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: 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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“We’re Ready to Penalize Anyone Who Drives Badly:” Monterrey, Motor Accidents, and early 1950s U.S. Border Tourism

The following post is drawn from research the author has conducted for his forthcoming book, Routes of Compromise: Building Roads and Shaping the Nation in Mexico, to be published by University of Nebraska Press (2017). For further reading, Mike has also written about this subject for the Journal of Transport History, which can be accessed here. -ed

The early 1950s represented an optimistic time for many people living in northern Mexico. Millions of dollars of investments in industrialization and transportation infrastructure that came from the United States during the Second World War promised to buttress a new period of rapid economic growth. Following years of wartime austerity, local businesses hoped to take advantage of improved mobility across the borderlands to cater to American tourists eager to visit their southern neighbor on driving excursions.

One of the fears that most concerned Mexican business leaders, however, was the perception of the country as dangerous, not only from armed violence, but also poor road conditions and a lack of police enforcement of road safety. For instance, highway robbery was not unheard of; in May 1931, thieves dressed as tourists mugged drivers who stopped to help on the road to Laredo, Texas. Nuevo León’s El Porvenir called the crime “scandalous” and lamented that the actions of these individuals damaged Mexico’s reputation, making the country appear unsafe for motorists. In 1936, the same newspaper described a “mafia” setting up occasional roadblocks along the highway, extorting motorists for payments. Federal and state governments made concerted efforts to address this issue, beginning as early as the 1920s with the creation of a road-building bureaucracy and highway police force.

Nevertheless, safety issues remained salient for many years. In the bustling industrial city of Monterrey, capital of Nuevo León state in northeastern Mexico, frustration over public safety on the region’s roads came to a head in the early 1950s. First, in June 1950, a U.S. family from Pennsylvania was involved in a devastating car accident outside of the town of Ciénaga de Flores, Nuevo León. Their 1949-model Packard sedan had been negotiating sharp mountainous curves when it collided with a cargo truck traveling in the opposite direction. Two sisters, eighteen and twelve years old, died at the scene, while Red Cross ambulances rushed the remaining family members to a local hospital for treatment. El Norte published images of the destroyed vehicle, while the public outcry that followed again expressed fears that similar accidents could irrevocably tarnish the country’s image as a desirable foreign tourist destination.

Two years later, another high-profile collision shocked the public in Nuevo León and finally forced an official response. On the morning of 31 July 1952, a crowded motorbus traveling down a major street in Monterrey collided with an 18-ton trailer that failed to heed a stop sign. The force of the crash caused the bus to roll onto its side, injuring thirty-three passengers, some with severe head trauma and others with body parts crushed or severed. Although many were hospitalized, no one died in the accident. The trucker, Javier Hernández de la Torre, told transit authorities that he had tried to slow down, but his vehicle’s breaks failed. A police officer who witnessed the scene testified that he saw the trailer moving at excessive speed and that the driver took no defensive action until it was too late. Authorities arrested Hernández along with the 18-year-old city bus driver, José Gonzalez, for having allowed too many passengers onboard his vehicle.

In its coverage of the incident, the state newspaper El Norte blamed the trucking company, Transportes Anáhuac, for its negligent driver. Reporters labeled Hernández a dangerous “loco del volante” (crazed driver) from out of state, unfamiliar with Monterrey’s roads. They also chided transit officials for not doing enough to prevent overcrowded busing.

In the coming days, El Norte decried the high rates of motor accidents in Monterrey and the rest of Nuevo León. The Anáhuac case was one of three that appeared in the newspaper’s August 1st edition; other stories published that Friday described reckless driving by an American visitor from Iowa that led to a crash with a city taxi as well as two serious accidents on the Monterrey-San Pedro Highway due to poor road and weather conditions.

Subsequently, in a front-page essay on 3 August, El Norte called July a “prodigious month” for crashes, stating that almost two hundred people had been injured and ten killed on roads in and around the state capital. It called bus drivers who permitted overcrowding “criminally irresponsible” and bemoaned the lack of adequate law enforcement of municipal and regional motorways. An editorialist asked if the situation would ever improve.

El Norte ran a dozen major stories over the next four weeks related to the problem of motor accidents. It frequently used words such as “tremendous” and “tragic” to describe these incidents, often publishing images of destroyed vehicles and occasionally of the victims as well. The newspaper took on a crusading tone, urging state and municipal authorities to do more to reduce safety risks on Nuevo León’s roads. It reported bad driving conditions on the pockmarked highway to Saltillo and complained that poor garbage pickup on city streets created unsightly roadside hazards and was “out of tune with Monterrey’s progressive beat.” It also criticized uneven sidewalks, depicting them as dangerous in a four-column article with a series of accompanying photographs, insisting city officials to act. Late-summer coverage emphasized the threat of unregulated transit spaces to public safety, calling for greater amounts of investment in road infrastructure, maintenance, and policing to mitigate harm.

Soon after, state and city officials began addressing the problems the press had exposed. In September, Monterrey’s transit chief commented publicly, “For much too long [we have] been extremely lenient… we are ready to penalize anyone who drives badly, no matter who they are.” He unveiled sweeping changes to transit laws and enforcement, raising penalties to as much as 500 pesos per infraction, depending on the gravity of the offense. The city also revised bus routes, restricted heavy trucks downtown, and made structural improvements to infrastructure while the state government increased spending on highway patrols.

The goal was to project confidence on roads for residents and tourists alike, but the new policies appeared to have been too sharp of a reaction to the status quo. Within weeks, businesses began to complain that revised bus routes in Monterrey had reduced local traffic to their stores. Picturesque streets were largely empty of tourists, while along the city’s periphery a spike in accidents was reported due to heavy traffic as trucks and buses were diverted to these areas. Moreover, businesses worried that the aggressive enforcement of driving rules would scare away tourists and foreigners.

Critics quickly turned on the reforms, including El Norte’s editorialists who called for a policy review to be carried out by local officials, the business community, and the state university. By the end of October 1952, a commission had formed to address the issue, while most of the severe enforcement activities were reined in by city leaders.

This period of frustration and inaction led to a short, sharp shock of overreaction by zealous officials who wanted to dramatically transform perceptions about mobility in their city and region. They had responded to public calls from newspapers and private businesses to do more to improve safety conditions on roads and in public transportation. The local tourism industry wanted to ensure Monterrey and nearby towns were amenable to middle-class tourists, many of them arriving from across the border. The challenges that policymakers faced, and the new problems that arose following the implementation of reforms, underscored the fact that mobility was deeply tied to considerations of power and access that had long affected (and continue to affect) everyday life along the U.S.-Mexico border. In trying to make Monterrey “safer” officials learned that their decisions could lead to unintended consequences that forced a reappraisal of the entire endeavor.

Editor: An earlier version incorrectly stated that the automobile accident in Cienaga de Flores, Nuevo León and the bus accident in Monterrey occurred in the same year. In fact, they occurred in 1950 and 1952, respectively. The post has been corrected and revised accordingly.

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Site Update: Book Reviews and Conference Notes Sections

Dear readers, continuing in our mission to better serve you by making our content more easily available, we’ve added two new sections above the masthead of the blog: Book Reviews and Conference Notes.In each, you’ll find posts we’ve published going back over years.

Also, we’re always looking for new contributors and content, if you want to write a book review or conference report for the blog, write us!

We’d love to publish it and include your name in the growing list of participants. Remember, the blog is a labor of love for readers by readers. Have you voice heard!

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We’ve Updated Our Sections Content!

Dear readers, a quick note: now when you visit BHB we’ve created two new sections above the masthead. Each one offers a different collection of essays that we’ve written over the years that we hope you’ll find helpful. These include our essays on pedagogy and teaching strategies, as well as a new section on our experiences writing and researching work as we moved through graduate school and entered the job market. We also plan to keep these sections updated as we add new content. This is the first big change we’ve made in a while to our sections, but it won’t be the last. We want to make sure the blog remains a useful resource for you throughout the year!

We’re excited to unveil the new sections:

Pedagogy

Research & Development

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Bridging National Borders in North America

This summer an excellent series on Borderlands scholarship is planned and the organizers are looking for participants! Titled, “Bridging Borders in North America,” Benjamin Johnson at the University of Loyola Chicago is coordinating this National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Seminar for College and University Faculty. It will be held at Chicago’s Newberry Library and the team of scholars leading this series include Patricia Marroquin Norby, Julianna Barr, Kornel Chang, and Geraldo Cadava.

The seminar is scheduled to occur from July 10th to August 4th, while the deadline for applications is March 1st with notifications made at the end of that month. Also important to note: at least three spaces are reserved for non-tenure-track or adjunct faculty members!

From the seminar description:

The Newberry Library’s D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies will be hosting a four-week summer 2017 NEH seminar for college and university faculty that explores the history of North America’s border and borderlands. In keeping with the recent work in the field and the collection strengths of the Newberry Library, this seminar will take a broad geographic approach, framing borderlands as distinct places at particular moments in time where no single people or sovereignty imposed its will.

The organizing theme is the process of border-making. We will examine three aspects of this theme: how nation-states claiming exclusive territorial sovereignty re-drew the continent’s map; the intersection and sometimes collision of these efforts with other ways of organizing space and people; and the social and political consequences of the enforcement of national territoriality.

Two questions guide our examinations of these developments: how did diverse peoples challenge national borders, or use or alter them for their own purposes? And, how does consideration of these topics recast our understanding of the intertwined histories of indigenous peoples, Mexico, the United States, and Canada?

For more information, or to apply, follow the link

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Western History Dissertation Workshop

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is hosting the 2017 Western History Dissertation Workshop. It’s the twelfth annual gathering, which will occur from May 12-14 in Lincoln, Nebraska. It is described as a “vigorous dissertation support to advanced western history PhD students in a collegial group of 10-12 leading scholars from participating institutions across the United States.” Ideal candidates for the workshop will have already made written progress on their dissertation, expect to defend in the coming academic year, and will share a chapter with the group for feedback. Continue reading

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Utopian Visions: A Panel on Exiles and Identity at the AHA

We’re back from the American Historical Association and had a wonderful time! This essay is the first installment in a series covering panels we wanted to share with you, our dear readers. -ed

After my first day at the AHA, I met up with Brandon Morgan, one of our colleagues at the blog, who was presenting on a panel with the intriguing title, “Utopian Visionaries, Exiles, and Other Stateless Peoples in the Americas.” Over dinner at the Sheraton with a group of friends, I talked with Brandon and two of the other panelists, Travis E. Ross and Julian Dodson, about their work. I decided to attend their panel the next day.

Following an introduction of the panelists by Colin Snider (University of Texas at Tyler), Travis Ross, who recently defended his dissertation at the University of Utah, discussed his work on the identity of the nation-state in the context of historical memory, studying nineteenth-century interviews of residents of Alta California. One of the points that struck me most was that although ethnic Mexicans and Anglos disagreed on many things about society and politics in the state, they shared common ground with the regional identity of Alta California.

Travis´s research uncovered how people who had lived in Alta California before its transfer to the United States worked hard to maintain their community identity as revolutions and other political unrest threatened this reality. Irrespective of which government was in charge, locals wanted to protect the distinct identity of Alta California. Nevertheless, as new waves of gold rushers and other Anglos flooded into this space, this fight was unsuccessful as most of the Californios, Spanish-language residents who had lived in Alta California under Spanish and Mexican rule, lost everything after California gained U.S. statehood.

Brandon Morgan, who works at Central New Mexico Community College, continued the panel discussing his work on Mormon exiles in Mexico during the late nineteenth century. He described the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 and its aggressive prosecution of Mormons in the nineteenth century over polygamy. Mormons believed the legal proceedings to be a miscarriage of justice and felt that the government not only wanted to punish polygamy, but also eliminate their religion.

In response, some coreligionists decided to relocate to Mexico, establishing settler communities they called “colonies” to continue to practice their religious beliefs without interference from the U.S. government. Brandon argues that by crossing the border Mormons gained the status and economic power that had eluded them in the United States. In doing so, they also reasserted their claim to whiteness, and largely remained separate from the local community even as they benefited from policies of the national government under Porfirio Díaz, which permitted them not to pay certain duties.

Finally, Julian Dodson (Washington State University) studies the social networks that Mexican exiles formed across the U.S. southwest in the early twentieth century. He finds that in exile the political enmities that divided these groups against one another in Mexico largely evaporated once they relocated north of the border. Julian identified the exiles as the “revolution’s losers,” highlighting how they were reviled in Mexico as members of a defeated elite that had benefited from Díaz’s long rule (1876-1911). Across the border, the exile community was sustained on a healthy diet of rumors and conspiracies about the new revolutionary government as it asserted its power. Moreover, the exile community took on a diverse characteristics as members of different failed rebellions and counter-revolutions also headed north to escape their enemies.

Julian described the formation of these exile groups, noting that militant Catholic activists played an important role. They cultivated contacts with military figures who supported the exiles during times of political unrest. Members of the Catholic contingent also operated as intelligence brokers between Mexican officials and the exile community. Later, as the revolution transitioned into its state-building period after 1920, opposition to the political strongman and president, Plutarco Elías Calles, who was a committed anti-Catholic leader, helped to unify aspects of the exile community.

Afterwards, Colin read the observations written by José Angel Hernández (University of Houston) who served as commenter, but was unable to attend. José Angel provided excellent constructive critiques of the work presented, urging the panelists to more clearly identify how the subjects were stateless or to consider using a different concept to identify them. In the audience discussion, someone asked whether location reflected exiles’ loyalties. Julian responded affirmatively, explaining that Catholic exiles tended to go to San Antonio and El Paso, whereas Callistas went to San Diego and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Huertistsas went to Tucson and also had ties with Los Angeles.

As the discussion continued, Travis posed a question for his other panelists. He acknowledged the difficulty in defining the people in their work as stateless, and wondered about other ways to conceptualize these subjects. Julian said that, perhaps, the idea of “statefulness exiles” rather than stateless exiles was more applicable, emphasizing that the networks these groups formed attempted to take advantage of state ties at different times and in different contexts. Moreover, a point that Brandon and Julian agreed on was that while these exiles lived in states freely, they were to a certain extent out of reach, defying law enforcement in their home countries.

Brandon concluded, saying that Mormon colonies in the late nineteenth century were trying to use policies in Mexico to their benefit, while maintaining ties with the United States. This strategy gave them some choice about identity. For instance, Mormons who naturalized has Mexicans had begun to take up the role of jefe politico in their locality. Many Mormons viewed their time in Mexico as sojourners, ready to return to the United States once the problems had been resolved politically.

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