Interviews

BHIP: Emma Pérez

Emma

Dr. Emma Pérez. Photo by: Dr. Ernesto Chávez.

While completing my undergraduate studies at San Francisco State University, I was handed The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History by a professor in Ethnic Studies. He knew I was interested in writing about women, specifically Chicanas and Latinas, but I was finding it difficult to find “traditional” sources.  After wrestling with the introduction to the book for several weeks, I gave up. Theory, I reasoned, was not for me. But, I did not give it away. I held on to it for years, believing that one day I might gain the knowledge that would help me uncover the deeper meanings held within—or at the very least assist me through its intro.

In graduate school, I was fortunate to take a class called “Theory and History.” We began with Karl Marx and made our way through the works of some of the most famous thinkers, including Sigmund Freud, Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Homi Bhabba, Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak, Judith Butler, and Emma Pérez. Through time and space, we traveled the globe and the ages to find thinkers, philosophers, and theorists who had asked questions about the notions of capital, consumption, fetishes, consciousness, sexuality, power, performance, gender, race, and resistance.  The Decolonial Imaginary was one of the last books we read in the course. Studying borderlands history, on the U.S.-Mexico border, students tackled Pérez’s book with fervor.  What did she mean by “decolonial imaginary”? What is interstitial space? Why were these concepts useful in “writing Chicanas into history”? We turned the book inside out. It was a marvelous discussion that included the use of the dry erase board for visuals.

Many years later, I finally had an opportunity to ask Dr. Emma Pérez herself these questions that had transformed our classroom so many years ago.  Currently, Pérez is Research Social Scientist at the Southwest Studies Center at the University of Arizona, and she is also Professor in Gender and Women’s Studies.  She received her M.A. and PhD. in history from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1982 and 1988 respectively.

She has written several books including her major historical monograph, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Indiana University Press, 1999), as well as some well received works of fiction. Her book list includes, Gulf Dreams (Third Woman Press in 1996 and mostly recently reprinted by Aunt Lute Books in 2009), her award-winning novel Forgetting the Alamo, OR, Blood Memory (published out of the Chicana Matter series through University of Texas at Austin in 2009. Forgetting the Alamo was awarded the NACCS Regional Book Award. Her most recent novel is Electra’s Complex (Bella Books) in 2015. Dr. Perez has published several noteworthy articles as well, including “Gloria Anzaldua, La Gran Nueva Mestiza Theorist, Writer, Activist Scholar,” in the National Women’s Studies Association Journal 2005; “Queering the Borderlands: The Challenges of Excavating the Invisible and Unheard,” in Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies (2003); and an article she co-wrote with Scarlet Brown titled “Women’s Studies on the Border: University of Texas at El Paso,” Women’s Studies Quarterly (2002).

Dr. Pérez was ready for my first question, in fact, she’d been asked it many times before. “Why use postmodern theory, specifically Foucault, when attempting to write Chicanas into history?” I pondered.  When she first read Foucault’s History of Sexuality, she said, she was moved by his ability to synthesize historical information, always foregrounding the “bigger picture.” Foucault’s concerns with power—who wields it and why—helped Pérez grapple with larger historiographical questions about Chicana’s visibility in U.S. history overall.

One of Pérez’s greatest insights came in the discussion of silences in Foucault’s theory. As historians, we are taught to read the sources, to examine the evidence, but what if none exists? How do we read the silences? For Pérez documentary omissions and silences have the profound ability to produce erasure, and thus must be excavated. The “voices” of colonized people, of Chicana/Chicanx people, Pérez contends, are in the interstitial spaces.  She comes back to the notion of interstices and the interstitial when she talked about her time with Homi Bhabha.

With her students Pérez introduces the method of critique, which Foucault stealthily employed, in order to locate sources of power. Why are certain narratives considered “mainstream,” why are particular stories reified in our everyday lives, while others are not only forgotten, but purposefully excluded from our day-to-day interactions with history? In this manner, Pérez explains, students begin to ponder the way institutions hold power over these histories and control what is considered valuable for examination.  We find that power is located at the cross-sections of race, gender, sexuality, and class, and held by those who seek to gain most by keeping marginalized voices at bay.

These lines of inquiry bring students to further critique the reasons why the history of Chicanx and Latinx are obscured in U.S. history, why this history is marginalized in history departments across the country, and why they are generally excluded from historiographies of particular regions—like the Southwest.  But, as Pérez asserts, critique is not enough, we must then remediate the damage done.

We returned to a dialogue about interstitial spaces and her connection to Homi Bhabha, a renowned post-colonial theorists, and his own analysis of interstices.  Drawing from her own history of engaging the concept, Pérez recalled when she was accepted to the School of Criticism and Theory, during her tenure at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), in 1993.  During this summer institute she took several seminars with Bhabha, who had scholars read about the “interstices”—the “in between” spaces. She remembered talking with him after a class one day, mentioning that his concern for articulating the “interstices” was similar to Gloria Anzaldúa’s deployment of “nepantla” in Anzaldúa’s visionary work Borderlands/La Frontera.  Published in 1987, Anzaldúa used “nepantla” a Nahuatl word that signifies, “in the middle” or “in between,” as a concept to describe the production of a hybrid identity for Chicanx in the borderlands.  It was important to reference Anzaldúa’s use of this term, since, as Pérez noted, so often others believed they were the first to engage its meaning. It was in this moment, during our interview, that Pérez so beautifully illustrated how to “write Chicanas into history.”

Our interview continued in this manner for nearly an hour and a half as we discussed what it means to “queer” borderlands history, as well as the politics of diversity in academia, her recent move to the University of Arizona, her joy in returning to the borderlands, and the overall fatigue we, as scholars of color, feel in the era of Trump.  Despite the fatigue, Pérez reflected, we cannot afford for a moment to be lax.

As we interpret theory, as we reach into the deepest regions of our consciousness for solace, we must constantly confront the material circumstances that deprive us of freedom and peace.  She remarked that while identity politics has been stripped of its meanings, we must continue to fight for justice through an intersectional lens. “Race is just not enough,” she responded. We must understand the ways gender, race, sexuality, and class work in concert to oppress and marginalize in our society. Fortunately, Pérez sees positive moves in this direction.  The generation of scholars that are coming forth, she says, have her “err on the side of hope.”

Enjoy the full audio of Dr. Emma Pérez’s BHIP here and stay tuned for more from the Borderlands History blog this coming fall. Remember to ‘like’ us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. Until next time…

Special thanks for audio editing to Marko Morales.

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A conversation with Omar Valerio-Jimenez, Santiago Vaquera-Vasquez, and Claire Fox, editors of “The Latina/o Midwest Reader.”

In The Latina/o Midwest Reader (University of Illinois Press, 2017) editors Omar Valerio-Jiménez, Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez, and Claire F. Fox bring together an exceptional cadre of scholars to dispel the notion that Latinas/os are newcomers to the Midwest. Through seventeen penetrating essays, this collection explores the trajectory of Latina/o migration, their demographic transformation of the Midwest, importance as laborers, neighbors, and community builders, as well as their struggles to obtain social and economic justice. Collectively, the essays within this anthology make several important interventions concerning the distinctiveness of the Midwest in the Latina/o experience and the effect it has had on identity formation and social activism. The presentation of the Midwest as a “border space” (i.e., contact zone) for Latina/o migrants from various parts of Latin America is a central theme that runs throughout the book. This anthology is an essential addition to Latina/o studies scholarship as it challenges the bi-coastal normativity and exclusivity of existing scholarship.

Listen to the full conversation on the New Books in Latino Studies podcast.

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A conversation with Raul Coronado, author of “A World Not to Come: A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture.”

In A World Not to Come: A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture (Harvard University Press 2013) Dr. Raul Coronado provides an intellectual history of the Spanish America’s decentered from the dominant narrative of Enlightenment, revolution, and independence stemming from Protestant Europe and British America. Examining pamphlets, broadsheets, manuscripts, and newspapers, Coronado situates the emergence of Spanish American revolutionary thought at the moment of rupture, when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain and deposed King Fernando VII in 1808. It was at this moment, Coronado argues, when subjects of the Spanish Crown were thrust into the modern era with the task of envisioning and producing an alternative to the ancien regime.

With an engaging and sweeping narrative that transports readers across time and space, Coronado explores the central actors and ideas that intersected in and developed out of the Spanish American borderlands to lead independence movements throughout Latin America during the first half of the 19th century. Rooted in the region that would become modern-day Texas, A World Not to Come explores the formation of community and identity, as well as the transmission of ideas, among Texas Mexicans during the eras of Mexican independence and U.S. westward expansion. In the process, Coronado provides a different history of modernity (“alternative west”) that is truly transnational in scope and content.

Have a listen to the full podcast interview on New Books in Latino Studies.


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Borderlands History Interview Project: We speak to Deena J. González!

Deena Gonzalez

Dr. Deena J. González

As I prepared for this BHIP, I was reminded of the first time I read her monograph.  Deena J. González’s Refusing the Favor was one of the first history books I read that was written by a Chicana about Hispanas and ethnic Mexican women in the Southwest. I recalled sitting with my fellow classmate, Dennis Aguirre, on the stiff couches in the student lounge at UTEP, feverishly underlining passages in the text. While carefully studying her analysis, we marveled at the sources González was able to recuperate.  In subsequent years, this now dog-eared and tattered book has become a vital source for countless essays, including my dissertation.  When the opportunity came, I jumped at the chance to interview Dr. González about her career and her love for and interest in Women and Borderland’s history.

Currently, Deena J. González is Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Professor of Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. She earned her B.A. at New Mexico State University in 1974, then moved on to UC Berkeley in California to receive her M.A. and PhD in 1976 and 1985, respectively. She wrote a foundational text in Chicano/a history, women’s history, and borderlands history titled Refusing the Favor: The Spanish-Mexican Women of Santa Fe, 1820-1880 published by Oxford University Press in 1999. She’s authored several articles including “Gender on the Borderlands: Re-textualizing the Classics,” in a special issue of Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies in 2003, as well as garnered numerous awards, among them the American Council on Education Fellowship from 2010-2011.

Since the interview was shaped by my memories of reading Refusing the Favor, I started by asking González about the process of writing her first monograph.  Her project went through several phases, particularly as she grappled with languages. She realized some sources would be out of her reach as she battled to learn indigenous languages and perfect her knowledge of medieval, colonial and nineteenth century Spanish. This early setback caused her to reevaluate her study about the Spanish and U.S.-Mexico borderlands and she began to contemplate some of the major gaps in the literature.  Up to this point women had played minor roles (or none at all) in the histories of this region and González honed in on the opportunity to foreground these stories.

Provoked by advisors who told her she would not find much about women in the archives, she accepted the challenge and began her work on Refusing the Favor. González recalled, “I went to the archives and, of course, they are full of documents about women.”  After spending time with her sources, she began to refine her thoughts about the U.S war with Mexico, the loss of Mexico’s territories, and the absence of women’s experiences from this colonial takeover. She was particularly taken by the lack of information written about Spanish speaking Catholic women in these regions and how they contested and negotiated the brutality of colonization.  She spent nearly nine months collecting documents in New Mexico that later served as the foundation for her book.

Deena González’s study of Spanish-speaking women in the borderlands created the contours for Chicana history in this region. Her monograph sought to complicate U.S. West and borderlands historiography by revealing the layers of multifaceted violence inflicted on women as American colonization swept the American Southwest.  González’s analysis was connected to the growing literature of Chicano/a history that foregrounded “survival and resistance in the face of very longterm struggles.” Moreover, her work continued in the trajectory of Chicana scholars such as Vicki Ruiz and Antonia Castañeda, who proposed a Chicana feminist revision of entrenched Western histories. Thus, her book was grounded in women’s defiance, as González asserted that “the title of the book, has everything to do with this ‘I refuse the favor of your colonization of me!’” Indeed, González fondly described the countless moments of resistance she encountered in archival documents and the power these sources possess in the present.

In this respect, I asked Dr. González to speak on contemporary attempts to shun evidence, documentation, and fact as well as the desire to avoid and even disparage expertise and knowledge.  “How do we teach borderlands history in the age of Trump?” I queried.  González deftly walked the line between scholar and administrator as she called into question the waves of budget cuts that have hit universities and public education over all.  She contends that a small minority—Bernie Sanders calls them the 0.01%–somehow managed to elect one of their own.  González explained, “These people clearly did not like greater access to education, to learning, did not like greater access to healthcare, to any of the institutional life in this society.” She explained that these groups have been emboldened by Trump’s election to voice their anti-intellectual, white supremacist visions and their desire to deny facts. However, González cautioned rightly that these ideologies are not new, they’ve long outlined the fringes of American politics.  In this way she returned to the power of historical research by explaining how documents can reveal to us the ways in which marginalized people have resisted and negotiated oppressive regimes.  “We must keep our eyes on teaching the lessons of the past,” she said.

We spoke about many other issues related to her current research and her visions for borderlands history in the years to come. I recommend our audience listen to our extensive interview.  I will also add that before we began the interview, Professor González informed me she would have little time to expand on various topics because she was terribly short on time. Nevertheless, we had a spirited conversation within a small breath of time and it is evident that her feminist convictions extend far beyond her research and into her everyday academic mentorship and life.  Thank you again for joining us on the BHIP. Remember to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our new YouTube channel. Until next time.

Special thanks to Marko Morales for sound editing and Mike Bess for technical support.

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Demolishing the Barrio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q&A with Michel Hogue about “Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People”

On October 5, 2015, the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University hosted Michel Hogue (Associate Professor of History at Carleton University in Ottawa) to speak about his new book, Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People. You can watch the video of that talk below. His book was published in 2015 by the University of North Carolina Press with the aid of a Redd Center grant. Ever one to remind our community of scholars that there are borderlands to the north as well, I highly recommend his work and thankfully I am not the only one singing Hogue’s praises. Since its publication and his talk for the Redd Center, Metis and the Medicine Line has won the Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize, was a finalist for the Canada Prize in the Humanities, and is still a finalist for the prestigious Sir John A. Macdonald Prize (winners to be announced on May 31).  Prof. Hogue was kind enough to participate in a Q&A below about the book. Questions by Brenden W. Rensink, responses by Michel Hogue.

 

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BHIP #8: We speak to Dr. Grace Peña Delgado!

Grace Delgado (3)

Dr. Grace Peña Delgado. Photo credit: Dr. Ernesto Chávez.

 

It was a lovely morning drive to Santa Cruz, California to meet with and interview Dr. Grace Peña Delgado. Dr. Delgado is currently Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Making the Chinese Mexican: Global Migration, Exclusion, and Localism in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands (Stanford University Press: 2012) which was distinguished as a CHOICE Academic title. Additionally, she co-authored Latino Immigrants in the United States (Polity, 2012) with Ronald Mize.

Delgado has penned several noteworthy articles including her latest piece, “Border Control and Sexual Policing: White Slavery and Prostitution along the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1903-1910,” in the Western Historical Quarterly which garnered several awards including the Judith Lee Ridge Award for best article in history published by a member of the Western Association of Women Historians and the Bolton-Cutter Award for best article on Spanish Borderlands history. We had a wonderful conversation about her past projects and her current and future research. Delgado discussed the significance of migration, immigration, race, gender, and sexuality in the borderlands, and about the ways in which the state as a focus of study is becoming more important as we understand the history of the making of the Mexico-U.S. and the Canada-U.S. boundary.

Delgado explained how she discovered the topic for her first book Making the Chinese Mexican. Listening to her grandparents recall the expulsion of the Chinese community out of Sonora, Mexico, Delgado realized she had no historical knowledge of this event. She saw promise in this little known topic and this transnational story became the focus of her dissertation and then her book. In the end Delgado believes her manuscript is a critique of nationalism on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. While there is a strong historical understanding of the dangers of American nativism at the turn of the twentieth century, her book shows the ways in which Mexican nationalism/nativism pushed back and forged a distinct border culture along the border of Arizona and Sonora, specifically as it related to the racialization of Chinese and Mexican communities in the region.

Her current project emerged alongside her research for her first book; as she dug through archival material that discussed the exclusion of Chinese from the United States and Mexico, she discovered documents that related to white slavery and the policing of women’s bodies along the border. While her first book revealed the layers of racial justifications for national exclusion, her current research unpacks the gendered and sexualized modes of exclusion, particularly for women. Delgado believes that a deeper and more nuanced analysis of state bureaucracy will reveal the ways in which sexuality lay at the foundation of state control along the border. She contends that the state and state formation mechanisms have been absent from the ways in which we analyze identity formation and the creation of communities along the border.

We also talked about the influence of Chicano/a and Latino/a historiography and methods in her research. Delgado made clear that her next book will reclaim borderlands history as Chicano/a history and vice versa. As borderlands scholars begin to address different questions, Delgado suggests this work has not been attributed to Chicano and Chicana historiography. She explains that as scholars we have “lost track of the contributions of Chicano historiography of 40 years past and we’ve also lost track of the way in which they’ve talked about the state and state formation on the border…” Dr. Delgado explains that her next book, focusing on prostitution, white slavery, and state formation will bring Chicano/a scholarship back in conversation with borderlands historiography and firmly place Chicano/a history back in the borderlands.

I asked Delgado about how she approaches teaching U.S. history, given her research and analysis of borderlands history. “I teach histories of American empire-building through critiques of citizenship and nationalism that also include the Mexican side of the equation,” Delgado explained. She places Chicano/a history, specifically, within a hemispheric framework and teaching through a postcolonial lens. Delgado believes that these ideas as well as her tenure in Pennsylvania inspired her to write her book Latino Immigrants in the United States in order to show linkages between Chicano/a and Latino/a scholarship and experiences in the United States. Delgado states that bridging this scholarship and translating this historical knowledge for students can help them to understand the roots of collective activism against American nativism in this country.

There is so much more we discussed, specifically in regards to state building and the management and control of bodies along the border. I recommend listening to the entirety of the interview in order to truly appreciate the scope of Delgado’s work and knowledge. I could have asked Dr. Delgado a million more questions about nativism, bureaucracies, immigration and the power of the state in the borderlands. It was a pleasure to interview her and yet again confirm the importance of borderlands history in our research and teaching.

I would like to thank Dr. Delgado for inviting me to the University of California, Santa Cruz and all the Borderlands History blog audience for tuning in to this exciting interview.

Special thanks to Marko Morales for his audio editing skills and to Mike Bess for his tech support.

Categories: Interviews, Methodology, Teaching/Professional Development | 1 Comment

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