Interviews

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

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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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!

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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

Rethinking Interconnectivity along the U.S.-Mexico Border

The U.S.-Mexico border is the most frequently traversed political boundary in the world. In his new book, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, Parag Khanna, a research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, sees cities, communication networks, and transportation infrastructure as the key points of reference to understand how global society organizes itself, today. Although his argument diminishing the importance of national boundaries is less convincing (given the legal and policing issues millions of people face), the visual (re)presentation of global population centers, and of how goods and people move across geographic space, is compelling. Recently, the Washington Post interviewed Khanna about his work. Here’s what he had to say about his map depicting the U.S.-Mexico border and the North American economy:

One of the titles I’ve given the map is ‘Think geology, not nationality.’ America is now suddenly the largest oil producer in the world. The American energy revolution is the most significant geopolitical event since the end of the Cold War, and it’s a major shift in the world’s tug of war. Ten years ago, we were all talking about how the United States and China were going to fight resource wars for Middle Eastern oil and minerals in Africa. Now, thanks to this incredible seismic revolution, we’re selling oil to China instead.

The reason this relates to North America is because, if you think about strategy in the geological terms, you realize that if the U.S., Canada and Mexico unite their energy, water, agriculture and labor resources, you create a continental empire that is more powerful than America is. I’ve not even mentioned the Arctic, which of course Canada controls half of, which is becoming a very strategic geography as the Arctic ice melts. Canada is going to potentially be the world’s largest food producer in 20-25 years as a result of climate change. And then there’s water. The southwestern United States is now in a perennial drought, and yet at the same time, perversely, is the site of the fastest growing population in the United States. So hydrological engineering may need to take place between Canada and the United States.

For more of the interview, as well as his map depicting the infrastructural linkages across the U.S.-Mexico border, follow the link.

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Q&A with James F. Brooks about “Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat’ovi Massacre”

On February 25, 2016, The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies annual Annaley Naegle Redd Lecture was given by James F. Brooks, a Professor of History & Anthropology at the University of California – Santa Barbara. He spoke on his recently published Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat’ovi Massacre. Students and scholars of borderlands, indigenous, and southwest histories will be familiar with Brooks from his award-winning Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship and Community in the Southwest Borderlands andother important works. To accompany the video of the lecture, Professor Brooks was kind enough to also participate in a short Q&A below. Questions by Brenden W. Rensink, responses by James F. Brooks.

Read some of my own thoughts on the book at my “From the Bookshelf” series.

 

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“Democracy in the Fields” Website Release

Last Sunday (April 3, 2016) I had the pleasure of attending the launch of a wonderful new multi-media website that tells the story of “the summer of 1975,” which details the efforts of Salinas Valley farmworkers to join the United Farmworkers Union following the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act in May of 1975 (signed into law on June 5, 1975 by Gov. Jerry Brown).

Democracy in the Fields was made possible by the collaboration of Miriam Pawel (author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez), Mimi Plumb (photographer), Wendy Vissar (web designer), Bob Barber (journalist), and a generous grant from California Humanities. The event was held at the National Steinbeck Center.

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