Author Archives: Jennifer Seman

About Jennifer Seman

I am a doctoral candidate in American History at Southern Methodist University. My research focuses on faith healing in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands during the turn of the twentieth century. I am interested in gender history, the histories of violence and spirituality as they affect the border region, as well as colonial and post-colonial history.

“Why is There No Ida B. Wells of the Borderlands?”

Notes from “Linking U.S. and Mexican Histories of Violence: Extralegal Justice on Both Sides of the Border,” a panel presented at the 131st Annual American Historical Association Meeting in Denver, Colorado.

Since the publication in 2013 of William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb’s The Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence Against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928, the question of extralegal violence against Mexicans has gained significant attention in borderlands studies.[1] In the introduction to The Forgotten Dead, authors Carrigan and Webb ask a simple but profound question: why were the lynching deaths of Mexicans forgotten? The answer to this question is not that the lynching of Mexicans was few and far between. In fact, the opposite is true, as Carrigan and Webb point out:

“From the California Gold Rush to the last recorded instance of a Mexican lynched in public in 1928, vigilantes hanged, burned, and shot thousands of persons of Mexican descent in the United States. The scale of mob violence against Mexicans is staggering, far exceeding the violence exacted on any other immigrant group and comparable, at least on a per capita basis, to the mob violence suffered by African Americans. Yet despite its importance and pervasiveness, mob violence against Mexicans has never been fully studied.”[2]

This panel, chaired by Michael J. Pfeifer from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York and featuring comments by William Carrigan, presents new research on the topic of mob violence against Mexicans that contributes to filling this lacuna in borderlands historiography as well as the history of violence more broadly.

Michael Pfeifer opened the panel by posing a series of questions:

  • How can we think in comparative terms about violence in Mexico and the U.S.?
  • How did the history of conflict in the borderlands, including racism against Mexicans, shape extralegal violence in the border?
  • How do these histories of violence influence the larger history of the U.S.-Mexico border and the larger histories of these two nations?

The first paper, (Bi)national Border Rebellions, Linchamientos, and the (Bi)centennials of the Mexican Revolution by José Angel Hernández from the University of Houston, addressed Pfeifer’s questions through an examination of linchamientos (lynching) of Mexicans at the border.

Hernández asked how the use of the Spanish term linchameinto, an importation of the American word lynching, complicates understandings of extralegal violence in the borderlands. He explained that in Mexico linchameinto does not exclusively refer to a public hanging, but could be used to describe a public burning, beating, or killing. Linchameinto could also refer to a revolt or other kinds of extra-legal violence. To demonstrate the elasticity and instability of this term, Hernández described instances of extra-legal violence that took place in the connected borderlands communities of La Mesilla, New Mexico and La Ascención, Chihuahua. He described two different and distinct instances of extra-legal violence – a fight between Republicans and Democrats that took place in the 1870s in La Mesilla where nine people died and 100 subsequently fled to Chihuahua, and an instance of narco violence in 2010 that occurred in the same region – both labeled linchameintos.

Next, Hernández posed two very interesting questions:

  1. What makes a lynching a hate crime?
  2. Why is there no Ida B. Wells of the borderlands?

In response to these questions, William Carrigan offered some ways to clarify terminology. Carrigan argues that the following three things must be present in order to call an event a lynching:

  • Community support for the event
  • Premeditation (this distinguishes between rioting and lynching)
  • How the violent act is justified: is it done “for the greater good”?

Hernández added to this list, suggesting that another important characteristic of lynching is the ritualized nature of the violence committed. Further, he stated that because the meaning of lynching has changed over time, a researcher must look for patterns of ritualized violence specific to time and place to understand what lynching looked like and what it meant in specific historical contexts.

Continuing with this discussion of terminology, Carrigan spoke about how Republicans did not want the word lynching used to refer to anti-black violence in the South during the post-Reconstruction era because at that time its meaning was not strong enough to describe the violence that African Americans were being subjected to. Carrigan explained that during the nineteenth century, lynching was associated with the Gold Rush in somewhat of a positive way– it was men taking care of law and order when there was none. Republicans wanted a stronger term to describe the awful things happening to blacks in the South. However, it was the crusading journalist Ida B. Wells who took the word lynching to describe the “Southern Horrors” committed against African Americans in the South. Wells gave the word lynching the meaning it still has today.[3]

The second paper, Out of the Ashes: How the Burning of Antonio Rodriguez Led to an Increase in Anti-Mexican Mob Violence during the 1910s by Nicholas Villanueva Jr. from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, examined how the Mexican Revolution influenced cross-border violence, particularly in Texas.[4]

Villanueva described two cases of extra-legal violence against ethnic Mexicans that occurred in Texas during the Mexican Revolution. Villanueva began with the story of the lynching of Antonio Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a 20-year-old Mexican looking for work as a farmhand in Texas. While in Texas, he was accused of murder. A mob broke into the jail cell where he was being held, forcibly removed him, tied him to a tree, and burned him alive. Rodriquez had no trial, and no one in the mob who brutally killed him was charged with a crime. This enraged Mexicans. Throughout Mexico there ensued a series of anti-U.S. boycotts, riots, and the use of rhetoric such as “Death to Yankees” and “Death to Americans.” Consequently, these rhetorical “attacks on Americans” caused anti-Mexican feeling in the U.S.

Villanueva then described the lynching of 14-yr-old Antonio Gomez. Gomez was harassed and beaten by the owner of a saloon because he was lingering outside the business. While the saloon owner was beating him, Gomez took his knife out and stabbed him. A mob formed around Gomez and lynched him. The mob was not punished. Villanueva made the point that violence against ethnic Mexicans during the Mexican Revolution escalated yet was not punished. Villanueva also compared this to events today, when hate crimes against Mexicans – especially those crossing the border or deemed here ‘illegally’ – often go unpunished. However, Villanueva argues that the lynchings of Rodriguez and Gomez were not products of the Mexican Revolution, but rather, signs of the increased racist sentiments and accompanying violence against Mexicans in Texas. To demonstrate how the State, in the form of the Texas Rangers, also took part in this violence against Mexicans, Villanueva invoked the work of South Texas attorney J.T. Canales, who wrote about the corruption of the Texas Rangers and their techniques of “Mexican Evaporation,” how they “disappeared” Mexican men who were on the Ranger’s “black list.” (To answer José Angel Hernández’s question, maybe J.T. Canales was the Ida B. Wells of the Borderlands?)

The third paper, Savage Yanquis and Enraged Mexicans: Extralegal Justice and Its Representations in Mexico and the U.S., by Gema Karina Santamaría Balmaceda from the Instituto Technológico Autónomo de Mexico, connects the history of lynching to nineteenth and early-twentieth century discourse about savagery and civilization. Through an examination of this discourse in Mexican and U.S. newspapers, this paper demonstrates how lynching served as a measure of civilization in each country. In particular, Santamaría Balmaceda shows how this discourse was deployed as justification for state violence.

Santamaría Balmaceda’s paper (she was not able to be there in person, so her paper was read by a colleague) describes how in many newspapers, the Mexican Revolution represented lawlessness, and a regression from civilization into savagery. For example, the Mexican newspaper El Universal published articles about how post-revolutionary Mexico, absent the “law and order” of Porfirio Díaz, had devolved into a place of savagery. However, in the pages of Regeneracion, a Mexican anarchist paper published in the United States, editor Ricardo Flores-Magón criticized Americans with the same language the U.S. press often used to describe Mexicans and Indians. Responding to the lynching of Antonio Rodriguez, for example, Flores-Magón chastised Americans for their “backwardness,” “ignorance,” and called them “barbarians of the U.S.” because of the lynchings that took place there. He also called these Americans religious fanatics and savages – words often used by the Mexican press to describe Indians and Mexicans in rural communities believed to be under the influence of the church.

The major point that Santamaría Balmaceda’s paper makes is that representations of lynching were used by different groups on both sides of the border to make points about “savagery and civilization” in order to defend various positions. Like the other presenters, Santamaría Balmaceda argues that the conception of lynching as only American is problematic, that there needs to be a comparative dimension in lynching historiography.

There were many excellent questions for the panelists, including questions about lower levels of mob violence, or even the threat of mob violence and how that fits into the history of racialized violence at the border. One audience member asked about the chronology of lynching: when does it begin? In 1848, as Carrigan and Webb’s book has it, or might it be placed earlier than that? These questions provoked deeper discussion of the importance and difficulty of defining terms when discussing lynching and extralegal violence.

As a borderlands historian and an instructor of U.S. History, I found this panel immensely interesting. I teach Ida B. Well’s Southern Horrors in my “Multicultural America” course, where many of my students are of Mexican descent. The challenge of teaching “Multicultural America” is to shed light upon those people and events that have for too long been on the margins of history. What I learned from this panel will, I hope, help me do that with my students when I ask them, “Why is there no Ida B. Wells of the Borderlands?”

[1] William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, The Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence Against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). See also the public history project: Refusing to Forget https://refusingtoforget.org

[2] Carrigan and Webb, 1.

[3] Jacqueline Jones Royster, ed., Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900 (Boston and New York: Bedford Books, 1997).

[4] Nicholas Villanueva Jr., The Lynching of Mexicans in the Texas Borderlands (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017).

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Clements Center Research Fellowships for the Study of Southwestern America

Clements Center for Southwest Studies 2017-2018 Fellowship Applications: Deadline for Submission, January 20, 2017.

Since 1996, the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, located at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, has nurtured scholars – both junior and senior – who work on the Southwest and Borderlands.  Scholars are given a year, in residence, in which to focus solely on completing a book manuscript. Past fellows include: Juliana Barr (Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands), Monica Perales (Smeltertown: Making and Remembering a Southwest Border Community), Katrina Jagodinsky (Legal Codes and Trees: Indigenous Women’s Sovereignty in the Sonoran and Puget Sound Borderlands, 1854-1946) and Pekka Hämäläinen (The Comanche Empire). Continue reading

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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.

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                                     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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Border Medicine

Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

Brett Hendrickson (New York and London: NYU Press, 2014)

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Review by Jennifer Koshatka Seman

As students and scholars of the borderlands, we seek innovative literature and approaches to the field that can broaden not only our perspectives, but those of our students as well. Border Medicine: A Transcultural History Mexican American Curanderismo is such a book. In Border Medicine, religious studies scholar Brett Hendrickson examines the Mexican faith healing practice, curanderismo. This practice is often associated with the U.S.-Mexico borderlands because of the presence of ethnic Mexicans in this region who practice it or believe in it. Hendrickson’s study of curanderismo sheds light on another facet of the borderlands: that it is about process and hybridity, about the creation of something new… and the sometimes-unintended consequences of this.

Gloria Anzaldúa described the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as “una herida abierta,” an “open wound” created when two nations rub against each other and the less powerful one bleeds.[1] Anzaldúa also described the borderlands as a place where new, hybrid cultural practices and identities are born because of the intersection of different peoples, ideas, and cultures in this space: “And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the life blood of two worlds merging to from a third country – a border culture.”[2] In Border Medicine, Hendrickson addresses the cultural combination that created curanderismo and the ways in which it appeals to a wide audience even beyond the borderlands. He argues that although curanderismo has historically been most closely associated with Mexicans and Mexican Americans, it has always possessed a strong appeal to Anglo Americans. Hendrickson explains, “curanderismo’s intrinsic hybrid nature opens up multiple channels of convergence with other energy-based healing modalities common in American metaphysical religion” (3). Border Medicine illuminates these “channels of convergence.”

Continue reading

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Embracing Transnationalism and Rethinking Fundamentalisms: A Review of the Borderlands and Frontiers Studies Committee Meeting at the 130th AHA Annual Conference

 

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Embracing Transnationalism and Rethinking Fundamentalisms

A Review of Frontiers of Borderlands History: Gender, Nation, and Empire – The Borderlands and Frontiers Studies Committee Meeting at the 130th AHA Annual Conference, Friday, January 6th in Atlanta, Georgia.

Participants: Elliot Young, Omar S. Valerio-Jiménez, Sonia Hernández, Julia Maria Schiavone Camacho, and Ramón A. Gutiérrez

Borderlands history is the study of a particular region – the U.S.-Mexico borderlands (for most of those attending this panel) – but it also might be more broadly conceived as the study of transnational processes that transcend borders. The chair of the Borderlands and Frontiers Studies Committee Meeting, Elliot Young (Lewis and Clark College) has demonstrated in his first monograph, Caterino Garza’s Revolution on the Texas-Mexico Border (2004), that borderlands history is at once tied to a specific region, but can also transcend it, as his recent monograph, Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era Through WWII (2014) shows. Unfortunately, I missed Elliot Young’s opening remarks due to the trouble I had navigating the vertical maze of the Marriott – one of the three enormous hotels claimed by the AHA last weekend.

I arrived while Omar S. Valerio-Jiménez (University of Texas at San Antonio) was talking about both the necessity and difficulty for borderlands historians to complete research in archives on both sides of the border, something he experienced while researching his monograph, River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands (2012). This theme, the importance of transnational archival research, came up in each paper. In fact, two overarching and overlapping questions emerged from this panel discussion. First, how is borderlands history “transnational” and what does “transnational” mean? Second, does borderlands history challenge cultural and national “fundamentalisms” and binaries or reinforce them? Continue reading

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Borderlands and Mega-Regions

FrictionlessBoarder

Richard Florida and the Creative Class Group recently examined the San Diego-Tijuana “mega-region” through the lens of regional economic development in an age when heightened national security is increasingly at odds with a globalizing economy. The resulting report, “From Border Barriers to Bi-National Promise” focuses on the established business and economic ties that connect San Diego and Tijuana, noting that a “frictionless border” would facilitate increased innovation and entrepreneurialism in industries such as high-tech on both sides of the border while allowing greater access to the thriving art, music, and culinary scenes in the mega-region. Unfortunately, the report offers that since 9/11, “The border has been seen as a national security issue rather than a commerce or economic development issue.”

Florida and his co-authors – most notably the University of California San Diego’s Mary Lindenstein Walshok – offer points to consider that are forward thinking and familiar to anyone studying the border region of the U.S. Southwest: Transportation infrastructure needs to be improved; investment needs to be made in more advanced technologies to manage border operations; and the U.S. government should separate policy from security, incorporating a wide range of departments when addressing border issues. Hopefully, this report will encourage policymakers in the fields of commerce and trade to push for reform.

What I found most illuminating about this report and salient to the study of borderlands history is how Florida conceptualizes the border defying mega-region in question. He states, “Place, not statehood, is the central axis of our time and our global economy.” Examining borderland regions in terms of “place” opposed to the geographically bounded spaces determined by borders drawn by nation-states could be useful to borderlands scholars researching other aspects of borderlands history, such as religion, culture, violence, and politics. This is true in my own work wherein documenting and understanding the sprawling expanse of South Texas and Northern Mexico over the course of a century is more a consideration of a place arbitrarily divided and not a space decided.

Click here for a full pdf of the report

 

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Tucson’s Shrine to “El Tiradito”

Brett Hendrickson, a Religious Studies scholar at Lafayette University, wrote the following piece  for the blog  Religion in the American West on the folk saint “El Tiradito” and his shrine in Tucson, Arizona. Hendrickson has studied and written about curanderismo and folk saints in depth. His book, Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo,  (link) is coming out at the end of 2014 from New York University Press. I met him at the University of New Mexico’s annual “Traditional Healing Without Borders” class two summers ago, and we have stayed in touch ever since.  Last fall we participated in a panel on Religion and Healing in the Borderlands at the 2013 Western Historical Conference and we continue to share ideas and information about curanderismo in the  U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Brett agreed to let me share this piece, originally posted on the  Religion in the American West  blog he regularly contributes to.

May 30, 2014
Tucson’s Shrine to “El Tiradito”

by Brett Hendrickson

On both sides of the international border with Mexico, devotions to so-called folk saints flourish. Some of the major figures include Jesús Malverde, the Niño Fidencio, and—of late (pun intended)—Santa Muerte. Often unorthodox, these figures once operated on the institutional edges of Catholicism, but nowadays, they often extend their power and care over devotees with multiple religious backgrounds and histories. Unlikely ever to gain official canonization, borderlands folk saints nevertheless remain the focus of a great deal of material religious activity. Continue reading

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Doing Research in Local Archives

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I recently took a research trip to South Texas to further investigate the turn-of-the-century curandero (faith healer) Don Pedrito Jaramillo, one of the subjects of my dissertation. The main purpose of this trip was to look at the J.T. Canales Estate Papers at the South Texas Archives at Texas A&M-Kingsville. I told myself that if I had time, I would travel to the place Don Pedrito lived from approximately 1881 until his death in 1907: Falfurrias, a town of about five thousand people, forty miles southeast of Kingsville and 120 miles north of the Brownsville-Matamoros border-crossing. I figured a day would be adequate as I mainly wanted to visit the Don Pedrito Jaramillo Shrine that I had discovered the previous summer on a similar research trip, and experience the place where Don Pedrito spent part of his life healing people. I did not plan to find “factual” historical evidence in Falfurrias useful for my dissertation, yet the day spent in Falfurrias was invaluable to my research in ways I did not foresee. The visit changed the way I think about history and about the stories we tell as historians. Continue reading

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Bodies on the Border

The following link will take you to a short documentary about bodies of migrants found in the Arizona desert. It asks the question: “They broke the law, but does that mean they deserve to die?”

There are strong images here, but it is very much worth watching. Continue reading

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Review of: Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries

Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries

Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández, Duke University Press 2011

In Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries, Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández forcefully argues, “…violence forms the foundations of national histories and subjectivity….”  To demonstrate this, she examines four historical flashpoints: the 1851 lynching of a Mexican woman in a California mining town, the Camp Grant Indian Massacre of 1871, the erasures of racialized and sexualized violence in South Texas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the Yaqui Indian wars of 1880-1910. In the five chapters of the book (two are dedicated to the Yaquis) Guidotti-Hernández takes each of these historical flashpoints and interrogates them, showing first how they have been minimalized and erased from national histories. She then offers new analyses of these somewhat familiar incidents, illuminating how violence creates the nation-state – both Mexican and U.S. – in the context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Continue reading

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