Author Archives: David-James Gonzales

About David-James Gonzales

David-James Gonzales is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Southern California, where he also serves as the Academic Advisor for the USC Research Gateway Scholars Program. Trained as a U.S. historian, his research and teaching interests include: California and the West, Borderlands/Frontera Studies, civil rights and social justice movements, U.S. immigration policy, post-WWII metropolitan development, and Latina/o identity and politics. His dissertation examines the intersection of Latina/o civic engagement and metropolitan development in Orange County, CA from the New Deal to the Great Society. David-James is also the producer and host of the weekly podcast, New Books in Latino Studies, which is part of the New Books Network.

A Conversation with George T. Diaz, author of “Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling Across the Rio Grande.”

In Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling Across the Rio Grande (University of Texas Press, 2015) Professor George T. Diaz examines a subject that has received scant attention by historians, but one that is at the heart of contemporary debates over U.S.-Mexico immigration and border enforcement. Focusing on trans-border communities, like Laredo/Nuevo Laredo, Diaz details the interplay between state efforts to regulate cross-border trade and the border people that subverted state and federal laws through acts of petty smuggling and trafficking. Using folk songs (corridos), memoirs, court documents, and newspapers, Diaz uncovers the social history of a transnational contrabandista community that responded to the hardening of the U.S.-Mexico border and the enforcement of trade regulations through the formation of a moral economy. Holding nuanced views of newly erected legal and physical barriers to the mobility of people and consumer goods across the border, contrabandistas established a cultural world of smuggling that regulated trade on its own terms and frustrated state efforts to define and police notions of legality/illegality.

Foreshadowing our contemporary moment in which the Rio Grande Valley is associated with criminality, violence, and drug trafficking, Diaz argues, (1) that it was the creation and enforcement of national borders by the U.S. and Mexican states that led to smuggling by establishing a market for contraband goods; and (2) that border people were proactive agents in negotiating and obstructing state efforts to regulate and criminalize activities that were common practice and essential to life along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Listen to this conversation in its entirety on the New Books in Latino Studies podcast.

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A Conversation with Kelly Lytle Hernandez and John Mckiernan-González: recent approaches to the scholarship of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Scholarship on the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands composes a significant and influential genre within the field of U.S. Western History and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies. Geographically rooted in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico, or Greater Mexico, publications in this subfield explore a broad range of themes including: migration and labor, citizenship and race, culture and identity formation, gender and sexuality, politics and social justice, just to name a few.

This conversation features two prominent historians of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands: Kelly Lytle Hernandez, author of Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol (UC Press, 2010), and John Mckiernan-González, author of Fevered Measures: Public Health and Race at the Texas-Mexico Border, 1848-1942 (Duke University Press, 2012). My discussion with Kelly and John focuses on their exemplary scholarship to explore how historians conceptualize, investigate, and explain the history of the U.S.-Mexico Border region. In particular, we discuss how the U.S.-Mexico border exists in the minds of policy makers, bureaucrats, low level officials, businessmen and the public at large, as more than a fixed political boundary. Indeed, competing notions of who and what the border is supposed to control has historically shaped ideas about race, public policy, and law enforcement practices throughout the U.S.-Mexico border region. In addition to their existing work, we discuss their forthcoming publications which signal exciting new directions in the field of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies and U.S. History in general.

This conversation was recorded during a session of the 109th annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association held earlier this month in Kona, Hawaii.

Listen to this conversation in its entirety by clicking HERE

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A conversation with Marc Simon Rodriguez, author of “Rethinking the Chicano Movement” (Routledge, 2015)

In Rethinking the Chicano Movement (Routledge, 2015), Marc Simon Rodriguez surveys some of the most recent scholarship on the Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement, situating the struggle within the broader context of the 1960s and 1970s, and assessing its ethos and legacy. Illustrating the movement’s national scope, Dr. Rodriguez highlights: electoral activism in Crystal City Texas, the Farmworker Movement in the California’s San Joaquin Valley, community and educational reform efforts in Denver and Los Angeles, and the rise of Chicano media and arts throughout urban and rural communities across the country. Whereas previous generations of scholars sought to distance the Chicana/o mobilizations from the Mexican Americanist movement of the 30s, 40s, 50s, and early 60s, Rodriguez correctly asserts that El Movimiento blended practical reformist goals with a militant ethos. Youthful in character, determined to establish community control, and impatient for change, Rodriguez concludes that The Movement’s ultimate legacy was indeed profound as it established “the infrastructure to accommodate the Latino demographic revolution of the late twentieth century.”

Listen to the full conversation at the New Books in Latino Studies website, or subscribe and download via iTunes or Stitcher.

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A Conversation with Roberto Lint Sagarena, author of “Aztlan and Arcadia: Religion, Ethnicity, and the Creation of Place.”

The (re)making of place has composed an essential aspect of Southern California history from the era of Spanish colonialism to the present. In Aztlan and Arcadia: Religion, Ethnicity, and the Creation of Place (NYU Press, 2014) Associate Professor of American Studies at Middlebury College Roberto Lint Sagarena examines the competing narratives of Anglo American conquest and ethnic Mexican reconquest following the U.S. War with Mexico in the mid-19th century. Employing a transnational lens that illuminates the commonalities between Spanish colonizers, Mexican criollos, Anglo American settlers, and ethnic Mexican Californians, Dr. Lint Sagarena argues that the ethno-nationalist histories of Aztlan and Arcadia share commonalities in logic, language, and symbolism that are rooted in religious culture and history. From Anglo American Hispanophilia to Chicana/o indigenismo, Professor Lint Sagarena sheds new light on the region’s long and conflicted history over its multi-ethnic past as well as the understanding by many of its inhabitants that “owning place requires owning history.”

Listen to the full conversation at New Books in Latino Studies or via iTunes and Stitcher.

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“Democracy in the Fields” Website Release

Last Sunday (April 3, 2016) I had the pleasure of attending the launch of a wonderful new multi-media website that tells the story of “the summer of 1975,” which details the efforts of Salinas Valley farmworkers to join the United Farmworkers Union following the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act in May of 1975 (signed into law on June 5, 1975 by Gov. Jerry Brown).

Democracy in the Fields was made possible by the collaboration of Miriam Pawel (author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez), Mimi Plumb (photographer), Wendy Vissar (web designer), Bob Barber (journalist), and a generous grant from California Humanities. The event was held at the National Steinbeck Center.

demointhefields Continue reading

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A conversation with Natale Zappia, author of “Traders and Raiders: The Indigenous World of the Colorado Basin, 1540-1859.”

In Traders and Raiders: The Indigenous World of the Colorado Basin, 1540-1859 (UNC Press, 2014) Assistant Professor of History at Whittier College Natale Zappia provides an in-depth look into the “interior world” of the Lower Colorado River. Tracking the people, networks, economies, and social relations of an expansive indigenous world that includes parts of the modern-day states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California, Baja California, and Sonora, Mexico, Dr. Zappia narrates the history of the region through an examination of its diverse ecology and multiethnic political economy. Breaking from the Eurocentric narrative tropes of “discovery,” “conquest,” and “frontier,” Zappia’s interior world is a fluid borderland where the practices of trading and raiding are central in linking indigenous, Spanish, Mexican, and American people, ideas, and commodities into fragile interdependent networks emanating from indigenous trade centers and roadways along the Colorado and Gila Rivers. Traversing the pre-Columbian, Spanish, Mexican, and American eras, Traders and Raiders challenges us to consider anew the ecology, people, and developments that have shaped the region to the present-day.

Listen to this conversation in its entirety on the New Books in Latino Studies podcast.

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A conversation with Laura Isabel Serna, author of “Making Cinelandia: American Films and Mexican Film Culture Before the Golden Age.”

During the early decades of the 20th century the nation of Mexico entered the modern era through a series of social, political, and economic transformations spurred by the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920. At the same time, American film companies increasingly sought opportunities to expand their market share by exporting films to exhibitionists in Mexico and Latin America. As government bureaucrats and progressive reformers sought to unify and rebuild the Mexican state, the cinema became a critical site through which the post-revolutionary ideals of modernization, secularism, and ethnic nationalism were promoted.

In Making Cinelandia: American Films and Mexican Film Culture Before the Golden Age (Duke University Press, 2014), Associate Professor of Critical Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California Laura Isabel Serna vividly describes the process of cultural exchange that played out across the U.S.-Mexico borderlands during this critical period in the development of the modern Mexican state. Focusing on the “agency of Mexican audiences, distributers, cinema owners, and journalists,” Professor Serna narrates the dynamic process of how American film was received, interpreted, and fashioned to meet the needs of Mexican state officials and a “transnational Mexican audience.” Illuminating alternative responses to Mexicana/o “encounters with American mass culture” that did not always result in the acculturation of American values, Dr. Serna argues that movie going promoted a growing sense of Mexican national identity among the emerging diasporic community of transnational Mexican citizens in the post-revolutionary era.

Listen to this conversation in full at New Books in Latino Studies.

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Review of “Bordertown” Prescreening

 

bordertown

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.

BordertownPreScreenPanel

(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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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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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.

DJ

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