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

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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

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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”

Abstract:
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:
http://phr.ucpress.edu/content/85/4/475

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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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Job Alert: Smith College, Assistant Professor (2/2)

Dear readers, the Department of English Language & Literature at Smith College in Northampton, MA, has launched a job search for Assistant Professor in the Program for Study of Women and Gender (SWG). It’s a wide call, but they are particularly interested in scholars of contemporary Latinx Studies and Native and Indigenous studies, among other disciplines. The position is tenure track with a 2/2 teaching load split between the English department and SWG.

From the post:

Successful candidates will demonstrate command of key methodological and theoretical perspectives in both gender studies and literary studies. We are particularly interested in candidates who work in women of color feminisms, Native and indigenous studies, Arab American and Latin@/x Studies; comparative work is welcome. Desirable additional fields or areas of strength include critical race theory, queer theory, drama and performance. We expect the successful candidate to have excellent preparation in literary texts from the twentieth century (and after), and interdisciplinary graduate training and teaching experience in women and gender studies. A Ph.D. in a relevant field is expected by the time of appointment.

For more information, or to apply, follow the link.

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Job Alert: Chicana/o Studies at UC Davis

The Department of Chicana/o Studies at UC Davis has launched a job search for qualified applicants to fill an open position for assistant professor. They are looking for candidates specialized in the history of the Chican@ movement with strong teaching skills and experience giving undergraduate courses. Topics the successful applicant will cover include “Chicana/o history, Chicana/Latina Feminisms, Qualitative Research Metholodgies, Oral Historia/Counter-Storyteling, and Decolonial Thought.” The individual hired must have completed a Ph.D in a related field by the first day of classes in the fall 2016 semester.

The deadline to apply for the position is April 8, 2016. For more information, or to submit your application, visit the UC Davis recruitment website, here.

Good luck!

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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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Job Alert: Postdoc at Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration

Dear readers, this week Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration has opened a job search for a postdoctoral associate. They are looking for individuals specializing in Asian American Studies, Latina/o Studies, Native American Studies, or Comparative Ethnic Studies. The one-year position begins on July 1, 2016, and the selected candidate will teach one course, hold office hours, and contribute to the intellectual life on campus in other ways. The stipend, which includes health insurance, is $50,000 for the year. The deadline to submit an application is March 25. For more information, email ritm@yale.edu or visit the Interfolio submission page.

From the center’s website:

Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration is devoted to advancing intellectual work related to Ethnic Studies fields; to intersectional race, gender, and sexuality research; and to Native and diasporic communities both in the United States and other countries. We anticipate that the center will serve as the new home of the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration Program, and that it will reach beyond Yale to connect with local, national, and international institutions, organizations, and individuals.

Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration

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BHIP #6: A Conversation with Dr. Maria Montoya

 

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Join me in welcoming Dr. Maria Montoya to the BHIP as she helps us bring this fantastic year for the Borderlands History Blog to a close. I was fortunate to meet with her at the Western History Association conference in Portland, Oregon. It was a chilly morning in late October when I sat with Professor Montoya to discuss her research, teaching, and new projects. We discussed the convergence of Western and Borderlands history in her work and teaching. Dr. Montoya is currently Associate Professor of History at New York University. She received her M.A. in 1990 and her PhD in 1993 from Yale University.

Dr. Montoya has written extensively on the history of the American West and borderlands. Her first book Translating Property: The Maxwell Land Grant and the Conflict Over Land in the American West, 1840 to 1920 about the various state and capitalist forces that altered the American landscape after 1848 received excellent reviews, she has several articles and chapters in edited volumes including one with Vicki Ruiz and John Chavez, titled “Creating an American Home: Work, Gender and Space in Rockefeller’s Coal Towns.” Her second manuscript titled: Taking Care of American Workers: The Origins of Universal Healthcare in the American West 1900-1950 and a text book Global Americans: A Social and Global History of the United States are both forthcoming. We talked about what inspired her research and her teaching, and how borderlands history and methods have influenced how she engages her scholarship. Continue reading

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Position at the University of Arizona Department of Mexican American Studies

The Department of Mexican American Studies (MAS) in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) at the University of Arizona invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professor position with demonstrated research interests in one or more of the following areas: Border Studies, Migration Studies, Demography, and Social Justice. Access job posting at: https://uacareers.com/postings/7000

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