More than Brazos: Family, History, and Storytelling Post-Bracero Program

By Vane Pérez

The history of migrant labor in the United States is intrinsically linked to Mexico. An example of this relationship is the Bracero program which ran from 1942 to 1964. The program is crucial in understanding current immigration policies, new guestworker program proposals, and advocacy for immigrant laborers. Much of the Bracero generation is now gone. The youngest men who worked the program’s final years are now at least in their seventies; what is left of their stories is largely in the words of their families. The desire to preserve these personal histories has struck me. These men serve as a heartbreaking example of people defined by their hardest moments ― not as people who continued to grow, create, fight, and inspire for the rest of their lives. What does it mean for Mexican Americans to engage with the histories and dialogues of braceros only through the lens of suffering? Despite dehumanizing conditions and sociocultural barriers, braceros crafted their legacy in the fabric of both American and Mexican society. By looking beyond their status as laborers, it becomes clear that braceros were people who led multi-dimensional and vibrant lives. They passed down valuable oral histories documenting their respective lifeworlds. Analyzing these stories is a small step toward preserving the history of braceros and undoing the lasting trauma that the program caused.

The Bracero program was a joint effort program under the U.S. State Department, the Department of Labor, and Immigration and Naturalization Service between the U.S. and Mexico implemented to relieve agricultural and railroad industry labor shortages during World War II.[1] The Bracero program caused immeasurable damage to the physical and mental wellbeing of the roughly 4.6 million Mexican workers it brought to the U.S.[2] The program was a sought-after opportunity for the mainly indigenous, rural, and/or uneducated men the corrupt selection process targeted to send home major earnings for their families. If these men had the chance to be examined for the job, they were put through incredibly invasive physical examinations and even sprayed down with DDT (a pesticide that was already being studied at the time for its harmful effects).  Once on site, the men employed in the Bracero program faced squalid living conditions, dangerous work, unjust wages, wage garnishing, little to no healthcare, employer intimidation, and discrimination from neighboring white populations. Strikes organized to demand better wages, safety, or other measures were met with swift (occasionally violent) retribution from employers and officials.[3]

Yet another frustrating injustice of the Bracero program was uncovered as they returned home. From the inception of the program until the 1950’s, the U.S. and Mexican governments garnished ten percent of worker’s wages. These forced savings were to be held in Mexican banks, mainly Banco Rural de Credito Nacional (BanRural), to accrue interest and be given to the workers upon their return home as a nest egg and incentive to return to Mexico. This was not the case for many braceros. Though over $32 million was collected and deposited into American banks (primarily Wells Fargo) and later transferred to BanRural, there were many reasons why these men never received their rightful earnings.[4] Some never returned to Mexico to claim the funds; others were told by BanRural the whereabouts of the money were unknown. Some bracerosheard how difficult this money was to claim and never tried, while others still were never informed of the forced savings. Although audits by the Mexican and American governments provided extensive documentation of the amount of money each bracero was owed and complaints of missing money, the records eventually disappeared and were not recovered in the documents BanRural left behind when it closed.[5] These blatant abuses inspired powerful resistance from both braceros and their families during the program and in the ensuing decades.

Although the Bracero Program ended and all but erased its paper trails, it undeniably shaped the way we (U.S. citizens, Latinx people, Mexican Americans, etc.) talk about immigration and labor. Outside of legislative implications, the Bracero Program is something that fundamentally changed family structures and created generational trauma. Using my experiences as a framework for the sustained effects from generation to generation, it is clear just how deeply the consequences of the program have reverberated through my family and fundamentally shifted the way we communicate. Writing about the Bracero Program has given me the opportunity to dive into my family history and open a dialogue with the youngest generation of my family that I hope will allow us to move forward with a deeper understanding of what it means to heal and a clearer, multidimensional image of the migrants in our lives.   

I was inspired to dig into the story of braceros when I encountered two poems written in the 1940’s. The poems, Perdon by Luis Solorio and Oda A Cucamonga by Roberto García, rocked me to my very core with the realization that braceros are so much more than labor, so much more than brazos. The poems were resonant voices whispering to my heart from over seventy years ago and lasting proof of literary tradition crafted by braceros; something I had never expected to exist. In a truly serendipitous moment, I encountered the following lines of poetry in Oda A Cucamonga:  

siempre de ti me acordaré dichoso  

si el destino nos separa muy distantes.   

A ti, jardín, imperio de belleza   

con huertas de frondosos limonares  

te sublimo apesar de mi torpeza  

con mis versos, recuerdos, y cantares[6]

A rough translation being, ‘I will always remember you happily if fate separates us. You, garden, empire of beauty with orchards of lush lemon trees. I sublimate you, despite my clumsiness, with my verses, memories, and songs.’ This declaration that, despite imperfect words, the speaker will continue to remember and celebrate their past ignited me with passion.   

Allow me, for a moment, to paint a portrait of myself: a young, queer, second generation Mexican American artist raised in the Midwest. As a child growing up in a turbulent environment, creativity was my greatest boon. I wrote poems until my fingers had calluses; I drew, sang, read, and learned every craft I possibly could for the sake of distraction. Now, if I may, allow me to paint a portrait of my grandfather. Through the rosy tint of nostalgia, I would describe him as a mystery. In my fondest memory he was asleep on the sidewalk in front of his home, sombrero over his face, bible splayed open on his chest. In many ways, this is what the children, grandchildren, and even siblings and spouses have left of the braceros in their lives: tired, enigmatic men, sometimes quiet, sometimes not, but with entire swaths of their lives untold.   

What little information I have from my abuelo has been hard-won: pulled like teeth from my father in his few vulnerable moments just as I know he had done with his father in his youth. My father and his father were migratory workers. I only ever got to know them in the cherished moments that they were not working andhad the emotional energy to talk about themselves. Now, I know them both to a fuller extent. I know they are creative men. I know they love music; I know now that they are the source of my humor. Though my father was not a bracero, it is clear how deeply he and his eleven siblings were affected by being raised by parents who endured widespread, generational trauma. This is true of most, though not all, of the people I have had discussions with about stories of the braceros in their lives. 

 I do not wish to remember my grandfather as a man who suffered. I do not believe trauma is necessary to make one stronger. I do wish to remember him fully; to celebrate him as a man of many qualities. This is only possible by excavating his history and adjusting the way I frame his narrative. Throughout my research, I have had opportunities to speak with family about the history of Latinx people, but more specifically, Mexican people in the United States. The more we addressed painful facts, the more my uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, and I understood about ourselves. I have witnessed deep hunger in the hearts of these people― the hunger for truth, for change. With so many Latinx people living tasked with the incomprehensible weight of having a ‘better life’ than that of their forebearers, our past has become lost in the pursuit of the future.   

Seventy-nine years after its inception, the Bracero program continues to shape lives. Though one can choose to focus on the negative effects of the program, recognizing the people involved in their entirety is the beginning of moving on from these effects. Drawing inspiration from the resilience and creativity of braceros can fuel transformative justice and mitigate the harm created by the program. Though Latinx people may feel pressured to work toward a better future, recognizing the roots of intergenerational trauma is the missing link that is crucial in making these futures truly worth reaching.


Gamboa, Erasmo. 1987. “Braceros in the Pacific Northwest: Laborers on the Domestic Front, 1942-1947.” Pacific Historical Review 378-398.

García, Mario T. 1984. “BRACERO POETRY OF THE 1940S: TWO SAMPLES.” Bilingual Review / La Revista Bilingüe 11 (no. 3): 45-48.

Loza, Mireya. 2016. Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Osorio, Jennifer. 2005. “Proof of a Life Lived: The Plight of The Braceros and What It Says About How We Treat Records.” Archival Issues 95-100.

Thompson, Charles D. 2017. “Faces of Time: The Braceros of Ciudad Juárez.” Southern Cultures 23 (no. 2): 97-112.

[1] Erasmo Gamboa, Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 379.

[2] Jennifer Osorio, Proof of a Live Lived, 95.

[3] Erasmo Gamboa, Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 382.

[4] Jennifer Osorio, Proof of a Life Lived, 97.

[5] Jennifer Osorio, Proof of a Life Lived, 97.

[6] Mario Garcia, Bracero Poetry of the 1940s, 47-48.

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Programa Frontera Sur: Historical Violence Against Central America in a 21st Century Context

By Emily Miranda

When thinking about the concept of borderlands, it is natural to picture the region between the United States and Mexico, as well as the connotations of immigration associated with this area. The United States has spent decades militarizing and politicizing this region as it best fit the national agenda. In recent years, to further an anti-immigration and imperialist agenda, as well as distance itself from its responsibility for current immigration conditions, the U.S. has moved its focus from the U.S./Mexico border and taken an interest in the Southern Mexico border, offering the Mexican government support to bolster their border defenses. The United States has made Mexico a proxy in its war against immigration by funding the militarization of the Southern Mexico border against immigrants from Central America and by doing so, has secured its control in Latin America, while continuing to oppress Central Americans within U.S. borders and Central America itself.

In 2014, the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, launched Programa Frontera Sur (PFS) to strengthen border protections between Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico, as well as protect the migrants who enter Mexico. The program contains five components that were identified to meet these goals: 1) Regular and Ordered Migration, 2) Improvements in Infrastructure for border security and migration, 3) Protecting Migrants, 4) Regional Shared Responsibility, and 5) Interagency Coordination.[1] The Mexican government was very open about the assistance they received from the United States, and the Embassy of the United States in Mexico released a statement shortly after the announcement of PFS, saying: “We applaud yesterday’s announcement by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto regarding Mexico’s strategy for its southern border. The Mexican government has been working on this strategy for more than a year and has routinely briefed the U.S. government on Mexico’s objectives.”[2]  The two countries have a history of working together on border policy, an example being the Merida Initiative that was signed in 2008 and served as a steppingstone to PFS. Specifically, Pillar III of the Merida initiative focused on the creation of the 21st century U.S.-Mexican border, which included sending millions of dollars in equipment to strengthen the southern Mexican border, as well as training initiatives for Mexican border agents.[3]

 Criticisms came quickly following the announcement of PFS, specifically regarding the failure on Mexico’s behalf to consider the other Central American countries that should have been a part of this discussion, namely Honduras and El Salvador. These two countries represent the next largest immigrant pools that make their way through Mexico. One critic stated “[This program] makes things easier by giving Guatemalans and Belizeans permission to work and visit Mexico. This is certainly a very important part of the problem, however, is not the total solution, because there are also migrants coming from Honduras and El Salvador that right now are not included.”[4] Others also pointed out that Guatemala and Belize were not the populations that needed urgent intervention. Following the announcement, the Mexican government stated that they were in the process of working with other Central American countries, including Honduras and El Salvador, to assess migration from these regions and develop appropriate policy. However, what this meant was immigrants from these regions would not have the same protections as those from Guatemala and Belize and would still face a highly militarized border.

The U.S. involvement in this program is concerning for a multitude of reasons, many of which can be explained by the historical relationship of the U.S. and the countries of Central America. Over the last century, Central America has been subject to U.S. control through economic, political, and militaristic means, leading to the destabilization of the region and the development of the migrant situation we see today. Developing an understanding of this history will provide context to evaluate the consequences of PFS for Central American migrants.

Modern U.S. entanglement with Central America can be traced back to the development of so called “Banana Republics.” This derogatory term referred to the Central American countries that were under the control of the United Fruit Company in the early twentieth century.[5] The view of the company as it began its conquest of Central America was very much in line with the ideals of manifest destiny; Central America was there for the taking, to be controlled and bent to the will of Americans multinational corporations. This was compounded by the racial hierarchy ingrained in American society, meaning white managerial elites sent to “develop” these regions saw Central American citizens as theirs to control. It is no surprise that to continue foreign exploitation, U.S. military forces brutally curtailed insurrections to protect U.S. foreign investments. U.S.-trained military forces committed incalculable atrocities during this time—villages destroyed, citizens brutally tortured, disappeared, or killed, and generations of Central Americans traumatized under the guise of American democracy.[6] Currently, in its funding and training of agents for PFS, the U.S. supports oppressive regimes in Central America by supplying their military forces with aid, weaponry, and training. The reasoning given by the U.S. for earlier interventions was the fight against communism and the necessary role of the U.S. as “protector” of this region.[7] The truth, however, is that when Central Americans began to fight against oppressive governments, the U.S. feared they would lose their informal control, no longer able to exploit the region for economic gain.[8] More recently, the power the U.S. holds in Central America was exemplified by their involvement with the 2009 coup in Honduras. It is debated whether the U.S. had any direct hand in overthrowing the democratically elected leader Manuel Zelaya, but the reaction of U.S. officials in the aftermath of the coup leaves no doubts that this event worked in their favor.[9] By supporting the coup, the U.S. guaranteed that its interests would be protected; prior to the coup, the Zelaya government implemented policies that favored the Honduran people rather than transnational corporations.[10] This event, much like those in the 20th century, resulted in an uptick in migration as many citizens fled persecution by the coup regime.

I have chosen to discuss PFS, as well as these histories, because I feel these describe the exact reasons why America finds itself in this current immigration situation. On a more personal level, I feel compelled to share these histories as they are often hidden away, stripping any possibility of holding the United States accountable for its actions in this region. I fear that by not taking the time to evaluate our current system in the context of the past, we are subjecting more migrants to suffering at the hand of the United States. PFS is only one facet of the current immigration system; there is no doubt in my mind that this program, as well as other border security programs will only continue to grow in the coming years, and that we will see losses in these migrant communities that could have been prevented.  As Walter LaFeber describes in his work, Inevitable Revolutions, the United States does not want to control Central America on a day-to-day basis, rather, it wants to control the region just enough to serve its own interests, disregarding the people in the countries themselves.[11] This, in essence, describes the situation we see presented with Programa Frontera Sur. The United States is removing any responsibility from itself towards the Central American people and is instead using Mexico as a militarized buffer to do away with a mess of its own creation along the U.S./Mexico border. In this deal, the United States will keep its hands relatively clean. The lives affected because of this program can be attributed to the dangers associated with these countries, while the U.S. continues enjoying its position as oppressor from afar. What the United States has done is not “fix” the immigration problem, rather, these actions have pushed Central American immigrants further from the nations’ consciousness and exposed them to extreme violence (among other human rights atrocities), all while the United States exploits their countries for profit. By aiding in the development of programs such as Programa Frontera Sur, the United States forces Central Americans to pay the price of 21st century imperialism.

[1] Pedro Valenzuela and Christopher Wilson, “Mexico’s Southern Border Strategy: Programa Frontera Sur,” Border Issues (Wilson Center, 2014).

[2] Pedro Valenzuela and Christopher Wilson, “Mexico’s Southern Border Strategy”.

[3] Fernanda Martinez Flores, “The Effects of Enhanced Enforcement at Mexicos Southern Border: Evidence from Central American Deportees,” Demography 57 (2020), 5.

[4] Pedro Valenzuela and Christopher Wilson, “Mexico’s Southern Border Strategy”.

[5] Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993) 63; Dana Frank, The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018) 10.

[6] Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide, 9.

[7]  Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide, 117.

[8] Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide, 8.

[9] Dana Frank, The Long Honduran Night, 28.

[10] Dana Frank, The Long Honduran Night, 31.

[11] Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions, 16.

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Race, Pandemics, and Disease: Immigration and Repeating History

By Alexia Potter

It’s crazy to think about how we have surpassed the one-year anniversary of start of the COVID-19 pandemic. So much has happened in this one year and so much has not happened. After realizing that we have officially reached the one-year mark, I reflected on what life was like before it all began. I remember reading about the virus a few weeks before it got out of control. I recall reading articles from the Daily Mail every single day (because it’s called the Daily Mail) about how there were growing concerns in China regarding this new virus and before we knew it, the virus had spread around the globe. After COVID started to make its way through Europe, and eventually the United States, I recalled reading headlines about how people had begun labeling the virus as the “Chinese disease” and people were blaming not just Chinese Americans for the spread of COVID to the U.S., but any Asian-American was suitable for blame and to be blatantly attacked for “being the reason” for the spread of COVID to the U.S. At first glance, this idea of Chinese people being blamed for the start of the pandemic may seem like a unique struggle that had to be endured by the Asian-American community but if we take a step back and look at the history of the United States, it becomes obvious that this is not the first time a racial minority has been unfairly and unrightfully blamed for spreading a disease.

In Natalia Molina’s How Race Is Made, she defines racial scripts as, “ways in which the lives of the racialized groups are linked across time and space and thereby affect one another, even when they do not directly cross paths.” What Molina is sayings is that the experiences that one minority groups endures is not unique to that minority group alone. This “script” is repeated throughout history and most likely can be applied to other racialized groups at some point in time. This connection can be seen between what the Asian-American community is experiencing now—as scapegoats accused of starting the pandemic—to what Mexicans experienced back in the early 1900’s when they were blamed for the spread of tuberculosis (TB).

During the 1880’s, cases of TB began popping up in the Eastern U.S. and at the time, the best cure was believed for people to go live in the south along the U.S. – Mexican border because the “region’s dry warm climate” would bring these people back to full health. The other reason that the Southwest was believed to help cure TB was because no cases of it had yet been found in any Mexicans and since they lived in that region and were healthy, the “logical conclusion” was that Mexicans were immune to TB and that the region’s climate protected their health. As mostly east coast white male health-seekers with TB settled in their new homes in the Southwest, they hired Mexican workers and servants to work in their homes. But as more people continued to migrate to the border with TB, eventually the Mexican workers, most often the domestic workers, began to contract the extremely contagious disease.
When doctors first began diagnosing cases of TB in Mexican workers, they blamed the spread of the disease on sexual promiscuity of the Mexican domestic workers. They believed that these women were meeting multiple people and often people of other races and conducting sexual activity with them that allowed for them to contract TB and spread it to other people. This highly offensive and racist theory allowed for the establishment of the stereotype that Mexicans were inherently “dirty and disease ridden” as well as the idea that Mexican women were sexually deviant. Rather than focusing on finding a cure or minimizing the spread, white tuberculars blamed Mexican workers that were in no way at fault for coming down with the sickness. In fact, they denied they were the original carriers of the disease.

This history has some parallels with what we saw at the beginning of the 2020 pandemic. People were angry with China when there was speculation that the COVID-19 virus stemmed from wet markets in Wuhan, China. In the U.S. media outlet and the public called Chinese people “reckless and dirty.” In the same way that the white health-seekers in El Paso blamed Mexicans for spreading TB, many people were unfairly Chinese people—and by extension most Asian people—for spreading Covid-19 despite tourism and a hesitance to quarantine (and later wearing masks) the major causes for spreading the disease. Rather than focus on what we as a nation needed to do to slow the spread of COVID, people spent precious energy posting hate online and committing acts of violence against the Asian-American community. Molina’s theory of racial scripts provides the historical understandings for this current moment’s violence and xenophobia.

By looking back at history, it is clear to see how different minority groups often get mistreated in similar ways at different periods of time. These racial scripts have existed in the past, exist now, and will continue to exist in the future. It is important to identify these different racial scripts as they pop-up because it shows us the long roots of this kind of violence that covered by public health and medicalization. Unfortunately, it does not appear that racial scripts will be coming to an end anytime soon but for now, we can try to learn from other groups’ experiences and try to develop better strategies for confronting these horrific cycles of racial violence and dehumanization.

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Herrenvolk Democracy and Manifest Destiny: How foundations of Racism Have Continued to Threaten the Preservation of Latinx Immigration, Culture and Bodies

By Jordan Geriane

The United States education system is flawed, there is no denying it. Our founding fathers built this country on white supremacist and Christian values (or lack thereof) that empower white people and disenfranchise nonwhite people. As this nation has developed, Herrenvolk Democracy has reigned in subtle ways within our schools by erasing key parts of our history while depicting other aspects as heroic. For example, historically contingent ideals such as Manifest Destiny and immigration enforcement are seen as patriotic and honorable when they are the opposite of those things. In this two-section post, I will discuss the idea of Herrenvolk Democracy, as articulated by Cristina Beltrán, Ernesto Chaves, and Laura Gomez, in order to expand our understanding of a hierarchical racial order, white supremacy, and their connections to racist paramilitary groups along the U.S.-Mexico border. This framing helps us understand the history of Latina/o/x immigration and the Latinx community in the United States under the tyranny of white supremacy.

According to Cristina Beltrán’s introduction to Cruelty as Citizenship, Herrenvolk Democracy embodies tyrannical characteristics and “a form of democratic violence that generates violence and taught tyranny.” This suggests that throughout our country’s history white citizens have operated under Herrenvolk logics and have essentially given each other ‘permission’ to engage in and support extralegal acts of white violence against those deemed to be nonwhite. Such violence included acts of lynching, raping, defrauding, murdering, and rioting against nonwhite bodies and communities. The most sickening fact about these acts is they have been consented by the local, state, and even federal governments. These acts are scarcely ever given any consequences to those who commit them. When reading through this history, students will discover how white settlers and white citizens created ways to take it upon themselves to ‘defend’ their communities from nonwhite people. In our current K-12 history books, white settlers are written about as heroes, fighting against oppressors (nonwhite peoples) for centuries.  

Our history books tell white citizens that they are the rightful owners of the land they live on even after acknowledging how white settlers drove Native peoples and Latinx people (Mexico and Puerto Rico) off what was originally their land. Beltrán discusses the historical tragedy of westward expansion, a tragedy that pushed innocent Native Americans and Latinx people away from their homes and off land that was rightfully theirs. This is where the idea of manifest destiny projects. It is the belief that white settlers were destined and justified to settle across America. In school, we were taught that this concept was a revolutionary and righteous historical conquest in most history classes. Though in reality, such conquests damaged the culture and lives of many Latinx and Native American people.

Upon pushing nonwhite peoples out of their homelands, an anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and anti-nonwhite narrative gradually built itself up in the US. Through the legal system and cultural ideals, white citizens have painted these Latinx people as incompetent, dangerous invaders. These perceptions have built racialized societal structures and systems over time, such as criminal justice, education, and healthcare.  Our education system fails to teach students about them time and time again. The erasure of Latinx history in the United States is a systematic problem that we must fix so that students preserve their history and lived experiences in this country.

Given this, I argue that our education system in the United States is propagandist. The way US History is taught in our public education system is biased. Latinx, Native American, Asian, and Black experiences are deliberately ignored and twisted in ways that are harmful to everyone living in our society today. Concepts such as westward expansion, Manifest Destiny, the American Revolution, and the Louisiana Purchase are all parts of history where students are taught to adulate our founding fathers, our former presidents, and the ‘first’ Americans to colonize stolen land.

Chicano/a scholars Ernesto Chávez and Laura Gómez discuss themes Beltrán describes as part of Herrenvolk Democracy. Chávez and Gómez describe manifest destiny as central to this white vision of white democracy. Both authors examine how these ideas are essentially the same thing: They are deeply rooted in racism.

Chávez considers manifest destiny as the pursuit of western territory in the United States, and that it was “the belief that Americans had a God-given right, based on racial superiority, to expand to the Pacific Ocean.” This ideology continued to cast all nonwhite people—Indigenous, Mexican, Asian and Black people — as inferior beings. This toxic pursuit of power established a racial hierarchy that eventually embraced the acts of slavery, discrimination, and hate crimes in the coming years, radically developing into what we know now as white supremacy.

This destiny — this flawed and dangerous way of thought — ingrained a toxic and violent right to build a nation through territorial expansion and was essential to ideas for the development of white American racial superiority. Gómez articulates that Americans, Anglo-settlers and white citizens, “tend to not think of themselves as colonizers.” They tend to forget that they chose to war with Mexico and that their ‘brave pioneers’ attacked Mexico with aggression. Nonwhite people who lived on this land were seen as unwelcome invaders. There was no altruism or peace for these people, only war and pain, and all that history is seemingly nonexistent in our US history classes.

Frustratingly enough, the way such historical events are taught or muted within the US education system demeans and erases the lived experiences of Latinx immigrants and people. It highlights the wrongdoers as heroes, and the innocent as disposable. To this day, our brothers and sisters of color are continuously being erased and living in fear. Immigrants, specifically Latinx immigrants, are still targeted for simply living their lives. In my next post, I will further discuss the growth of white supremacy and how violence has skyrocketed into institutions that allows white supremacists and racism to play out under the law.

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Internal Colonialism and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands: Reflections from a Panel at LASA 2017 in Lima

In his recent groundbreaking book, journalist Chris Hayes characterizes the erratic U.S. criminal justice system as “a colony in a nation,” adding a highly original new voice to the growing body of literature on the modern carceral state.[1] Hayes argues that the system consists of “two distinct regimes…[one] (the Nation) is the kind of policing regime you expect in a democracy; the other (the Colony) is the kind you expect in an occupied land.”[2] As such, the criminal justice system, for Hayes, exists largely as a mechanism created by the state through democratic means in order to control a large portion of the U.S. population—in this case, African Americans, in particular.

This idea that African Americans are a colonized people in the United States is not necessarily a new one. Famed sociologist W.E.B. DuBois wrote of African Americans as a “nation within a nation” as early as 1935; even Richard M. Nixon noted in his 1968 Republican National Convention speech that African Americans “don’t want to be a colony in a nation.”[3] Nonetheless, in casting the criminal justice system as a colony existing inside the borders of the United States, Hayes revives a long-dismissed idea that holds significance on multiple levels, including—as I will suggest here—the relationship between the United States and its border with Mexico as well as the Hispanic population that traces its roots to the North American Southwest.

The idea that ethnic minorities could be colonized, oftentimes in native homelands that exist inside the borders of modern nation-states—which, essentially, is the fundamental essence of internal colonial theory—first gained purchase during the 1960s. One of the first scholars to apply this idea to interethnic relations was the Mexican sociologist Pablo González-Casanova, who focused on the abuses that Indians suffered at the hands of Spaniards and criollos in Mexico. One of the first scholars to apply internal colonialism in an effort to explain the oppression of Mexican Americans was the sociologist Joan Moore in a 1970 article; two years later, another sociologist, Robert Blauner, utilized the framework in order to explain the oppression of ethnic minorities in the United States more broadly. Finally, famed Chicano historian Rodolfo Acuña used internal colonialism in the first edition of his now-classic survey text, Occupied America.[4]

Internal colonialism’s popularity among sociologists as well as historians, however, quickly faded. Part of this stemmed from more empirically based critiques of the idea, such as that of Gilbert G. González, who in a 1974 article argued that Chicanos did not constitute a nation given that they held no contiguous territory and lacked a national economy; thus, they could not exist as a colonized people. More recently, social historians’ desires to represent the lived agency of oppressed groups has also contributed to a shift away from finding any widespread utility in internal colonialism.[5]

Nonetheless, a small but seemingly growing number of scholars is once again utilizing internal colonialism with particular regard to the relationship between the United States, the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, and the millions of ethnic Mexicans who call that region home. Leading this group is historian John Chávez of Southern Methodist University, who has written widely on the subject and who also recently assembled a panel of historians to promote the utility of internal colonialism for understanding borderlands history at the 2017 Latin American Studies Association in Lima, Peru.[6] The rest of this post will provide a summary analysis of the panelists’ discussion in order to provide a window on how internal colonialism might be useful in raising questions about U.S.-Mexico borderlands history, not to mention some of the latest applications of the model as reflected by three works-in-progress.[7]

John Chávez’s paper, “Ethnic Mexicans, Indigeneity, and Internal Colonialism in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands” offers some innovative perspectives on internal colonialism. Chávez grounds his analysis of internal colonialism in the borderlands by emphasizing the concept of “homeland,” which, for ethnic Mexicans, stretches up from modern-day Mexico to include much of the U.S. Southwest, or, the territory lost by the Mexican state at the conclusion of the U.S.-Mexico War in 1848. Chávez argues that this homeland—as well as ethnic homelands, in general—are often imprecise due to their inclusion of ethnic settlements as well as the geographic demarcations of national politics or even the complex subtleties of international diplomacy. Mexican Americans, in particular, are native to the North American Southwest due to historical ties with American Indians as well as Spaniards dating back to the colonial period.

For Chávez, casting the North American Southwest as a colonized space inside of U.S. borders is helpful because it complicates oftentimes oversimplified arguments that Mexicans do not have proper claims to residency or citizenship in the United States. Chávez utilizes the place of his mother’s birth, California, to prove this as well as to show the complex nature of internal colonialism. Mission Indians in California intermixed with Spaniards to produce a detribalized mestizo class, who became the majority citizens in California after Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821. A second cycle of colonialism occurred when the United States invaded California during the U.S.-Mexico War, leading to the eventual domination of the natives and mixed groups in yet another new social hierarchy.

Ultimately, the importance of all of this for Chávez is rather personal: he and his mother are related to the native Tongva of California, meaning that they “belong to a mestizo people constantly regarded as foreign in the U.S.” Given that the media as well as the U.S. educational system generally cast ethnic Mexicans as recent immigrants to the United States—more so than their European-immigrant counterparts—Chávez concludes his analysis by demonstrating that the tracking of mitochondrial DNA demonstrates not only their indigeneity to the region but also the status of ethnic Mexicans in the North American Southwest as people having long been colonized in their own homeland.

My own paper, “Agricultural South Texas as an Internal Colony of the United States,” argues two things: first, that the stretches of South Texas between the Nueces River and the Río Grande that are devoted to agriculture—primarily, the Lower Río Grande Valley—became colonized by Euroamericans after the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848; and second, that the Valley itself is still an internal colony of the United States today.

My purpose in presenting these arguments was simply to explore what I consider to be the persistence of internal colonialism in the Valley during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as opposed to simply exploring its historical antecedents, which I have written on elsewhere. The nexus of expansion, U.S. imperialism, border controls, wealth polarization, and racial hierarchy led to Euroamericans colonizing this border space during the late 1800s and early 1900s, transfiguring large portions of it from being a space dominated by Tejano ranchers into what I call an “Iowa on the border.” This process accelerated during the first three decades of the twentieth century when land agents promoted the region as an agricultural empire by bombarding farmers in other parts of the United States with pamphlets and other promotional literature, showing that the Valley had one primary exploitable “natural resource”—that of human capital. The resulting dehumanization of ethnic Mexicans in the minds of the new Euroamerican South Texans can be seen through the later establishment of Jim Crow regulations, voter suppression, debt peonage, and a host of other wrongs committed against ethnic Mexicans in the region through the middle of the century.

Although the arrival of the Chicano Movement—with its emphasis on civil rights as well as a sense of the region being a small part of Aztlán, or, the ethnic-Mexican homeland—dismantled much of the repressive colonial mechanisms in the Valley, a case could be made that the region remains an internal colony of the United States. Although the region’s inhabitants enjoy a wide variety of material improvements as well degrees of upward social mobility not known to past generations, the region still ranks among one of the more economically depressed in the United States. President Donald Trump’s calls for a bigger border wall, combined with numerous border checkpoints miles north of the Río Grande, indicate the region’s bureaucratic as well as political, social, and cultural “apartness” from the rest of the United States. Increased numbers of deportations under Presidents Obama and Trump along with some state agents’ suspicious sidelong glances at the corporeal belonging in the United States of any ethnic Mexicans indicate a belief that, for millions of Americans, undocumented immigrants and ethnic Mexicans might not even belong in the Southwestern United States at all.

Finally, historian John Weber has written that the exploitive “South Texas model of labor relations” as seen in the Valley became copied nationwide over the course of the twentieth century;[8] one might also suggest that the neoliberal economic policies that have allowed U.S. corporations to cross the border during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in order to take advantage of cheap Mexican labor serve as an extension of the United States’s longstanding colonial relationship with ethnic Mexicans and Mexico, itself. Human capital remains an exploitable “natural resource” on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border in the early twenty-first century.

Culture, of course, cannot be ignored. Mary Lee Grant’s paper, “Reiterating the Metaphor of the Conqueror: Internal Colonialism in the Art of 20th Century Mexican-American Women,” explores how internal colonialism is reflected by the works of borderlands singer and actress Rosita Fernández and visual artist Consuelo “Chelo” González-Amezcua. These women, argues Grant, lived in an intellectual, spiritual, and creative borderland in which cultural hybridity led to inventive new means of expression. Both women launched their careers before the Chicano Era of the 1960s and 70s; as such, what Grant refers to as “the devaluing lenses of both Spanish and Anglo-American culture” brought themselves to bear in a time period before ethnic-Mexican women could gain anything even remotely close to widespread acceptance in the realms of performance or visual art.

Women like Fernández and González-Amezcua thus had to break loose from a wide variety of stereotypes in order to have voices as artists. In fact, both women used such stereotypes to their advantage. Fernández’s performances in San Antonio during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s stand out as bold and in direct defiance of the ubiquitous mechanisms of state-based colonialism. With her china poblana costume and her dark hair pulled back in a chignon, Fernández boldly proclaimed her Mexicanness during a time of mass deportations, increased border policing, and even pressure from Mexican Americans to demonstrate a sense of belonging by adapting to middle-class Anglo-American culture.

González-Amezcua stood out as a creation of the borderlands, identifying as both Texan and Mexican equally. Only educated through the sixth grade, González-Amezcua produced poetry as well as drawings that she exhibited widely in Texas and Mexico. Despite her success—her art was later accentuated thanks to the Chicano Movement—she struggled throughout life as a candy seller and later as a department store clerk in Del Rio, oftentimes unable to afford to purchase the necessary materials to produce her art. Grant rightly poses the question of whether or not an Anglo woman from the same time period would have had a better chance than González-Amezcua to succeed as an artist. “Perhaps not,” Grant concludes, but she also rightly adds that an Anglo woman would have at least had access to education in a language that she understood while also not having to face endemic ethnic discrimination. Indeed, the creative works of both González-Amezcua as well as Fernández cannot be separated from their status as colonized women, caught in between a variety of worlds and pressures in a borderlands space.

None of the abovementioned papers should be considered the last word on their respective subjects. Indeed, all represent various works in-progress that have not yet faced the rigors of peer review; nonetheless, they all have the same fundamental goal—promoting internal colonialism as a valuable intellectual tool for understanding the recent past in U.S.-Mexico borderlands history. Hopefully other scholars will see the utility of internal colonialism and join the small but growing chorus of scholars in interrogating the many and complicated histories of the borderlands by applying this theoretical model in their own works. Time will tell.


[1] Chris Hayes, A Colony in a Nation (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2017). For some examples of the growing scholarly literature on the carceral state, see, for example, Kelly Lytle Hernández, Khalil Gibran Muhammed, and Heather Ann Thompson, “Introduction: Constructing the Carceral State,” Journal of American History 102:1 (June 2015): 18-24; and, Kelly Lytle Hernández, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

[2] Hayes, A Colony in a Nation, 32.

[3] Ibid., 30, 31.

[4] Pablo González-Casanova, “Sociedad plural, colonialismo interno y desarrollo,” América Latina 6:3 (1963): 15-32; Joan W. Moore, “Colonialism: The Case of the Mexican Americans,” Social Problems 17 (1963): 463-472; Robert Blauner, Racial Oppression in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1972); Rodolfo Acuña, Occupied America: The Chicano Struggle Toward Liberation (New York: Harper and Row, 1972).

[5] John R. Chávez, “Aliens in their Native Lands: The Persistence of Internal Colonial Theory,” Journal of World History 22 (December 2011): 790-791, 795; Gilbert G. González, “A Critique of the Internal Colonial Model,” Latin American Perspectives 1 (Spring 1974): 154-161. For further criticisms of internal colonialism, see, Robert J. Hind, “The Internal Colonial Concept,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26 (July 1984): 543-568.

[6] John R. Chávez is the leading historian who is working toward promoting internal colonialism’s usefulness to historians. For examples of his work, see, Chávez, “Aliens in their Native Lands;” Chávez, “When Borders Cross Peoples: The Internal Colonial Challenge to Borderlands Theory,” Journal of Borderlands Studies 28:1 (2013): 33-46; and, Chávez, Beyond Nations: Evolving Homelands in the North Atlantic World, 1400-2000 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 163, 164-165, 166. For a few additional recent examples, see, Steven Sabol, “Comparing American and Russian Internal Colonialism: The ‘Touch of Civilization’ on the Sioux and Kazakhs,” Western Historical Quarterly 43:2 (Spring 2012): 29-51; and, Sabol, “The Touch of Civilization: Comparing American and Russian Internal Colonization” (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2017).

[7] Readers will please note that the following papers are all in-progress works that should not be cited.

[8] For more, see, John Weber, From South Texas to the Nation: The Exploitation of Mexican Labor in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

Categories: conferences, Essay Series, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

BHIP: We speak to Mary E. Mendoza about her work and career!

Mary Mendoza picture_EDIT

Dr. Mary E. Mendoza             Photo Credit: Ernesto Chávez

A Note: While I promised to have a second installment of “19th Century Historians and the Rise of Trump” on our BHIP, due to technical difficulties, this is not possible at this time.  We are currently working to bring back our speaker to complete this project.

This new BHIP, however, is still in line with our Trumpist theme and helps us to understand the long and contentious history of physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.  One of Trump’s main campaign promises was to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the nearly 1,900 miles that divide the United States and Mexico. With little regard for established communities or nature in this region, Trump has not only vowed to build a wall, but expects the Mexican government to foot the bill.  Dr. Mary Mendoza is in the process of completing a book manuscript on the history of barriers, fences, and walls in the borderlands and analyzes how states, individuals, communities, and the natural world have adapted to, contested, and negotiated these man-made divisions. Although, we spent a good deal discussing her current project, I also asked Dr. Mendoza to tell us about her experiences as a junior scholar and how she manages her time between research, writing and teaching.

Dr. Mendoza received her B.A. from Middlebury College in 2006, an M.A. in U.S. History from American University in 2010, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 2012 and 2015, respectively.  Mendoza’s current research project explores the intersections between the natural and built environments along the U.S.-Mexico border. Specifically, Mendoza writes about the history of fence construction along the border, the ways that nature has shaped and been shaped by construction, and how fences, though practically powerless to stop the movement of dynamic nature, have become a symbol of a racialized landscape of power, control, and exclusion.  She’s received numerous research support from such illustrious institutions as the National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian, the Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Currently, Dr. Mendoza is Assistant Professor in the History Department at the University of Vermont.

Mendoza’s topic is a personal one.  Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Mendoza recalled her father’s work as a bricklayer and how her proximity to the border and her family’s ethnic Mexican roots informed her vision of U.S. history.  She became interested in the use of fences and barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border as an undergraduate student and decided to continue her research on this subject in graduate school. Her ideas about fencing and constructed divisions changed over time, and she began to ask questions about how these man-made barriers affected the natural world around them.  Initially, Mendoza was surprised to find that fences along the border were first created to keep out bugs and microbes rather than people. She traced the lineage of these types of enclosures to prevent the free movement of cattle across the national divide. In the early twentieth century, steers infected with a particular tick not known to cattle farther north could potentially destroy entire herds.  Mendoza describes the extreme measures taken by the United States to protect cattle in the region by creating quarantines and disinfecting stations in various outposts in order to protect cows from infestation.

Mendoza examines the ways in which ranchers used nationality as a means to avoid the complex network of inspection stations, quarantines periods, and disinfecting of cattle that had inadvertently wandered across the international border.  She marveled at the voices of ranchers who suggested that “their good ole’ American cows,” were incapable of being contaminated by ticks and diseases from south of the border.  Were these ranchers actually racializing their herds?

Mendoza suggests that the first fences were created to control the natural world. They were created to prevent the natural movements of biological organisms considered a threat to the nation’s food supply, such as ticks. Yet today, the Nature Conservancy is suing the Department of Homeland Security because they argue the fence/wall on the border is destroying the natural habitat of countless animal species like the jaguar and the ocelot. Professor Mendoza highlights the ways that this argument is now flipped since “the fencing began as a project to control a natural, environmental threat, a nonhuman natural threat and over time has become an obstacle for these kinds of desirable nature. And of course mixed up in all of that is human migration.”  Thus, Mendoza also argues that while containment methods were originally used to keep out animals, insects and diseases, later they were used as a means to control entry of human beings as they crossed from Mexico into the United States.

Dr. Mendoza wants scholars to think about that ways in which the natural environments that we live in and those that we build “shape the way that we think about and treat each other, as humans.”  Furthermore, she contends that the central tension she would like to highlight in her forth-coming book is how “ideas about race have been profoundly influenced by nature. Disease, bugs, contaminants, things that we consider bad, but also that our ideas about race change nature and landscape.”  She explained that “We develop these ideas and establish racial difference based on concerns about contamination from tiny organism and ultimately transform entire landscapes.” Mendoza concluded by declaring that “nature is not separate from culture.”

In the spirit of Women’s History Month, Mendoza and I turned to a slightly different theme in regards to borderlands history and the professionalization of borderland scholars.  As women of color we discussed the sometimes difficult road toward working with institutions that will sustain our work and our visions for our academic projects.  However, we conceded that along the way we have been fortunate to find individuals and institutions that far exceeded our expectations in their support for our research. Mendoza spoke of her strong connection with the University of Vermont and their sincere dedication to her book.  Moreover, she also suggested that as people of color we must be diligent in applying for grants, fellowships, and postdocs that will support our research and allow us time to cultivate our ideas

Of course we talked about so much more. Mendoza gave suggestions on how to teach borderlands history and U.S. history in the Age of Trump, as well as how she is revising her dissertation for the book.   I highly recommend our Borderlands History Interview Project audience to listen to our full interview on our YouTube channel.  Unlike other guests Mendoza is at the beginning of what is sure to be an exciting career and we are thrilled to be able to showcase her words and insights. Her timely historical critique of racially charged discussions about fences and barriers in the borderlands is sure to revolutionize borderlands historiography and will serve to complicate current discussions about the construction of a massive wall in the region.

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


Remember to like our Facebook page, subscribe to our new YouTube channel, and follow us on Twitter. Thank you all for joining us! Until next time!

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BHIP: 19th Century Borderlands Scholars and the Rise of Trump


Dr. Raúl Ramos

There is no greater irony than celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Monday and bearing witness to Donald Trump’s inauguration as our 45th president on Friday.  If King’s name is synonymous to justice and equality, Trump’s name is its antonym.  The Borderlands History blog has yet to make a formal statement on the recent election. As we thought of what to say, everything seemed trite.  So we decided to leave it to others to share their thoughts on the election through a special BHIP series we’ve titled: 19th Century Borderlands Scholars and the Rise of Trump.  We’ve interviewed two well-respected historians that will contextualize and historicize the “Mexican Problem” and it origins in the 19th century, as well as how we can teach against Trump’s policies and continue a long legacy of resistance within the historical profession.

While the president-elect has left no stone unturned, attacking through his vitriolic rhetoric various racial and ethnic groups, women and the LGBTQI community, as a borderlands historian I am deeply concerned by his statements about this region.  The U.S.-Mexico border played a significant role in the presidential campaign, and Trump relied on an imagined national figure: the vicious, unlawful alien crawling across porous our southern border in search of American jobs. But as I sat down with Raúl Ramos and Deena Gonzalez just a week after the presidential election in November 2016, we examined how Trump was merely tapping into a long history of using ethnic Mexicans as scapegoats for a failing economy and crumbling infrastructure.  Social ills have been attributed to this so-called “problematic population” since the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, particularly in the American Southwest, and Trump capitalized on every imagined racist stereotype to win.

We’ve split the series in two. First we’ll hear from Raúl Ramos, Associate Professor of History at the University of Houston, and his take on Trump, the history of ethnic Mexicans in Texas, and teaching against racism in the present and future.  Ramos received his A.B. in History and Latin American Studies from Princeton University in 1989 and his Ph.D. in History from Yale University in 1999.  He is author of Beyond the Alamo: Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821-1861 with the University of North Carolina Press, 2008. The following year, his manuscript received the T.R. Fehrenbach Award from the Texas Historical Commission. He is co-editor with Monica Perales of Recovering the Hispanic History of Texas with Arte Público Press, 2010, and his most recent article “Chicano/a Challenges to Nineteenth-Century History,” was published in November 2013 in the Pacific Historical Review.  Ramos was a Fellow at the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University from 2000-2001.

We spoke at length about his last book, Beyond the Alamo, and how identity formation in this frontier area and the convergence of various empires and nation-states in the nineteenth century, help us understand the political positions of ethnic Mexicans and even Native communities today. “We are at a particularly exciting time, because once we take these local, regional, and national histories seriously, we see that they have the ability and the power to rewrite the larger narrative: the larger narrative of American history, in particular,” Ramos explained.  We talked about the power of nineteenth century history and its connections to racial formation in the borderlands. While some historians have described a hardening of racial categories in this time period, Ramos described the malleability of these categories in the borderlands.  However, Ramos explained that histories like his, those that focus on a particular locality and the creation of identity, will become increasingly important as we face political struggles now.  The construction of race at the intersections of class, gender, and sexuality, Ramos suggested “was a much more iterative process [in the borderlands] and its one where the way American colonialism and expansion to this region took place in the nineteenth century did set up structures and a way of relating to each other that we are still dealing with. Its legacy is still around us.” Although racial identification was pliable, the edifices created by the American empire to govern the region in the nineteenth century continue to enforce a racial hierarchy, particularly in regards to ethnic Mexicans and Native peoples in states like Texas, today.

This historical analysis guides Ramos’s approach to teaching and the larger questions asked in his courses. For instance, “Every year when I teach my Chicano history class, which focuses on Chicano history up to 1910, the question that dominates that class is: Is Mexican a race?”  Ramos continued, “We ask that question not in order to get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but in asking that question itself we get a better understanding of the way race operates, what power if has, the ways it structures relationships, and the way it becomes imbedded and hidden in other categories.”  The borderlands offers a distinct space to view American racial history.  It complicates the black/white binary of the standard historical narrative, but also expands our knowledge of racial formation in this period by viewing the relational forces that impacted other socially constructed categories of identity in the nineteenth century.  Ramos concludes, “Of course every generation is struggling with that question and what they see is going on in that time, but we also see the power in how that question is addressed and how that question is answered. And that’s what the nineteenth century allows you to do, we can point to it in much more stark relief, so whether you are looking at Laura Gomez’s work in New Mexico in the nineteenth century, she lays out a racial classification system that helps us understand the ways a nation can expand this region, this territory and incorporate new racial subjects.”

The conversation quickly moved to present connections between the creations of nineteenth century racial systems to the ways in which these systems infuse racist actions against ethnic Mexicans today.  In what Ramos called “barely coded language” recent chants of “Build the Wall” shouted by teenagers at football games against schools of predominantly ethnic Mexican students, Ramos declared “here we have that instance where the border itself is a stand-in for racial difference.” Thus, Ramos reflects on the power of nineteenth century borderlands history in the twenty-first and the ways in which historians must make these links between the past and the present.  However, we also talked about the lessons history teaches us about the ability to resist these oppressive racial systems, how historical actors, negotiated, but also vehemently resisted racial categorization. Ramos stated, “It is important to find, and identify, and support alternative networks of power. Not only does that remind you of the power that does exist, but it also points out the ways that the rhetorical force that is looking to disempower people is overplaying that hand as well.”

There is so much more that we spoke about as Ramos effortlessly wove the current despair over Trump’s electoral-college win with politics and identity formation in the nineteenth century borderlands.  I should say that while I was in deep mourning Raul Ramos’s talk along with Deena Gonzalez’s conversation, which you will hear next week, filled me with enthusiasm. We’ve been fighting these battles for centuries and still we thrive. We must be careful, as Ramos warns, not to let the powers that be delineate our ability to resist.

Please tune-in next week for the second part of our series dedicated to understanding the Age of Trump from the perspective of nineteenth century Chicana/o historians of the borderlands. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Be sure to check out our new Borderlands History Channel on Youtube where we’ll be adding all of our BHIP interviews!!

Note to listeners: With deep disappointment, I must warn our listeners that our recording software was corrupted and that various parts of this audio interview are difficult to listen to due to loud peeping sounds and static (they begin at around minute 50:00).  Also, there are times when our voices overlap, another side-effect of this software issue. We thank you for your patience and hope to continue to bring you good audio quality interviews in the months to come.

Special thanks to Marko Morales for his audio technical editing and Mike Bess for his efforts in uploading our first interview to YouTube!

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New Borderlands History Article: Heather M. Sinclair, “White Plague, Mexican Menace: Migration, Race,Class and Gendered Contagion in El Paso, Texas, 1880-1930”

This article examines a debate that emerged in El Paso, Texas at the turn of the twentieth century surrounding the transmission of pulmonary tuberculosis from predominantly Anglo American migrants to the city’s ethnic Mexican population. Reports of Anglo-to-Mexican infections came from cities and towns throughout the U.S. Southwest, but by 1915 El Paso had emerged as the epicenter of the debate. Using popular and professional sources, the article tracks a shift in dominant perceptions of tubercular contagion from an association with white bodies to Mexican ones. An early narrative casts the Mexican female domestic servant as a victim of the infectious indigent white consumptive male health seeker. In 1915, as the Mexican Revolution raged and tensions between whites and ethnic Mexicans in the city sharpened, federal public health authorities published a report dismissing health seekers as a source of contagion to ethnic Mexicans. This article highlights the power of notions of race, gender, and class in shaping perceptions of and responses to epidemics, often with tragic results.

About the author:
In May 2016, Heather M. Sinclair received her doctorate from the University of Texas at El Paso in Borderlands History. Her dissertation, “Birth City: Race and Violence in the History of Childbirth and Midwifery in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez Borderlands, 1907-2013,” centers of the history of women’s racialized reproduction in the borderlands. While completing this original study, Sinclair was simultaneously writing an article about disease, race, and gender in El Paso, published in the November issue of the Pacific Historical Review.

Link to the article here:

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A Conversation with Kelly Lytle Hernandez and John Mckiernan-González: recent approaches to the scholarship of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Scholarship on the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands composes a significant and influential genre within the field of U.S. Western History and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies. Geographically rooted in the U.S. Southwest and Mexico, or Greater Mexico, publications in this subfield explore a broad range of themes including: migration and labor, citizenship and race, culture and identity formation, gender and sexuality, politics and social justice, just to name a few.

This conversation features two prominent historians of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands: Kelly Lytle Hernandez, author of Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol (UC Press, 2010), and John Mckiernan-González, author of Fevered Measures: Public Health and Race at the Texas-Mexico Border, 1848-1942 (Duke University Press, 2012). My discussion with Kelly and John focuses on their exemplary scholarship to explore how historians conceptualize, investigate, and explain the history of the U.S.-Mexico Border region. In particular, we discuss how the U.S.-Mexico border exists in the minds of policy makers, bureaucrats, low level officials, businessmen and the public at large, as more than a fixed political boundary. Indeed, competing notions of who and what the border is supposed to control has historically shaped ideas about race, public policy, and law enforcement practices throughout the U.S.-Mexico border region. In addition to their existing work, we discuss their forthcoming publications which signal exciting new directions in the field of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies and U.S. History in general.

This conversation was recorded during a session of the 109th annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association held earlier this month in Kona, Hawaii.

Listen to this conversation in its entirety by clicking HERE

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CFP: Immigration, Integration, and Invasion

Dear readers, the University of London has a call for papers for its HistoryLab Annual Postgraduate Conference. This year’s theme is “950th Anniversary of 1066: A Millenium(ish) of Immigration, Integration, and Invasion.” Although it looks to the Norman invasion of the British isles as a starting point, the conference encourages a broad range of contributions that touch generally on the themes of migration and culture in an historical context, which may be a useful forum for scholars of borderlands. The organizers invite proposals for three-person panels, they welcome interdisciplinary perspectives, studying all geographic areas. A list of suggested topics includes:

  • Geographies and patterns of migration
  • Colonial emigration
  • Immigration for the purposes of labor
  • Forced emigration
  • Nation building, national identities, and nationalism
  • Experiences of immigrant communities
  • Globalization and international trade patterns
  • Gender, race, and religion
  • Diasporic communications and networks of influence

For more information, email: ihrhistorylab@gmail.com with “HistoryLab Conference” in the subject line. You can also follow the lab on Twitter: @IHRHistoryLab

The deadline to apply is April 1, 2016. Good luck!

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