Author Archives: Michael K. Bess

About Michael K. Bess

Mike is an Assistant Professor of History at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, studying road building and mobility in Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border. His research interests include the history of technology, modernization, and the environment.

Job Alert: Sarah Lawrence College, International Relations (TT)

Dear readers, Sarah Lawrence College is conducting a search for candidates to fill a tenure-track position in International Relations. What piqued our interest about this posting was that one of the qualities they’re looking for in applicants is a research/teaching specialization in cross-border mobility and forced migration. As such, we wanted to bring it to your attention.

Here is the full list of qualities given in the announcement:

[R]esearch and teaching interests focus on at least two of the following: international organizations and institutions; feminist international relations; race and international relations; strategic and security studies; peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention; conflict prevention, peacebuilding and statebuilding; human rights, reconciliation and justice; cross-border mobility and forced migration; global environmental governance and challenges; global political economy and inequality.

You must have your PhD at the time of appointment, as well as teaching experience. Preferred candidates should show strength in undergraduate teaching and student development.

The deadline to apply is October 13, 2017, and the position begins in the fall of 2018.

For more information, or to apply, follow the link.

 

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CFP: New Directions in Black Western Studies

Dear readers, a call for submissions is on going for an upcoming workshop on Black Western Studies at the 57th Annual Western Historical Association, which will be held in San Diego from November 1-4, 2017. The organizers are also planning a special issue on “New Directions in Black Western Studies” for the quarterly interdisciplinary journal, American Studies. Papers accepted for the workshop will be considered for inclusion in the special issue. 

Scholars of Borderlands studies, among other research fields, are encouraged to apply. The deadline to do so is June 30th; submit your abstract (max: 500 words) via email to Jeannete Eileen Jones, Kalenda Eaton and Michael Johnson.

From the announcement:

For both the workshop and the journal we are interested in what it means to read the North American West as a Black space with varied and deep possibilities.. By this we mean, how the concept of presenting/representing the West is informed by black identities and identity-making, rival geographies tied to black mobility, black culture, black knowledge production, black arts, and black literatures. The WHA workshop and AMSJ special issue  will fill a gap in American Studies by bringing Black Western Studies into current dialogue with other fields of American Studies that focus on the intersections between race, ethnicity, and place/geography.

For more information, follow the link.

 

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Conference Notes: Borders, Braceros and Mobility at CALACS 2017

This year was my first time attending the Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies conference, which was held at the University of Guelph in early June. The theme was “Walls, Barriers, and Mobility” fitting for the global political realities facing all of us.

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University of Guelph

The panel I was on included Catherine Vézina, my colleague at CIDE, Irina Córdoba Ramírez, from the Colegio de México, and Mateo J. Carrillo of Stanford. Our topic was “Migración y movilidad transfronterizas: logística y política, 1940s-1960s,” with the goal of integrating a discussion of policy around the Bracero program with discussion of infrastructure development in northern Mexico. We were scheduled to give the session at 8:30am, Sunday morning, the last day of the conference. It’s not the ideal time to discuss economic and labor policy along the​ US-Mexico border, but I was excited to see that we had a small audience who had some great questions for us after we delivered the papers.

The session began with my work, titled, “Trade and Travel across the Border: Examining the Social, Commercial, and Labor Ties between Nuevo León and Texas, 1940s-1960s.” I gave a general overview of economic development and social ties in northeastern Mexico, focused on the relationships between business people in Monterrey, Nuevo León, and their Texan counter parts in the Rio Grande Valley. In the late 19th-century and early-to-mid 20th century, public and private cooperation facilitated growth; by the end of World War II, presidents Manuel Ávila Camacho and Franklin Delano Roosevelt met in Monterrey, calling the US-Mexico borderlands a “natural bridge” between the “Anglo-saxon and Latin cultures.”

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the business elites in the region continued to forge closer ties. At the same time as national policy and public opinion, in both countries, drifted away from bilateral agreements like the Bracero program. US and Mexican political leaders increasingly backed moves for greater restrictions on immigration and trade, respectively.

Following me, Catherine gave a detailed history of the diplomatic relationship between Mexico and the United States around the Bracero program, titled, “Destino: incierto. Malos tratos e intervención gubernamental en la reglamentación el transporte de los braceros.” She showed that shortly after the Second World War, politicians and publics in both countries, had begun to turn on the Mexican temporary workers who came to the United States under the Farm Labor Agreement of 1942.

During the war, they had been hailed as heroes who contributed to the Allied effort against fascism. But, as Catherine explained, priorities changed after the war; the Mexican government increasingly viewed the Braceros as a political problem, while in the Mexican press, these workers were often depicted as traitors and vendepatrias for having left. Likewise, in the United States, a combination of factors, including criticism of workers’ treatment by contractors, union skepticism, and racist views of Mexicans, condemned the Braceros in US public opinion.

Irina continued the discussion of the Bracero program and its participants. Hers was a cultural and oral history, titled, “Dinámicas locales en la contratación de trabajadores agrícolas dentro del Programa Bracero: los casos de las estaciones migratorias de Chihuahua y Mexicali.” It focused on the everyday impact of the Bracero program on the lives of the men who became a part of it. Irina described the recruitment centers in Mexico that processed applicants, evaluating their ability to work as farmhands and conducting medical tests to assure health.

Even as the project came under growing criticism, men continued to arrive at recruitment centers to escape unemployment or more difficult conditions in other parts of Mexico. The process was deeply politicized; state leaders demanded that in return for hosting a recruitment center, their workers should be given priority in the application process. The centers became a kind of release valve for the pressure of economic conditions in northern Mexico, allowing local men to be funneled more easily through the process of applying and going to work in the United States. When the men returned, however, they faced public scorn by some for having participated.

Lastly, Mateo (who also won the award for Best Graduate Essay at the conference, this year) presented his work, “Migrant Flows: Irrigation and Transformation in Western Mexico, 1946-1964.” He described economic conditions in western Mexico, starting with President Miguel Alemán’s support for local agriculture. Mateo notes that where roads were built, so too were irrigation networks. This relationship was crucial to improving regional mobility, and connecting rural communities to access with credit to grow their farms and ranches.

The idea of this policy was to expand work opportunities in Mexico, but other results materialized. The small loans that campesinos received for installation of irrigation could be difficult to repay. When they fell in arrears, the government had the power to cut off the waters worsening the situation, and forcing people to sell and give up their lands. As land was consolidated by business and political cronies, local people were forced to go elsewhere in search of work, including crossing the border with the United States.

As a whole, the papers captured a wide swath of geographical, political, and class factors in Mexico during the mid-to-late 20th century. Northern elites benefitted well from ties with Americans, while poor and working-class people faced loss of land or public scorn if they went to work in the United States. Although the border had long been a zone of fluid trade and mobility with heavy investment in industry and infrastructure, government policies and public opinion gradually shifted to efforts that restricted border spaces. The decline of the Bracero program underscored these factors, where public anger, worker mistreatment, and suspicion of “the other” made its existence increasingly untenable.

At the same time, the benefits of infrastructure development could oftentimes​ be limited, and even possibly detrimental for the communities they were intended to serve. Bad loan terms and aggressive payment enforcement transformed people’s lives for the worse, not better. As today’s political leaders, particularly in the United States, stoke old fears and resentments, our panel at CALACS highlighted the long legacy of tension on the border around trade, labor, and mobility, and the outsized impact national and bilateral policies can have on everyday life in the US-Mexico borderlands.

Categories: conferences, Essay Series | 1 Comment

CFP: Historicizing Immigration Controls and Resistance

Dear readers, the editors of a special issue for the Journal of American Ethnic History reached out to us about a call for papers for this project. They’re looking for submissions “that examine policies through multiple frameworks required to understand border surveillance; and that examine the politics of immigration control as both involving federal, state, and municipal actors—as well as social workers, legal advocates, and community and religious leaders—working to disparate ends.”

The editors also encourage submissions that consider “the historical origins of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, and its predecessors…” as well as work by scholars on the “cultural responses to restrict immigration policies ad enforcement practices, which historicize how immigrant and ethnic publics have used art, literature, music, and other mediums as modes of criticism.”

Submissions for the special issue are due by September 1st and should not exceed 35 pages in length, doubled-spaces with notes. Follow the JAEH style sheet and include a 50-100 word biographical note with their work. For more information, or to submit a manuscript for consideration, email the editors, Dr. Chantel Rodríguez and Dr. Andrew Urban.

Categories: Call for Papers, News and Announcements | 1 Comment

CFP: Philosophy Across the Americas: Thinking La Frontera

Dear readers, the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the Department of Philosophy of South Texas have a call for submissions to their upcoming conference to be hosted in McAllen, Texas, November 2-4, 2017. Among the wide list of suggested topics available in the poster, the organizers are looking for submissions that examine Borderlands identities, Borders and Border Walls, Immigration, and Borderlands Spirituality. The deadline to apply is August 1 with notification of a decision on September 15.

Individual abstracts should be 500-750 words, while panel abstracts should be 1,000 words, and provide a description of each presenters’ contribution. There will be an anonymous review of abstract submissions, please include in a separate document, your name, affiliation, contact information, a brief bio, and presentation title.

To submit your proposal packet click this link, be sure to write “Submission” in the subject line.

For more information, review the poster, or write Dr. Aaron Wilson.

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Job Alert: Race & Ethnicity in US History (TT)

Dear readers, the University of Toledo’s History Department has launched a search for applicants to fill a tenure-track position for a Modern American Historian whose work focuses on race and ethnicity. The selected candidate will teach U.S. and World History surveys, as well as upper-level and graduate (MA & PhD) courses in U.S. History, historiography, and methods.

Applicants must submit a cover letter, CV, teaching experience (evaluations, syllabi, etc.), and a writing sample, plus four letters of recommendation.

The department will begin evaluating submissions on June 30th and continue until the position is filled. Candidates must have a PhD in History or have scheduled their defense by October 1st, 2017. The position is scheduled to begin in fall 2017.

For more information, or to apply, follow the link.

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Job Alert: PCB-AHA Executive Director

Dear readers, the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association reached out to us to inform you that they’re conducting a search for a new executive director and institutional home. The position begins on January 1, 2018. The deadline to apply is July 1st, and applicants are asked to submit a cover letter, full CV, and two letters of recommendation (including one from a department chair or dean describing the support the institution will offer). Potential applicants should speak to their chair or dean about this position and the support they can provide. Preferred applicants will have tenure and be involved with the PCB-AHA. In addition, the search has listed specific responsibilities for the director, which are:

* Planning and oversight of the annual meeting;
* Coordinating and communicating with the AHA;
* Oversight of the program of the annual meeting;
* Coordinating fundraising for the organization;
* Oversight and monitoring of the prize committees and nominating committee;
* Hosting and updating the PCB website;
* Working effectively with the PCB President, Council, and PCB committees: the local arrangements committee and program committee appointed for each annual meeting, the standing finance committee (to oversee investments, maintain bank records, prepare taxes with the accountant, solicit patron support, and write the annual financial report), and the nominating and prize committees.

Please submit applications via email to Katherine Morrissey, current president of the PCB-AHA, and Janet Ward, chair of the search committee. Interviews are expected to be conducted at the annual meeting of the PCB-AHA, which will be held at CSU Northridge from August 3-5, this year. Potential applicants are also encouraged to reach out to members of the search committee if they have question. For more information, visit the listing.

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Border Tourism, National Security, and “the Other”: Trump’s Gilded Age in Historical Perspective

This post is adapted from a conference presentation the author gave at the XII Jornadas Internacionales: Historia, Patrimonia y Frontera delivered at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California in Tijuana on May 5th, 2017. It is drawn, in part, from his work on road building and motor mobility in Mexico, which has been published in Mexican Studies and the Journal of Transport History. -ed

From the lobby of his gold-plated tower, when Donald Trump announced his intention to run for president, he called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals.” On the campaign trail, he repeatedly spoke about Mexico as a dangerous place to justify the construction of a physical barrier on the US southern border. In one debate, he referred to undocumented immigrants as “bad hombres” who would be deported once he was elected. This rhetoric is hurtful and gross, but it is not new.

It is part of a historical process with deep roots in racism and prejudice that has marked social, cultural, political, and economic relations between Mexico and the United States. This post looks briefly at this history during the twentieth century, focusing on the way that tourism, security and mobility in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands have shaped the question of “otherness” and continue to shade cultural perceptions in both countries.

To begin, it is important to recognize the place of automobility and road building, not only as markers of economic power, but also technological “progress,” and implicitly whiteness, in urban places. In the 1920s and 1930s, as William D. Estrada writes, Los Angeles was transformed spatially by white elites who saw the new City Hall as representative of the city’s future. The old city plaza, which had been renamed Olvera Street, was relegated to secondary status and exoticized as part of LA’s Spanish and Mexican past. Going forward, that generation of urban planners remade Los Angeles as a place that would become dominated by the automobile as new highways in the 1940s stretched across the land. Gripped by racial and class tensions, the decision to build highways oftentimes lead to the destruction of many working-class and poor communities as well as communities of color in LA, Chicago, New York City, Houston, El Paso, and elsewhere.

In the 1930s, as the Great Depression ravaged the United States, public opinion turned on immigrants and ethnic minorities present in the borderlands. As Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymon Rodríguez have carefully documented, the United States deported large numbers of Mexican immigrants, arguing that they were a burden on the country’s economy. In the process, U.S. citizens of Mexican descent were illegally deported due to racist attitudes. It is a history with striking discursive parallels to the issue of deportations after the 2008 economic crash, where the argument was made that immigrants “take jobs” from citizens. Likewise, the deportation state that has grown up under Bush, Obama, and Trump forced children—U.S. citizens—to leave the country following the removal of one or both of their undocumented parents.

Yet, there has long been two sides to the U.S. cultural narrative about Mexico. Whereas a strong social discourse that views the country as dangerous, and has attached notions of criminality and disease to its people, there is also a history of exoticism. Mexico has long served as a space where U.S. citizens, especially white men, could escape the local cultural restrictions back home. During Prohibition, Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, and other border cities enjoyed a robust vice trade fueled by Americans. Tourism to Mexico is marked by this duality of danger and desire, which is essential to how “otherness” has been constructed in U.S. popular narratives.

The view of Mexico as dangerous “other” influenced the local tourism industry, too. For instance, in Nuevo León, during the 1930s and 1940s, as new border highways linked the capital of Monterrey to cities and towns in Texas, the regional chambers of commerce were concerned about crafting a positive image to U.S. visitors. One of the ways they did so was in transit policy on rural highways and city streets. Business leaders complained about the dangers posed by cattle along highways. The militarized Federal Road Police had a small, but well publicized footprint along the fledgling Pan-American Highway. Municipal officials worked to make Monterrey safe for drivers. Not only did it benefit well-to-do foreign visitors exploring the area in motorist clubs, but it also fit with the predominant narrative of the time about automobility. For a city to embrace modernity and “progress” it had to transform into a place that facilitated motor travel. In Monterrey, the government regulated pedestrian and bicycle traffic, prioritized the right-of-way for automobiles, and for a time, outlawed the animal-drawn carts in downtown.

Mexicans writing about the country for U.S. audiences were cognizant of this dichotomy in perception. Anita Brenner, originally from Aguascalientes, wrote for the New York Times about the industrial and economic changes occurring in her native country. She described how Monterrey’s factories dwarfed its churches, strolling had been abandoned in favor of punctuality at work (thanks to American influence), and where “smoothly tailored, quick-eyed men driving new cars” was a common sight. Implicit to this narrative was the tension between an exotic past and a technological present; where the past was embodied by the customs and routines of local, everyday life and the present represented economic change, commoditization, and Americanization.

World War II and its aftermath opened a new chapter in this history with the Bracero program. A 1942 bilateral agreement that brought millions of Mexican workers to labor in U.S. agriculture, it was later criticized by American unions as a threat to U.S. citizens. The agreement also found enemies among religious organizations, including the Catholic Church, due to the awful living conditions that many workers encountered on farms in California and other states. In response to diverse criticism, the U.S. government ended the agreement in 1964, during a time of significant social and cultural change occurring in the United States. The following year, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Act into law, which replaced many of the racist policies of the 1924 National Origins Act, allowing for greater immigration from Asia. At the same time, however, it placed a limit on the number of work visas granted to people living in Latin America. In subsequent years, this policy led to the arrival of millions of undocumented immigrants, many of them from Mexico.

During the 1980s and 1990s, immigrant social networks, state and private infrastructure, and labor market demand facilitated undocumented mobility even as Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton militarized the border. One illustrative case was the need for thousands of workers in Atlanta to prepare for the 1996 Olympics. Established communities of Mexican immigrants in northern Georgia had enjoyed regular bus service to the border for years, and had also built an extensive network of social support among families and churches in the area. People arrived in the state looking for work and taking jobs in sectors that desperately needed laborers in the early 1990s as the city faced steep construction deadlines ahead of the international games. Although hundreds of miles from the borderlands, social ties and economic demand transformed Atlanta into a different kind of “border” city as people arrived from Mexico and other Latin American countries, diversifying the local black-white cultural binary.

It is this dynamic growth in immigrant communities—documented and undocumented—that became an obsession for some in the United States in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and later the 2008 economic collapse. They argued that mobility needed to be restricted; walls needed to be built. Technologies developed for the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars were increasingly applied to policing efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border, and enforcing the U.S.-backed war on drugs in Mexico under President Felipe Calderon.

Amid all of these factors emerged a New York real estate developer with a big ego and willingness to show it on social media. Trump tapped into this long history of fear of “the other” in the United States and turned it on minorities and foreigners, singling out Mexico for especially harsh criticism. He used coded, as well as explicit, language to make his case, drawing on deep-seeded cultural prejudices to do so.

Yet, after his election win, as Trump prepared to enter the White House buoyed by nationalist “America First” rhetoric, millions of Americans still made plans to visit Mexico for spring break or head out on cruises to Cancún, Cozumel and other popular resort destinations. Even as Mexico was demonized in the political discourse as a place of criminals, danger, and disease, it remained an “exotic” locale where American citizens could escape to feed their cravings. Desire and danger; tourism and security; they are binaries with a deep and painful history for Mexico and the United States. It goes back more than 150 years, to the wound of 1848, and goes forward into the racist policies of the early twentieth century, continues into the misguided laws of the postwar era, and continues to shape the relationship between these countries in Trump’s gilded age.

Further reading

Balderrama, Francisco E. and Raymond Rodríguez. Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Berger, Dina and Andrew Grant Wood, eds. Holiday in Mexico: Critical Reflections on Tourism and Tourist Encounters. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Caro, Robert. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York: Knopf, 1974.

Delgado Wise, Raúl and Margarita Favela. Nuevas tendencias y desafios de la migración internacional México-Estados Unidos. Zacatecas: Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, 2004.

Estrada, William D. The Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

Featherstone, Mike, Nigel Thrift, and John Urry. Automobilities. London: Sage Publications, 2005.

Freeman, J. Brian. “Driving Pan-Americanism: The Imagination of a Gulf of Mexico Highway,” Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies 3, no. 4 (September 2009): 56-68.

———-. “‘La carrera de la muerte’: Death, Driving, and Rituals of Modernization in 1950s Mexico.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture Vol. 29 (2011): 2-23.

Gómez, José A. Gobierno y casinos: El origen de la riqueza de Abelardo L. Rodríguez. Mexicali: Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, 2002.

Haber, Stephen. Industry and Underdevelopment: The Industrialization of Mexico, 1890-1940. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989.

Hogenboom, Barbara. Mexico and the NAFTA Environment Debate: The Transnational Politics of Economic Integration. Utrecht, The Netherlands: International Books, 1998.

Kochut, Beata and Jeffrey M. Humphreys, eds. Going North: Mexican Immigrants in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Atlanta: Selig Center, 2006.

Lorey, David. The U.S.-Mexican Border. Wilmigton, Del: SR Books, 1999.

Mom, Gijs. Atlantic Automobilism: The Emergence and Persistence of the Car, 1895-1940. New York: Berghahn, 2015.

Murphy, Arthur D., Colleen Blanchard, and Jennifer A. Hall, eds. Latino Workers in the Contemporary South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

Norton, Peter D. Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. Boston: MIT Press, 2011.

Stern, Alexandra M. “Buildings, Boundaries, and Blood: Medicalization and Nation-Building on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1910-1930.” The Hispanic American Historical Review. Vol. 79, No. 1 (Feb. 1999): 41-81.

Vézina, Catherine. “Labor strategies and agribusiness counterstrike during the Bracero Era: the peculiar case of the National Farm Labor Union, 1946–1952.” Labor History Vol 57, No. 2 (2016): 235-257.

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Job Alert: TCU U.S. History, One-year lecturer

Dear readers, we wanted to bring to your attention a job search that Texas Christian University is conducting for a lecturer in U.S. History. The job description notes that the Department of History is looking for individuals who can teach US I & II, as well as upper division courses with themes such as “Multicultural America,” “The African-American Experience,” and “Latinos/as in U.S. History.” For those of you with training in Borderlands history and the US West, it seems like the position might be a good fit.

The successful candidate must have completed her PhD in History by the time of appointment and also show a strong commitment to teaching. The position is for one year with a 4-4 course load during that time. The review of applications begins on May 29th, and the call for applications will remain open until the position if filled.

Candidates should submit a letter of application, CV, and sample syllabus. As of writing this post, it appears that the dossier service is offline, but you can reach out to the search committee chair, Alan Gallay for more information. In addition to these materials, two confidential letters of recommendation will need to be uploaded by the letter writers to the dossier service or emailed to Human Resources.

For more information about TCU’s History Department, follow the link.

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Call for Submissions: LACS Prizes

Dear readers, the current president of Latin-American and Caribbean Section of the South Historical Association, Omar Valerio-Jimenez, reached out to us to let you know that the organization has a call for submissions for its annual prizes. There are several prizes given each year, including the best book, best article, and best graduate student article presented at the previous meeting of the SHA, as well as the best dissertation completed and defended in the previous year. Borderlands historians are encouraged to submit their work!

The deadline to submit work to be considered by the committees for one of these awards is May 15th. Review the submission requirements carefully as they differ slightly depending on the category. The prize will be given to the recipient during the next LACS-SHA meeting in Dallas, Texas from November 9th to 12th, 2017.

Authors must be a member of the association at the time of submission.

For more information about the prizes, and to apply, follow the link.

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