importance of borderlands history in our research and teaching.

I would like to thank Dr. Delgado for inviting me to the University of California, Santa Cruz and all the Borderlands History blog audience for tuning in to this exciting interview.

Special thanks to Marko Morales for his audio editing skills and to Mike Bess for his tech support.

Categories: Interviews, Methodology, Teaching/Professional Development | 1 Comment

Call for Papers: UTEP Borderlands History Conference 2017


The UTEP History Department is excited to announce The Annual University of Texas at El Paso Borderlands History Conference, February 10-11, 2017 here in El Paso.  This year’s theme is Shifting Borders: Gender, Family, and Community, and UTEP will welcome keynote speaker Sonia Hernández (Texas A&M).   Paper and panel proposals are accepted until September 23, 2016.

CONVOCATORIA EXTENDIDA hasta el 23 de septiembre!

El Departamento de Historia de la Universidad de Texas, El Paso anuncia la Conferencia Anual de Historia Fronteriza de UTEP, 10-11 de febrero de 2017 en El Paso, Texas. El tema es “Fronteras movedizas: género, familia y comunidad” y le darán la bienvenida a la presentadora principal, Sonia Hernández (Texas A&M).  Se aceptan ponencias (individuales o de mesas) hasta el 23 de septiembre de 2016.

Call for Papers (ENGLISH)

Convocatoria de Ponencias (ESPAÑOL)

Categories: Calls for Papers, conferences, News and Announcements | Leave a comment

Film Notes: The Problematic Beauty of Sicario

I had intended to see Sicario (2015) when it arrived in theaters. Classes, grading, paper revisions, and committee meetings got in the way, and by the time the semester had ended it was gone from cinemas. Recently, the film appeared on Netflix in Mexico, where I live. Sicario is visually striking. The camera pans across mountains that shape the landscape around El Paso and Juárez as a brooding score adds a sense of dread. Viewers familiar with the areas depicted in the film will notice many landmarks; UTEP along I-10 peeks out in the distance; there’s a beautiful view of the Parque Público Federal El Chamizal; the Santa Fe and Córdoba bridges feature prominently as set pieces, early on in the narrative.

Some have likened Sicario to an earlier drug war movie, Traffic (2000). The parallel is not entirely correct. Although this film sees Benicio del Toro reprise the role of a disillusioned Mexican law enforcement officer willing to blur the lines of what is right and wrong, the similarities end there. At other times, Sicario felt like a spiritual sequel to Zero Dark Thirty (2012). The cinematography is stylistic, plodding, and punctuated by bursts of intense violence. Actors depicting members of Delta Force figure prominently as they join a nihilistic and shadowy operator played by Josh Brolin, who carries out a mission in Juárez escorted by Mexican Federal Police. Like Zero Dark Thirty, it also justifies torturing informants. The narrative vehicle for the audience is embodied by Emily Blunt who plays a FBI hostage rescue specialist, channelling a sense of confusion and frustration at the events she sees once she agrees to join Brolin’s team in the aftermath of a difficult police raid in Arizona.

Once Sicario is in the thick of its narrative, it transforms into a kind of macabre Alice in Wonderland. The audience is brought down into the tunnels that cross beneath the U.S.-Mexican border. The camera switches to disorienting night-vision and thermal-vision tones of green, grey, black, and white. It is a looking glass onto a violent, otherworldly landscape. And there’s this growing sense of realization that, perhaps, Blunt’s character isn’t the focus of the film after all, and it has another story to tell us.

From an historical perspective, there is a deeper problem with this film. It is an ahistorical mash. A comic book story about cartels and killers that mixes time periods and provides little context to the viewer of the origins and reasons for the drug war. Soon after the film’s start, U.S. agencies, perhaps channeling General John J. Pershing, launch a coordinated punitive raid with Mexican federal counterparts against the Sonora cartel in response to an IED-style attack near Phoenix. Where did these guerrilla tactics come from? Where, and how, did the cartels accrue such power? Sicario is deafeningly silent about the American role in the drug war. Brolin’s character longs for the status quo ante of the 1980s, but this nightmare-cum-dream, too, is a red herring meant to confuse audiences. The film’s narrative is an ouroboros of violence and revenge.

Ultimately, the feeling coming out of Sicario is empty. Yes, it is expertly filmed and acted. Along the way, audiences are treated to solid performances, including by supporting actors, Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernández, Jeffrey Donovan, and Jon Bernthal. Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins capture the beauty and desolation of the natural landscape that stands in sharp contrast to the bustling cities and towns along the border.

The craftsmanship, however, does not negate the sense that the journey audiences follow through these arid scenes may simply lead to a dead end. The film does little to challenge stereotypes about this region; in fact, it steeps itself in violence, not as means to educate viewers, but rather to set the scene for the next bloody action sequence. Given the politics of perception around the U.S.-Mexico border, Sicario is counterproductive. The film does not adequately address the question it implicitly poses to the audience: how, if ever, can a resolution be reached to the social problems that affect the border when only violence begets violence?


Sicario (2015) is distributed by Lionsgate and Black Label Media. Rated R.            Available on Blu-Ray and as a digital download.

Categories: Essay Series | 2 Comments

CFP: Indigenous Writing and Culture in the United States and Canada

Happy May, dear readers, we wanted to let you know about a great opportunity. Scholars who work with Indigenous writing and culture of the United States and Canada are encouraged to apply. The Literary Encyclopedia wants qualified candidates for writing projects that will expand the program’s coverage of Indigenous people. From the announcement:

All offers of contribution should come accompanied by an up-to-date CV and, in the case of doctoral students who wish to offer a contribution, also a short writing sample. The overwhelming majority (about 90%) of our contributors are academic scholars, while the remaining percentage is made up of highly endorsed doctoral students and independent researchers.

If you want to contribute, contact the volume editor, Dr. Padraig Kirwan (, or the managing editor, Dr. Cristina Sandru ( For more information, follow the link.

Categories: News and Announcements | 3 Comments

Website Built with