Monthly Archives: September 2016

Gender and Intimacy Across the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Conference

web_bannerCheck out the schedule for this fantastic conference presented by the University of California Santa Barbara!

September 30-October 1, 2016

For more information contact:

Miroslava Chávez-Garcia, Ph.D.


Tel: 530-219-3933

September 30, 2016
5:00-5:15 pm: Welcome & Introduction, Sharon Farmer, Chair & Professor, History
5:15-6:00 pm: Keynote Speaker, Dr. Alexandra M. Stern, Professor of American Culture, Women’s Studies, History, and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan.
6:00-8:00 pm: Catered Dinner & Informal Discussion
October 1, 2016
8:00-8:45 am: Coffee, Tea, and Light Refreshments
8:45-9:00 am: Welcome & Introductions, Miroslava Chávez-Garcia & Verónica Castillo-Muñoz

Session I
9:00-10:30 am: Cultural Studies, Media, & Personal Narratives in Contemporary U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
Laura Barraclough, Assistant Professor, American Studies, Yale University, “Charro Masculinity in Motion: Gender, Sexuality, and the Family on Hulu’s Los Cowboys”
Juan Llamas-Rodríguez, Ph.D. Candidate, Film & Media, UCSB, “The Familial Ties of the Female NarcoTrafficker”
Jennifer Tyburczy, Assistant Professor, Feminist Studies, UCSB, “Sex Toys after NAFTA: Transnational Class Politics, Erotic Consumerism, and the Economy of Female Pleasure in Mexico City”
Deborah Boehm, Associate Professor, Anthropology and Women’s Studies/Gender, Race, and Identity, University of Nevada Reno, “Divided by Citizenship and/or Geography: Partnerships in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands”
Commentators: D. Inés Casillas, Associate Professor, Chicana/o Studies, UCSB, & Leisy Abrego, Associate Professor, Chicana/o Studies, UCLA
Audience: Comment

Session II
10:45 am-12:15 pm: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender, Marriage, and Intimacy in 20th-Century U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
Celeste Menchaca, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, History, Texas Christian University, “Staging Crossings: Policing and Performing Difference at the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1906-1917”
Marla A. Ramírez, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Sociology and Sexuality Studies, SFSU, “Transnational Gender Formations: A Banished U.S. Citizen Woman Negotiates Motherhood & Marriage Across the U.S.-Mexico Border”
Jane Lily López, Ph.D. Candidate, Sociology, UCSD, “Together and Apart: Mixed-Citizenship Couples in the Mexican Border Region”
Commentators: Denise Segura, Professor, Sociology, UCSB, & Verónica Castillo-Muñoz, Assistant Professor, History, UCSB
Audience: Comment
Lunch Break: 12:15 pm – 1:15 pm

Session III
1:30 pm – 3:00 pm: Contesting Gender, Family, and Marriage in the 19th-Century U.S.-Borderlands
Margie Brown-Coronel, Assistant Professor, History, CSU, Fullerton, “History Makers in the Borderlands: Josefa Del Valle and Legacy Building in California, 1880 to 1940”
Amy Langford, Ph.D. Candidate, History, American University, “Saints on the Border: Plural Marriage and the Contest for Authority in the Mormon Colonies of Mexico, 1885 to 1915”
Erika Pérez, Assistant Professor, History, University of Arizona, “The Zamorano-Daltons and the Unevenness of U.S. Conquest in California: A Borderland Family at the Turn of the 20th Century”
Commentators: James Brooks, Professor, History & Anthropology, UCSB, & Miroslava Chávez-García, Professor, History, UCSB
Audience: Comment
3:00-3:15 pm: Concluding Remarks & Publishing Timeline
Miroslava Chávez-García, Verónica Castillo-Muñoz, & Marc Rodríguez, Editor, Pacific Historical Review


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Peyote and the Racialized War on Drugs

In an article  published in the Christian Century blog (here), Lisa Barnett, Ordained Minister (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ) and PhD candidate in U.S. history at Texas Christian University, discusses some of her dissertation research which looks at the ritual use of peyote by the Native American Church. Of special interest to borderlands scholars, Barnett’s research addresses how in the late nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth centuries, a commercialized peyote trade developed along the U.S.-Mexican border connecting merchants in the borderlands region of the Rio Grande to a variety of Indian tribes residing in Oklahoma and Indian Territories. In this article she examines how peyote became criminalized because of its perceived threat to Christianizing Native Americans.


                                     New York Times, 1923

Barnett writes:

“The mild hallucinogen, derived from the top of a cactus growing in the Rio Grande area, became the basis of a new American Indian religion in the late 19th century. As the peyote religion quickly spread throughout Oklahoma Territory to other tribes in the western half of the U.S., white missionaries and government officials became alarmed. In their zero-sum mindset, they viewed Peyotism as a threat to their efforts to Christianize the Native American peoples.”

Read this fascinating article at the Christian Century blog, linked here.

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Film Notes: Dread and Despair in Desierto

Desierto (2016) is a kind of horror story, and one seemingly tailor-made for this overheated US presidential election. As the Republican candidate has stoked xenophobia and recently delivered an angry speech in Arizona, this film—although imperfectly—illustrates how violence can occur when a whole group of people are denied their humanity.

Written and directed by Jonás Cuarón, Desierto tells the story of undocumented immigrants attempting to cross into the United States. It shines light on a small fragment of a much larger history of immigration in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. From the Mexican Revolution, which saw thousands cross into the United States to escape violence, to the forced repatriation programs that the U.S. government carried out in the Great Depression, it is a history marked by individual and communal hardship. Looking further into the twentieth century, this sense of Mexican labor  as “cheap,” with workers seen as “disposable” (a subtext to the film) can be traced to the Bracero program (1942-1964), and later to the heavy economic impact of NAFTA on rural Mexican communities in the 1990s.

The film opens on a long, slow panoramic view of the Arizona-Sonora desert. A wood-panel truck carrying the immigrants stops, unable to go further. The coyotes, including one played by Diego Cataño, orders the group out to begin the rest of the trek on foot. The audience follows the story from the perspective of Moises (Gael García Bernal), who was hoping to reunite with him family after having been arrested and deported for a minor traffic violation.

Unknown to this group, a monster lurks in this desert. The audience receives its first glimpses of the villain, Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), driving in a pick-up truck, listening to country music. Attached to the back bumper of the vehicle is a dusty, yellow “don’t’ tread on me” sticker. Along with his trusty dog Tracker, Sam patrols the sparse landscape, while downing hefty amounts of whisky. At one moment, he stops to chat with a Border patrol officer. After traveling deeper into the remote landscape, he comes across the small group of immigrants exhausted under the hot sun. From a distance, he takes position and with a rifle, takes aim.

It is at this moment the viewer realizes that Desierto is something very different from the quite, brooding film that opened. With a sparse script that has the actors showing their emotions on-screen more than talking through the scenes, what follows is a brutal and violent narrative. Like any horror film, the monster decimates the group with a series of swift blows, and then slowly and methodically hunts down the desperate survivors. It is bloody business, made harder to watch given the cruelty of the act. Morgan, with only a handful of words spoken during the entire film, dominates the screen and leaves one with a deep sense of dread as he prowls further into this ugly massacre.

Countering Morgan’s villainy, García Bernal delivers a strong performance. It acknowledges the desperate ordeal his character is in, while also finding a deeper strength as he tries to escape with another immigrant, Adela (Alondra Hidalgo). What ensues is a taut cat-and-mouse game across the rocky, arid landscape. The desert cinematography is captivating, and plays its own part in setting the feel of the film’s atmosphere for the audience. It is a beautiful background for what is otherwise an unrelentingly dark and violent story.

Ultimately, Desierto remains uncomfortable and deeply disturbing throughout much of its 90-minute length. Given the fraught politics of race and identity, as well as the everyday violence witnessed in communities in the United States and Mexico, the film’s exaggerated premise still felt a little too real. With its loose script, the director also leaves much of the interpretation up to the audience. We know that what Morgan’s Sam is doing is wrong, and we know that García Bernal’s Moises is the hero, but many of the scenes haunted me long after I’d left the theater. Perhaps, that was Cuarón’s intent.


Desierto premiered in France and Mexico in April 2016. It will be out in US theaters in October.

Lina Murillo helped with the editing of this review. 

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