Essay Series

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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Filming Pro-Patria: On the road from Los Angeles to Mexico City

By Jessica Kim, California State University Northridge

Jessica Kim is an assistant professor in the Department of History at California State University Northridge. The following post is drawn from research the author conducted for her forthcoming book, Made in Mexico: Los Angeles and Empire, 1865-1941, which is currently under review.  Part of the subject of this post, a highway built between Los Angeles and Mexico City, is also the focus of an article by the author, “Destiny of the West: The International Pacific Highway and the Pacific Borderlands, 1929-1957” which appeared in the Western Historical Quarterly in the autumn of 2015. For more information, visit Dr. Kim’s faculty page.

Borderlands are populated by brokers—the cultural, financial, and legal figures who mediate between states, communities, and institutions on two sides of a boundary.  In the 1930s, one of the more prominent of these cultural brokers was Mexican American actor and director Guillermo Calles, who directed and produced an early travelogue documenting his road trip from Los Angeles to Mexico City along the International Pacific Highway (IPH), a much-heralded transnational highway.  His film, Pro-Patria, documented Calles’ 1932 drive in his white Cadillac with his wife, Angelita, and his best friend and cinematographer.  Through the documentary, Calles hoped to introduce an Anglo American audience to his “beloved” Mexico.

Calles was part of a fascinating set of Mexicans and Mexican Americans who helped build a dense network of financial and cultural links between Los Angeles and Mexico in the first decades of the twentieth century.  They included lawyers, local policymakers, diplomats and their staff, translators, ranch managers, and other Mexican professionals who negotiated relationships between Americans and Mexicans in Los Angeles and Mexico.  In particular, they served as the intermediaries between Los Angeles-based investors, landowners, and policymakers, and Mexicans and the Mexican state, before, during and after the Mexican Revolution. Brokers also included cultural agents like Calles who sought to create a stronger and more egalitarian relationship between Angelenos, Mexicans, Americans, and the two neighboring nations.[1]

Calles was a true borderlander and quintessential Angeleno.  Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, in the 1890s, he spent most of his childhood in the mining towns of the Arizona-Mexico borderlands.  Like thousands of others, he felt the draw of Hollywood and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career in the 1910s.  He landed parts in English-language films, generally playing the role of an American Indian, and used his initial success as an actor to propel himself into film production and directing.  By the 1920s, he was one of the leading Mexican Americans in Los Angeles’ thriving film industry and worked in both Spanish and English language films. [2]

In the early 1930s, Calles read press coverage of the highly publicized IPH, a thoroughfare connecting Los Angeles and Mexico City along the Pacific coastline.  A cohort of Los Angeles businessmen and Mexican policymakers launched the construction of the highway in 1929 to draw American tourists to Los Angeles and then to the Pacific coast of Mexico.  IPH promoters in Los Angeles hoped to capitalize on the tourist draw of their Spanish fantasy past as well as their proximity to the “real thing” in Mexico through the highway.  South of the border, Mexican governors recognized that Los Angeles’ love of the Spanish fantasy past intersected with a growing national attention to Mexico’s pre-Spanish roots and identity, or mexicanidad.  They hoped to use both to draw American tourists south of the border.[3]

Excited about this piece of transnational infrastructure and the opportunity to introduce an American audience to the beauty of Mexico, Calles decided to make a travel documentary about the highway project.  Like the many Mexican officials who supported the highway, Calles believed that the IPH could capitalize on Anglo Angelenos’ interest in Mexico to the benefit of the Mexican economy.  More specifically, he wanted to publicize the IPH in the hopes that it could draw tourist travel from Los Angeles into Mexico while also developing a greater American appreciation of their cross-border neighbors.  In a letter to the Los Angeles Spanish language newspaper, La Opinión, Calles reflected on these hopes: “I emphasized that my plan had been to present a film that could provide the best depiction of the highway, the building of which has been done with so much enthusiasm.  The film would show the lifestyle and customs of the regions that it crosses, together with relevant aspects of the economic and natural resources of the West Coast.”[4]  With more emotion he noted that he hoped the film would “reveal to the outside world the many beautiful aspects of our Mexico.”[5]  Calles was also likely responding to the xenophobic calls for the repatriation of Mexican nationals and the forced deportation of over one million Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in the 1930s.  His adopted hometown of Los Angeles was the epicenter of calls for deportation.

Against this backdrop of the violent removal of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Calles set out to promote a more positive image of his native country.  En route, Calles encountered many of the Mexican officials and brokers involved with the highway project, including Filiberto Gómez, governor of the State of Mexico.  Calles and Gómez discussed what they hoped the IPH, and Calles’ film, would bring Mexico.  Calles hoped that it would “generate new waves of tourism, awakening the interest of businessmen who want to contribute to the economic progress of Mexico…[and] help thousands who ignore us or have a false opinion of us, to make a better appraisal of the invaluable wealth of the country and of the culture of the Mexican people.”  Gómez replied, “Caramba!  Every so often our minds and souls get tired, but when someone speaks to us with the [sic] enthusiasm and faith as you have done, the spirit reacts and gives energy to our body once again.  Believe me, Calles, I am working tirelessly in order to finish as soon as possible a highway that would connect Los Angeles with Mexico, so that thousands of automobiles can travel with maximum security and comfort between both places.”[6]

After reaching Mexico City and having a meeting with Mexican President Pascual Ortiz Rubio, Calles and his travel companions returned to Los Angeles.  Back in the Eastman studios, Calles edited the footage himself; his first cut was over eight thousand feet long, included some scenes in color, and was one of the first documentaries to feature sound.[7]  La Opinión, which had followed Calles’ trip with interest, continued its support of the film upon his return.  Editors updated readers on Calles’ progress on the film and promoted it when it debuted a Spanish language theater in Los Angeles, Teatro Mexico.  The packed theater held an audience of one thousand people, including Los Angeles Mayor John C. Porter and Mexican Consul Rafael de la Colina.  The paper’s film reviewer, Esteban V. Escalante, wrote that the film wiped out “the impression that other nations have of our ‘Mexican curios,’” and would “foster tourism in that land so full of color that is the West Coast of Mexico.”[8]  La Opinión also reported that Teatro Mexico sold more than five thousand tickets to Pro-Patria in the first week of its release.  As Escalante’s review and the sold-out theater reflected, Mexican Americans challenged Anglo American misconceptions of Mexico while simultaneously hoping that American fascination with Mexican history and culture could benefit contemporary Mexico.

Although Calles’ film generated interest on both sides of the border, from Los Angeles to Mexico City, the Depression limited the film’s release and curtailed Calles’ plan to translate the film’s narration into English.  After its release in Los Angeles in July 1932, Calles took the film to Mexico the following month.  On the way to Mexico City, he stopped in El Paso, Nogales, and Guadalajara, where he showed the film in more than ten borderlands theaters.[9]  Unfortunately, when Calles reached Mexico City, most theater owners were reluctant to exhibit Pro-Patria because it lacked distribution by a major studio.  Despite its limited commercial success, Calles’ efforts to make and distribute the film, as well as its warm reception by Mexican American audiences, reflect Mexican and Mexican American efforts to simultaneously capitalize Anglo American fascination with a romantic “Spanish” past while also reshaping their understandings of Mexico and Mexicans.  Well aware that Angelenos fetishized their region’s Mexican history, Calles hoped that he could exploit that interest to transform Anglo American perceptions of his native country from “curio” to neighbor.

Calles and his film also demonstrate the deep links between Los Angeles and Mexico in the first decades of the twentieth century.  As explored in more depth in my book project, a generation of Los Angeles city builders believed that investment in Mexico would transform their city into a global metropolis, and they partnered with brokers such as Calles to make this happen.  Angeleno and Mexican investors, boosters, diplomats, elected officials, workers, activists, lawyers, and journalists first forged and then negotiated the relationship between an urban core in Southern California and an imagined and real periphery that stretched across the border and deep into Mexico.

[1] In using the term “broker,” I borrow from Mae Ngai’s analysis of a prominent Chinese American family in turn-of-the-century San Francisco.  See Mae Ngai, The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America (Boston, 2010).

[2] Rogelio Agrasánchez, Jr., Guillermo Calles: A Biography of the Actor and Mexican Cinema Pioneer (Jefferson, NC, 2010).  On the history of film and the borderlands, see Laura Isabel Serna, “Cinema on the U.S.-Mexico Border: American Motion Pictures and Mexican Audiences, 1896-1930,” in Alex McCrossen, ed., Land of Necessity: Consumer Culture in the United States-Mexico Borderlands (Durham, 2009), 144.

[3] On the Spanish fantasy past, see Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land (Salt Lake City, 1973), William Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past (Berkeley, 2004), and Phoebe S. Kropp, California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place (Berkeley, 2006); for more on borderlands tourism, see essays in McCrossen, Land of Necessity.  On mexicanidad and tourism, see Dennis Merrill, Negotiating Paradise: U.S. Tourism and Empire in Twentieth-Century Latin America (Chapel Hill, 2009) and Dina Berger and Andrew Grant Wood, eds., Holiday in Mexico: Critical Reflections on Tourism and Tourist Encounters (Durham, 2010).

[4] Calles recounted the conversation in a subsequent letter to the editor of La OpinionLa Opinion, March 13, 1932, second edition, p. 5.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Unfortunately, there is only one known copy of Pro-Patria in existence, and it is held by a private collector and unavailable to scholars.

[8] Esteban V. Escalanate, “Pro-Patria,” La Opinion, July 7, 1932, p. 4.

[9] Agrasánchez, 100.

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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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The Deportation Terror: From Street Mobs to State Officials … and Back

By Ethan Blue, University of Western Australia

This essay has been reposted with permission from the author from the Religion and Ethics section of ABC.net.au. In 2012, NYU Press published Dr. Blue’s Doing Time in the Depression: Everyday Life in Texas and California Prisons. For more information on Dr. Blue’s scholarship, please visit his faculty profile. -ed

Donald Trump and the U.S. Republican administration’s controversial call for a new and massively militarized deportation force harkens back more than a century. It builds on legal and extra-legal traditions of White American ethno-national cleansing.

Trump is largely uninterested in history, but he sees a hard border and a deportation force as existential necessities. “Otherwise,” he said, “we don’t have a country.”

But Trump’s narrow nationalist vision and existential crisis conflicts with diverse – and equally American – movements for social, racial and economic justice, within and beyond America’s borders.

Deportation and Trauma

In the middle of the nineteenth century, disruptions caused by European and U.S. military and economic penetration into China – the Opium Wars being a prime example – forced many Chinese to seek better opportunities in the United States, Australia, Canada and across Latin America.

There, they met white workers and the middle classes equally anxious about their own place in modernizing political economies. Wage labour was uncertain; new, monopolistic, vertically consolidated corporations paid white male workers – accustomed to being independent breadwinners for their families – as little as they could get away with, and their pride and families suffered.

Some white workers came to challenge corporate power, and at the same time, they blamed recent Chinese arrivals – who seemed to them strange, spoke a different language and practiced a different religion – for lowering their wages and disrupting their society.

Even though Chinese migrants did crucial work for the American economy, white mobs tried to drive the Chinese out of their communities, resorting to massacres and burning down entire Chinese neighbourhoods in the name of community protection. Anti-Chinese mobbing was an horrific expression of popular sovereignty and direct democracy – racist and violent, to be sure – reflecting a form of “people’s justice” in immigration control.

In 1882, legislators passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. It was a “travel ban” – to use today’s terms – which lasted until 1943. It, along with related laws, tried to regulate immigration around a range of interrelated moral, political and economic fears. In each case, legislators understood that restrictive laws were less bloody, and more effective, than mob rule. They were also less offensive to transnational businesses who wanted to profit from Chinese trade.

As the availability of Chinese workers dwindled, Mexicans became a crucial low-wage workforce for the U.S. economy. Though there had long been anti-Mexican violence as part of westward expansion (to say nothing of near-genocidal warfare against many American Indian groups) anti-Mexican mob violence was eventually absorbed into a growing U.S. border security regime.

In part, the anti-immigrant mobs who attacked Chinese and Mexican denizens were no longer necessary because state agents would do the heavy lifting. Special Immigration Agents known as “Chinese Catchers” swept through immigrant neighbourhoods looking for people to deport. Other agents combed through an extensive system of detention centres – prisons, hospitals, county jails and workhouses – searching for others to expel.

The government also developed new systems for mass removal, including dedicated “deportation special” trains – effectively prisons on wheels – to cheaply and quickly connect distant parts of the nation’s interior to borders and ports for expulsion.

The Border Patrol formed in 1924 as a new anti-immigrant police force, and offered badges and government salaries to people who, a few years earlier, had been members of anti-Mexican mobs. But the modern deportation regime would be administered by state agents, civil servants and work-a-day bureaucrats, rather than angry citizens.

Some officials still wanted to terrorize migrants, but thought the threat of deportation would do the trick. Early in the Great Depression, a Los Angeles city official deliberately wanted to frighten migrants, using fear as a “psychological gesture” to “scare … alien deportables” into fleeing. More than 1 million people were deported to Mexico – and many U.S. citizens were among them.

Another anti-immigrant movement came in the 1950s, under the explicitly racist name “Operation Wetback.” Like its predecessors, it came in response to fears about non-white immigration and the belief that Mexican migrant workers were driving down white American wages. Never mind the fact that – then as now – few U.S. citizens were willing to do the backbreaking agricultural labour Mexican migrants performed, and especially not at the poverty wages that kept produce prices so low, and that many of the workers (or their labour, at least) were much cherished by large growers.

Operation Wetback was a thoroughly militarised affair, with a series of raids, roadblocks and checkpoints across the region, and during which immigration agents increasingly positioned themselves as controlling crime, rather than immigration. It also overlapped with strident anti-communist repression of the early Cold War, when one immigrant rights advocate decried what he called “the deportation terror” levelled against non-citizen critics of the U.S. administration.

Some immigration officers sought to terrorize migrants into silence or departure. Others simply wanted to follow the law, keep their own jobs, protect the country (as they understood it) and make the deportation machine run smoothly. In any event, they managed to make a system that was effective in mass removal, as well as in creating persistent fears of deportablity among undocumented migrants.

Mass Incarceration, Mass Deportation

Since the Reagan years, Democrats and Republicans cooperated to dismantle the institutions that regulated capitalist firms even as they built up policing and prison systems. Jobs left, real wages were stagnant or declined. People who still held onto precarious factory jobs would blame so-called criminals, welfare queens and illegal aliens for their strife.

The processes of blaming “Others” – people of colour in cities and migrants from abroad – and then seeking new kinds of government repression to control them was akin to the reactionary movement Stuart Hall identified in the UK as authoritarian populism.

Bill Clinton came into office by adopting tough-on-crime rhetoric previously monopolized by Republicans like Richard Nixon, and furthering Reagan’s deregulatory agenda. Clinton famously “ended welfare as we know it” at the same time that he and his allies railed against black and Latino criminal “superpredators,” and helped build a militarized security apparatus.

By the 1990s – bolstered by new immigration legislation that would vastly increase deportation for decades to come – the U.S. mass deportation assemblage would parallel and interweave with the system of mass incarceration. Both were responses to the structural forces of neoliberalism, efforts to contain the workers made redundant by corporate flight to Mexico or China, by automation, or both.

Unemployed citizens might be imprisoned (especially if they were non-white and poorly educated), unemployed non-citizens might be deported. And people who got laid off from factory or service jobs – be they black, white, Latino, or of whatever race or ethnicity – might find steady, well-paying work with the police, as prison guards, or for the border patrol. They also got uniforms with American flags, symbols that validated their own national inclusion and distance from non-citizens.

Traditional Keynesian economics came under fire with neoliberalism, but a form of carceral Keynesianism took hold, making the livelihoods of working class people of different races dependent on expanding prison and border policing systems. But because Clinton also espoused some progressive policies – such as initial support for gay rights, from which he later backtracked – Republicans attacked him as a leftist.

Like mass incarceration, mass deportation has had broad, bipartisan support among Democrats and Republicans. Deportation accelerated under Bill Clinton. It accelerated again under George W. Bush, who oversaw more than 2 million removals.

It accelerated again under Barack Obama. As sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza has documented, the United States deported nearly 400,000 people in 2011, a number ten times greater than the deportations of 2001 – and more than all of the people deported in the entire 1980s.

Obama courted Latino support with immigration policies that provided work permits and deferred removal for long-time non-citizen residents who had arrived as children and were acculturated to life in the United States. But Obama also extended tough deportation policies for those with criminal convictions – supposedly dangerous criminals, but large proportions of whom were guilty of little more than traffic offences.

The twenty-first century deportation assemblage, built by Democrats and Republicans alike, moves faster and involves more complex systems than its predecessors. But for those whose whiteness or citizenship status insulates them from it, it appeared to be relatively bloodless. It wasn’t. Deportees face very real dangers on return to the lands they have fled; it traumatizes even U.S. citizens and tears millions of families apart.

The Lynch-mob Logic of Modern Deportation

Some might have seen this massive legal deportation apparatus refined by Clinton, Bush and Obama as adequate. But Donald Trump did not, and neither it seems did the minority of American voters who supported him. Trump’s proposed Deportation Force builds on the massive and existing militarized apparatus, but also calls for a return to nineteenth-century forms of expressive violence.

Even though Republicans are in strong positions in all three branches of government, the portent of intertwined legal and extra-legal violence loom large. Trump has explicitly foresworn the supposed niceties of “political correctness” and, in attacking a Mexican American judge’s suitability for office, has impugned the possibility of Mexican Americans being full citizens.

In addition to the flurry of constitutionally-dubious January 2017 executive orders and memos – which asserted executive power in unprecedented ways and denigrated the judicial branch – Trump’s Congressional Republican allies explicitly excluded Latino and Democratic legislators from meetings with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

It appears that to today’s white nationalists and authoritarian populists, the massive and, indeed, terrifying deportation regime of the past century – based to the extent that it was on the rule of law – hid the violence of the lynch mob too well. Despite the modern deportation regime’s fearsome effectiveness at capture and mass removal, the relative invisibility of its structural violence – invisible to many white audiences, that is – was unable to express the desired catharsis of white nationalist racial rule.

When White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer promised to “take the shackles off” immigration law enforcement (an invocation eerily similar to Dick Cheney’s call to “take the gloves off” and permit torture in the War on Terror), and ensure that “people who pose a threat to our country are immediately dealt with,” his language suggested that politics itself had inhibited state agents’ ability to protect the nation from immigrants. He invoked the premises of action unencumbered by law, akin to the lynch mobs a century earlier.

The twenty-first century, post-global financial crisis conjuncture of reactionary movements against the Democratic Party’s progressive neoliberalism have therefore been channelled into racially-gendered calls for hardened sovereign borders and a militarized deportation force. Its anti-modern revanchism rejects the putative softness of state control in favour of angrier expressive forms.

The Trump administration’s conjuration of Mexican rapists and criminal aliens “who routinely victimize Americans” – while in fact immigrants are statistically less likely to engage in criminal-defined acts – as well as new promises to publicize crimes committed by non-citizens against citizen-victims, expresses but also enflames incipient gendered racisms in the language of national and personal protection. It appears to have motivated a Kansas man, who allegedly yelled “get out of my country” before he shot three men, killing one, and later telling a bartender he had killed Middle Eastern men.

And like a century ago, today’s white nationalists, who perceive themselves throwing off the politically-correct shackles of “the Washington elite” move, counterproductively, against the weakest members of world’s labour markets – migrants displaced by the longer legacies of racial capitalism. The authoritarian populist tendencies captured and unleashed by the Trumpist Republican Party (abetted by traditional Republicans) again enact the rituals and symbols of racist exclusion, expulsion, and abjection, through the terrors of mass deportation.

So we should not be surprised as the lines between legal and extra-legal violence are blurred. But people dedicated to an egalitarian America (and broader world) should be frightened to learn that anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate crimes have risen sharply. So have the number of hate groups.

In the 10 days after Trump’s election, the Southern Poverty Law Center counted 867 hate incidents, many of them hate crimes. Of the nearly 1,100 incidents reported in the 34 days after the election, 37% made direct reference to Trump, his campaign slogans, or echoed his remarks about sexual assault.

If private citizens are using racial violence in the name of the President, state agents are also carrying out executive orders of dubious legality; one Republican official called for the extra-legal killing of campus protestors. Beyond a process of white nationalist radicalisation, little of this will address the historical forces that cause people to migrate, or that lead people to identify the United States as an enemy. They will likely make problems worse. The administration’s strident Islamophobia will surely exacerbate the fundamentalist radicalization it claims to protect against.

The Promise of Egalitarian Mutualism

But in contrast to authoritarian populism on the street and in the bully pulpit, another popular movement beckons. It is based in the traditions of egalitarian mutualism rather than authoritarian populism. Instead of racial nationalism, it draws on interrelated traditions of liberal and antiracist feminisms, LBGTQ rights, religious freedom, workers’ movements, Indigenous sovereignty and decolonization, prison abolition, civil rights and environmental justice. The millions who participated in the Women’s March on Washington (with parallel marches in deep blue and red states, and around the world) revealed Trump’s Inauguration crowds as anaemic.

Calls to racial nationalism and vigilantism have been answered by peaceful protestors challenging what they see as the Executive Orders’ racial and religious bigotry. So too have there been massive movements for sanctuary cities and campuses. Even calls for a non-violent general strike, little heard in the United States since the popular front radicalism of the 1930s, are beginning to gain a hearing. Together, these movements celebrate solidarity in struggle, not catharsis through exclusion.

It is impossible to predict the future of this regime. Trump is erratic and arguably unhinged, but his administration will most certainly continue to ignore, denigrate and criminalize the people who raise their voices and challenge its authoritarian populism with their visions of egalitarian mutualism. He may declare a state of emergency for a host of reasons and demand more power to suppress dissent in the name of national protection.

Fear is inimical to understanding. But without understanding the long trajectory of anti-immigrant nativism – in the contests of racial state power, authoritarianism, of forced removal and border violence – Americans cannot develop anything approaching a sound, ethical or effective policy. Without those, to paraphrase Trump, Americans may not have a country.

 

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Migration and Asylum of Central Americans in the Trump Era

By Sonja Wolf

Dr. Wolf is a CONACYT Research Fellow with the CIDE Región Centro in Mexico and author of Mano Dura: The Politics of Gang Control in El Salvador (University of Texas Press, 2017).

During his campaign for the presidency of the United States, Donald Trump had taken a hardline stance on immigration. In his “Contract with the American Voter”, the Republican candidate had pledged to begin removing “the more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country” and subject travelers from “terror-prone” countries to “extreme vetting”. A new “End Illegal Immigration Act” would fund the construction of a southern border wall and impose harsh sanctions on repeat immigration violators. There was widespread skepticism about whether the Trump administration would follow through on these and other outlandish campaign promises. But in his first week in office, the President has shown that he intends to do precisely that.

The Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” seeks to temporarily bar the nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, reprioritize minority (i.e., Christian) refugee claims, and exclude Syrian refugees indefinitely. When it came into effect, the Executive Order resulted in the revocation of tens of thousands of visas and disrupted travel for legal permanent residents as well as recognized refugees. Vaguely phrased and broad in scope, the document sparked protests at US airports and drew the ire of immigration lawyers and activists that condemned the travel ban for its discriminatory nature. The Trump administration appealed against a federal judicial decision that provisionally blocked the Executive Order on a nationwide basis, a federal appeals court prohibited its enforcement.

Unnoticed by many, the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program was also suspended. The initiative had been launched in December 2014, a year that saw an apparently heightened influx of unaccompanied Central American migrant children flee gangs and violence to the United States. The CAM Program allows youths under the age of 21 who qualify for refugee status and live in Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras to join their legally residing parents in the United States. Although the Central American countries have no terrorism concerns, the future of this program is uncertain now that anti-immigration Senator Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as Attorney General.

Even before Donald Trump was sworn in as President, Customs and Border Protection officers have been unlawfully turning asylum seekers away at the US-Mexico border. This situation has put an additional strain on shelters and public services in border cities. Throughout 2016 Tijuana, one of the busiest crossings, saw the arrival of more than ten thousand Haitians who had fled their earthquake-devastated country before abandoning recession-hit Brazil in the hope of obtaining Temporary Protected Status in the United States. They were joined by African migrants who feel unwelcome in Europe and by Cubans who became stranded at the border when in January 2017 the Obama administration ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

This state of affairs is bound to be exacerbated by two additional Executive Orders. “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” takes a narrow view of asylum provisions, foresees an expansion of the southern border wall, and steps up immigration enforcement. “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” targets for deportation undocumented immigrants who “have been convicted of any criminal offense” or “pose a risk to public safety or national security”, categories that would include suspected street gang members. However, this executive order also prioritizes for removal those who “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” or “have engaged in fraud…before a governmental agency”. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, there are some 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, about 8 million of whom engage in some form of remunerated labor. To be able to do so, many may have claimed to hold a valid work permit or used a fake social security number. In Mexico and Central America there is already unease about the impact of intensified deportations of offenders. A potentially much larger pool of returnees, however, would place even greater stress on remittance-dependent countries that are struggling to create employment and effective public services.

Migration dynamics in Mexico itself are diverse, but the largest group is that of undocumented migrants and displaced persons from the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras). For many years, the economic situation and the desire to reunite with relatives in the United States, annually prompted tens of thousands of Central Americans to travel north. Increasingly, however, young people, and sometimes entire families, abandon their homes to escape gang violence. The victims, who are harassed for refusing to be recruited, rejecting extortion demands or opposing these groups in some way, generally find it impossible to relocate internally and escape gang intelligence networks. Many hope to obtain asylum in either Mexico or the United States. But gang persecution is often difficult to prove, and both countries are reluctant to grant asylum to victims of gang violence.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio Dieciocho, the main street gangs operating in the Northern Triangle, originally formed in immigrant barrios of Los Angeles. Impoverished, overcrowded, and rife with gang activity, these neighborhoods received Central American war refugees that were denied legal status. Their children felt alienated in a foreign culture, and some turned to gangs. The United States has traditionally sought to eliminate its gang problem not through social policies, but through the removal of non-citizens. In the early 1990s stepped-up deportations exported the MS-13 and Barrio Dieciocho to the Northern Triangle. Their members encountered no insertion opportunities and absorbed some of the existing youth gangs. These were small, localized groups that had constituted no significant public security threat.

Over time, however, the gangs developed not only a nationwide presence, but also began using more sophisticated firearms, strengthened their internal structures, became more criminally involved, and committed more brutal and indiscriminate violence. Today the gangs target adolescents in marginal communities for forced recruitment and sexual violence, extort small and medium-size businesses, and exercise strict territorial control. These geographical boundaries limit access for state institutions providing municipal services, companies delivering goods, civil society groups carrying out prevention projects, and outsiders generally. Students are perhaps particularly affected, since many need to commute between rival gang territories on their way from home to school.

Central American governments have tended to tackle the gangs through mano dura (“iron fist”) policies that prioritize neighborhood sweeps and mass arrests of suspected gang members over prevention and rehabilitation. In El Salvador, for example, the strategy has proved popular with voters, but has had detrimental effects on gang evolution and homicide rates. The administrations of the leftist FMLN party, in power since 2009, have stated their commitment to pursuing a comprehensive security policy. The Funes government (2009-2014) even promoted a gang truce in order to curb the country’s homicide rate, but its failure to adopt social measures contributed to the collapse of the ceasefire. Political pressure for results and resource deficits make the implementation of a holistic security policy difficult. Worse yet, the post-truce escalation of violence has also entailed renewed gang attacks on police and “confrontations” that in some cases mask extrajudicial executions by law enforcement. US security assistance has perhaps done more to deter perceived security threats to the United States than to address inequality, corruption, and institutional dysfunctionality in Central America. As long as the climate of violence persists, migration and displacement will continue.

Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has for some time made greater efforts to detain and deport undocumented migrants heading north, most recently through the Southern Border Program. In late 2014, the Obama administration also announced the creation of the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, a co-financed initiative that seeks to boost economic development, strengthen institutions, and improve public security in Central America. While these are important objectives, making them a reality will necessarily be a long-term endeavor, even with the greatest amount of resources and political will. In the meantime, more effective ways need to be found to process asylum applications and relocate victims of gang persecution. At the moment, it is uncertain what direction US immigration and refugee policy will take under the Trump administration. It seems clear, however, that a regional approach is required that will not consider deterrence as the only possible response to irregular human mobility, but strike a balance between labor market demands and people’s need for jobs and safety. Above all, perhaps, the current era calls for greater activist and educational efforts that help immigration opponents understand why strangers make a long, perilous journey and that diversity make societies richer, not weaker.

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“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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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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A Year in Review: BHB in 2016

The past twelve months will likely be remembered as one of the most frustrating years of our time. From civil strife and violence on American streets to brewing economic and political crises in Mexico to war in other parts of the world. At the blog, we have tried to make sense of these complex events from the perspective of our historical training. We have looked to the past to reflect on the present and think about our future. Over this past year, thanks to your support, our blog has also continued to grow. What follows is a list of some of our favorite and most popular contributions in 2016.

This year, our most popular essay was Lori Flores´s From Dissertation to Book: Writing a Book Proposal. We strive for practical contributions to be an important part of our work at the blog as a service to readers. In this piece, Lori writes: If you’ve just finished your dissertation, congratulations! Now set it aside for a good while. Trying to tackle dissertation-to-book revisions too soon will prevent you from seeing your graduate school-inspired language, and from knowing what needs to be tweaked, cut, or added in terms of content. Many times, you need a more distant perspective on your work in order to articulate to editors how you plan to produce a book, which is an entirely different beast in terms of framing, style, and structure. Feel free to circulate your work to valued colleagues for their input while you’re gaining that distance, and tackle other passion projects or interesting new readings in your field for some inspiration.

The blog has featured a number of excellent conversations with scholars. Lina Murillo’s Borderlands History Interview Project (BHIP) has continued to grow, adding two new episodes this year. She returned in March, interviewing Pablo Mitchell on his work: Mitchell pointed to one of the underlying tensions he feels has driven his work in Borderlands history. He explains that while some historians continue with a Boltonian sense of the borderlands, his allegiance lies more with Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa’s theories that have provided the theoretical framework for his research. Anzaldúa’s work helped Mitchell to think about sexuality, race, gender, and borderlands and to ask different questions of archival materials and read against the grain. Continue reading

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Latinx Undergraduates and the Future of the History Profession

During the past few months, the AHA released several reports detailing a nationwide decline in History majors across campuses. In this month’s Perspectives on History, Yovanna Pineda problematizes that claim, and illuminates in her own two-year case study how one academic constituency – Latinxs – is increasing in history major enrollments. An associate professor of Latin American history at the University of Central Florida, Pineda sampled and interviewed first-generation Latinx students and their experiences within history departments as well as those applying to history graduate programs.

She finds that while many first generation Latinx college students share a passion for history, several top research and elite private institutions fail to successfully recruit such students. Pineda reports, for example, that some graduate programs even questioned a student’s English competency and requested that they take the TOEFL to ensure language ability. Her analysis confirms the need for an institutional apparatus that will continue to effectively recruit and retain first generation students of color in the history profession.

Read her article here.

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Demolishing the Barrio

granny-sue-and-sister

Lorenza Martinez, Susana Morales, and her sister Martha.

There are so many political issues “trending” right now it has been hard to keep up with the pace.  Between President-elect Trump’s jaw-dropping cabinet picks and the devastating war in Syria; between Fidel Castro’s death and the future of Cuba and the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, sometimes local concerns and issues seem to take a backseat to these national and international crisis.

This is not so on the U.S.-Mexico border.  Currently, there is a local group of activists, academics, politicians and residents attempting to resist urban renewal plans that will devastate a major historical area on El Paso’s Southside.  Their efforts are forcing the city government to contend with an informed community bent on protecting historical sites and homes still inhabited by residents in this traditionally ethnic Mexican barrio.  As developers salivate over this potentially lucrative opportunity, developing $180 million multi-purpose indoor arena, residents and activists alike are coming together to fight the destruction of one of El Paso’s oldest neighborhoods and the potential displacement of dozens of families and businesses.

Since my own research on reproductive rights is concerned with the area south of the train tracks, I was excited when a walking tour was announced to show city residents the breadth of the proposed development project and the effects the demolition of these city blocks would have on El Paso’s residents and to the city’s legacy.  My mother-in-law, Susana Morales (Martinez is her maiden name) had planned a trip downtown to purchase some trinkets for her grandchildren (my daughters) and I asked if she would join me on the walk later that afternoon.  “Sure mija!” she exclaimed, “You know I grew-up on South Leon near Overland.”  Her family has long ties to the border region and throughout her life has lived in some of the most historic areas of the city, but this was the first time she mentioned Duranguito. Continue reading

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