CFP: Philosophy Across the Americas: Thinking La Frontera

Dear readers, the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the Department of Philosophy of South Texas have a call for submissions to their upcoming conference to be hosted in McAllen, Texas, November 2-4, 2017. Among the wide list of suggested topics available in the poster, the organizers are looking for submissions that examine Borderlands identities, Borders and Border Walls, Immigration, and Borderlands Spirituality. The deadline to apply is August 1 with notification of a decision on September 15.

Individual abstracts should be 500-750 words, while panel abstracts should be 1,000 words, and provide a description of each presenters’ contribution. There will be an anonymous review of abstract submissions, please include in a separate document, your name, affiliation, contact information, a brief bio, and presentation title.

To submit your proposal packet click this link, be sure to write “Submission” in the subject line.

For more information, review the poster, or write Dr. Aaron Wilson.

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Job Alert: Race & Ethnicity in US History (TT)

Dear readers, the University of Toledo’s History Department has launched a search for applicants to fill a tenure-track position for a Modern American Historian whose work focuses on race and ethnicity. The selected candidate will teach U.S. and World History surveys, as well as upper-level and graduate (MA & PhD) courses in U.S. History, historiography, and methods.

Applicants must submit a cover letter, CV, teaching experience (evaluations, syllabi, etc.), and a writing sample, plus four letters of recommendation.

The department will begin evaluating submissions on June 30th and continue until the position is filled. Candidates must have a PhD in History or have scheduled their defense by October 1st, 2017. The position is scheduled to begin in fall 2017.

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

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Job Alert: PCB-AHA Executive Director

Dear readers, the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association reached out to us to inform you that they’re conducting a search for a new executive director and institutional home. The position begins on January 1, 2018. The deadline to apply is July 1st, and applicants are asked to submit a cover letter, full CV, and two letters of recommendation (including one from a department chair or dean describing the support the institution will offer). Potential applicants should speak to their chair or dean about this position and the support they can provide. Preferred applicants will have tenure and be involved with the PCB-AHA. In addition, the search has listed specific responsibilities for the director, which are:

* Planning and oversight of the annual meeting;
* Coordinating and communicating with the AHA;
* Oversight of the program of the annual meeting;
* Coordinating fundraising for the organization;
* Oversight and monitoring of the prize committees and nominating committee;
* Hosting and updating the PCB website;
* Working effectively with the PCB President, Council, and PCB committees: the local arrangements committee and program committee appointed for each annual meeting, the standing finance committee (to oversee investments, maintain bank records, prepare taxes with the accountant, solicit patron support, and write the annual financial report), and the nominating and prize committees.

Please submit applications via email to Katherine Morrissey, current president of the PCB-AHA, and Janet Ward, chair of the search committee. Interviews are expected to be conducted at the annual meeting of the PCB-AHA, which will be held at CSU Northridge from August 3-5, this year. Potential applicants are also encouraged to reach out to members of the search committee if they have question. For more information, visit the listing.

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Border Tourism, National Security, and “the Other”: Trump’s Gilded Age in Historical Perspective

This post is adapted from a conference presentation the author gave at the XII Jornadas Internacionales: Historia, Patrimonia y Frontera delivered at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California in Tijuana on May 5th, 2017. It is drawn, in part, from his work on road building and motor mobility in Mexico, which has been published in Mexican Studies and the Journal of Transport History. -ed

From the lobby of his gold-plated tower, when Donald Trump announced his intention to run for president, he called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals.” On the campaign trail, he repeatedly spoke about Mexico as a dangerous place to justify the construction of a physical barrier on the US southern border. In one debate, he referred to undocumented immigrants as “bad hombres” who would be deported once he was elected. This rhetoric is hurtful and gross, but it is not new.

It is part of a historical process with deep roots in racism and prejudice that has marked social, cultural, political, and economic relations between Mexico and the United States. This post looks briefly at this history during the twentieth century, focusing on the way that tourism, security and mobility in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands have shaped the question of “otherness” and continue to shade cultural perceptions in both countries.

To begin, it is important to recognize the place of automobility and road building, not only as markers of economic power, but also technological “progress,” and implicitly whiteness, in urban places. In the 1920s and 1930s, as William D. Estrada writes, Los Angeles was transformed spatially by white elites who saw the new City Hall as representative of the city’s future. The old city plaza, which had been renamed Olvera Street, was relegated to secondary status and exoticized as part of LA’s Spanish and Mexican past. Going forward, that generation of urban planners remade Los Angeles as a place that would become dominated by the automobile as new highways in the 1940s stretched across the land. Gripped by racial and class tensions, the decision to build highways oftentimes lead to the destruction of many working-class and poor communities as well as communities of color in LA, Chicago, New York City, Houston, El Paso, and elsewhere.

In the 1930s, as the Great Depression ravaged the United States, public opinion turned on immigrants and ethnic minorities present in the borderlands. As Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymon Rodríguez have carefully documented, the United States deported large numbers of Mexican immigrants, arguing that they were a burden on the country’s economy. In the process, U.S. citizens of Mexican descent were illegally deported due to racist attitudes. It is a history with striking discursive parallels to the issue of deportations after the 2008 economic crash, where the argument was made that immigrants “take jobs” from citizens. Likewise, the deportation state that has grown up under Bush, Obama, and Trump forced children—U.S. citizens—to leave the country following the removal of one or both of their undocumented parents.

Yet, there has long been two sides to the U.S. cultural narrative about Mexico. Whereas a strong social discourse that views the country as dangerous, and has attached notions of criminality and disease to its people, there is also a history of exoticism. Mexico has long served as a space where U.S. citizens, especially white men, could escape the local cultural restrictions back home. During Prohibition, Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, and other border cities enjoyed a robust vice trade fueled by Americans. Tourism to Mexico is marked by this duality of danger and desire, which is essential to how “otherness” has been constructed in U.S. popular narratives.

The view of Mexico as dangerous “other” influenced the local tourism industry, too. For instance, in Nuevo León, during the 1930s and 1940s, as new border highways linked the capital of Monterrey to cities and towns in Texas, the regional chambers of commerce were concerned about crafting a positive image to U.S. visitors. One of the ways they did so was in transit policy on rural highways and city streets. Business leaders complained about the dangers posed by cattle along highways. The militarized Federal Road Police had a small, but well publicized footprint along the fledgling Pan-American Highway. Municipal officials worked to make Monterrey safe for drivers. Not only did it benefit well-to-do foreign visitors exploring the area in motorist clubs, but it also fit with the predominant narrative of the time about automobility. For a city to embrace modernity and “progress” it had to transform into a place that facilitated motor travel. In Monterrey, the government regulated pedestrian and bicycle traffic, prioritized the right-of-way for automobiles, and for a time, outlawed the animal-drawn carts in downtown.

Mexicans writing about the country for U.S. audiences were cognizant of this dichotomy in perception. Anita Brenner, originally from Aguascalientes, wrote for the New York Times about the industrial and economic changes occurring in her native country. She described how Monterrey’s factories dwarfed its churches, strolling had been abandoned in favor of punctuality at work (thanks to American influence), and where “smoothly tailored, quick-eyed men driving new cars” was a common sight. Implicit to this narrative was the tension between an exotic past and a technological present; where the past was embodied by the customs and routines of local, everyday life and the present represented economic change, commoditization, and Americanization.

World War II and its aftermath opened a new chapter in this history with the Bracero program. A 1942 bilateral agreement that brought millions of Mexican workers to labor in U.S. agriculture, it was later criticized by American unions as a threat to U.S. citizens. The agreement also found enemies among religious organizations, including the Catholic Church, due to the awful living conditions that many workers encountered on farms in California and other states. In response to diverse criticism, the U.S. government ended the agreement in 1964, during a time of significant social and cultural change occurring in the United States. The following year, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Act into law, which replaced many of the racist policies of the 1924 National Origins Act, allowing for greater immigration from Asia. At the same time, however, it placed a limit on the number of work visas granted to people living in Latin America. In subsequent years, this policy led to the arrival of millions of undocumented immigrants, many of them from Mexico.

During the 1980s and 1990s, immigrant social networks, state and private infrastructure, and labor market demand facilitated undocumented mobility even as Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton militarized the border. One illustrative case was the need for thousands of workers in Atlanta to prepare for the 1996 Olympics. Established communities of Mexican immigrants in northern Georgia had enjoyed regular bus service to the border for years, and had also built an extensive network of social support among families and churches in the area. People arrived in the state looking for work and taking jobs in sectors that desperately needed laborers in the early 1990s as the city faced steep construction deadlines ahead of the international games. Although hundreds of miles from the borderlands, social ties and economic demand transformed Atlanta into a different kind of “border” city as people arrived from Mexico and other Latin American countries, diversifying the local black-white cultural binary.

It is this dynamic growth in immigrant communities—documented and undocumented—that became an obsession for some in the United States in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and later the 2008 economic collapse. They argued that mobility needed to be restricted; walls needed to be built. Technologies developed for the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars were increasingly applied to policing efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border, and enforcing the U.S.-backed war on drugs in Mexico under President Felipe Calderon.

Amid all of these factors emerged a New York real estate developer with a big ego and willingness to show it on social media. Trump tapped into this long history of fear of “the other” in the United States and turned it on minorities and foreigners, singling out Mexico for especially harsh criticism. He used coded, as well as explicit, language to make his case, drawing on deep-seeded cultural prejudices to do so.

Yet, after his election win, as Trump prepared to enter the White House buoyed by nationalist “America First” rhetoric, millions of Americans still made plans to visit Mexico for spring break or head out on cruises to Cancún, Cozumel and other popular resort destinations. Even as Mexico was demonized in the political discourse as a place of criminals, danger, and disease, it remained an “exotic” locale where American citizens could escape to feed their cravings. Desire and danger; tourism and security; they are binaries with a deep and painful history for Mexico and the United States. It goes back more than 150 years, to the wound of 1848, and goes forward into the racist policies of the early twentieth century, continues into the misguided laws of the postwar era, and continues to shape the relationship between these countries in Trump’s gilded age.

Further reading

Balderrama, Francisco E. and Raymond Rodríguez. Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Berger, Dina and Andrew Grant Wood, eds. Holiday in Mexico: Critical Reflections on Tourism and Tourist Encounters. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Caro, Robert. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York: Knopf, 1974.

Delgado Wise, Raúl and Margarita Favela. Nuevas tendencias y desafios de la migración internacional México-Estados Unidos. Zacatecas: Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, 2004.

Estrada, William D. The Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

Featherstone, Mike, Nigel Thrift, and John Urry. Automobilities. London: Sage Publications, 2005.

Freeman, J. Brian. “Driving Pan-Americanism: The Imagination of a Gulf of Mexico Highway,” Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies 3, no. 4 (September 2009): 56-68.

———-. “‘La carrera de la muerte’: Death, Driving, and Rituals of Modernization in 1950s Mexico.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture Vol. 29 (2011): 2-23.

Gómez, José A. Gobierno y casinos: El origen de la riqueza de Abelardo L. Rodríguez. Mexicali: Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, 2002.

Haber, Stephen. Industry and Underdevelopment: The Industrialization of Mexico, 1890-1940. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989.

Hogenboom, Barbara. Mexico and the NAFTA Environment Debate: The Transnational Politics of Economic Integration. Utrecht, The Netherlands: International Books, 1998.

Kochut, Beata and Jeffrey M. Humphreys, eds. Going North: Mexican Immigrants in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Atlanta: Selig Center, 2006.

Lorey, David. The U.S.-Mexican Border. Wilmigton, Del: SR Books, 1999.

Mom, Gijs. Atlantic Automobilism: The Emergence and Persistence of the Car, 1895-1940. New York: Berghahn, 2015.

Murphy, Arthur D., Colleen Blanchard, and Jennifer A. Hall, eds. Latino Workers in the Contemporary South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

Norton, Peter D. Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. Boston: MIT Press, 2011.

Stern, Alexandra M. “Buildings, Boundaries, and Blood: Medicalization and Nation-Building on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1910-1930.” The Hispanic American Historical Review. Vol. 79, No. 1 (Feb. 1999): 41-81.

Vézina, Catherine. “Labor strategies and agribusiness counterstrike during the Bracero Era: the peculiar case of the National Farm Labor Union, 1946–1952.” Labor History Vol 57, No. 2 (2016): 235-257.

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Job Alert: TCU U.S. History, One-year lecturer

Dear readers, we wanted to bring to your attention a job search that Texas Christian University is conducting for a lecturer in U.S. History. The job description notes that the Department of History is looking for individuals who can teach US I & II, as well as upper division courses with themes such as “Multicultural America,” “The African-American Experience,” and “Latinos/as in U.S. History.” For those of you with training in Borderlands history and the US West, it seems like the position might be a good fit.

The successful candidate must have completed her PhD in History by the time of appointment and also show a strong commitment to teaching. The position is for one year with a 4-4 course load during that time. The review of applications begins on May 29th, and the call for applications will remain open until the position if filled.

Candidates should submit a letter of application, CV, and sample syllabus. As of writing this post, it appears that the dossier service is offline, but you can reach out to the search committee chair, Alan Gallay for more information. In addition to these materials, two confidential letters of recommendation will need to be uploaded by the letter writers to the dossier service or emailed to Human Resources.

For more information about TCU’s History Department, follow the link.

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

Deena Gonzalez

Dr. Deena J. González

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Call for Submissions: LACS Prizes

Dear readers, the current president of Latin-American and Caribbean Section of the South Historical Association, Omar Valerio-Jimenez, reached out to us to let you know that the organization has a call for submissions for its annual prizes. There are several prizes given each year, including the best book, best article, and best graduate student article presented at the previous meeting of the SHA, as well as the best dissertation completed and defended in the previous year. Borderlands historians are encouraged to submit their work!

The deadline to submit work to be considered by the committees for one of these awards is May 15th. Review the submission requirements carefully as they differ slightly depending on the category. The prize will be given to the recipient during the next LACS-SHA meeting in Dallas, Texas from November 9th to 12th, 2017.

Authors must be a member of the association at the time of submission.

For more information about the prizes, and to apply, follow the link.

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

By Jessica Kim, California State University Northridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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

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

[9] Agrasánchez, 100.

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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.

 

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“We’re Ready to Penalize Anyone Who Drives Badly:” Monterrey, Motor Accidents, and early 1950s U.S. Border Tourism

The following post is drawn from research the author has conducted for his forthcoming book, Routes of Compromise: Building Roads and Shaping the Nation in Mexico, to be published by University of Nebraska Press (2017). For further reading, Mike has also written about this subject for the Journal of Transport History, which can be accessed here. -ed

The early 1950s represented an optimistic time for many people living in northern Mexico. Millions of dollars of investments in industrialization and transportation infrastructure that came from the United States during the Second World War promised to buttress a new period of rapid economic growth. Following years of wartime austerity, local businesses hoped to take advantage of improved mobility across the borderlands to cater to American tourists eager to visit their southern neighbor on driving excursions.

One of the fears that most concerned Mexican business leaders, however, was the perception of the country as dangerous, not only from armed violence, but also poor road conditions and a lack of police enforcement of road safety. For instance, highway robbery was not unheard of; in May 1931, thieves dressed as tourists mugged drivers who stopped to help on the road to Laredo, Texas. Nuevo León’s El Porvenir called the crime “scandalous” and lamented that the actions of these individuals damaged Mexico’s reputation, making the country appear unsafe for motorists. In 1936, the same newspaper described a “mafia” setting up occasional roadblocks along the highway, extorting motorists for payments. Federal and state governments made concerted efforts to address this issue, beginning as early as the 1920s with the creation of a road-building bureaucracy and highway police force.

Nevertheless, safety issues remained salient for many years. In the bustling industrial city of Monterrey, capital of Nuevo León state in northeastern Mexico, frustration over public safety on the region’s roads came to a head in the early 1950s. First, in June 1950, a U.S. family from Pennsylvania was involved in a devastating car accident outside of the town of Ciénaga de Flores, Nuevo León. Their 1949-model Packard sedan had been negotiating sharp mountainous curves when it collided with a cargo truck traveling in the opposite direction. Two sisters, eighteen and twelve years old, died at the scene, while Red Cross ambulances rushed the remaining family members to a local hospital for treatment. El Norte published images of the destroyed vehicle, while the public outcry that followed again expressed fears that similar accidents could irrevocably tarnish the country’s image as a desirable foreign tourist destination.

Two years later, another high-profile collision shocked the public in Nuevo León and finally forced an official response. On the morning of 31 July 1952, a crowded motorbus traveling down a major street in Monterrey collided with an 18-ton trailer that failed to heed a stop sign. The force of the crash caused the bus to roll onto its side, injuring thirty-three passengers, some with severe head trauma and others with body parts crushed or severed. Although many were hospitalized, no one died in the accident. The trucker, Javier Hernández de la Torre, told transit authorities that he had tried to slow down, but his vehicle’s breaks failed. A police officer who witnessed the scene testified that he saw the trailer moving at excessive speed and that the driver took no defensive action until it was too late. Authorities arrested Hernández along with the 18-year-old city bus driver, José Gonzalez, for having allowed too many passengers onboard his vehicle.

In its coverage of the incident, the state newspaper El Norte blamed the trucking company, Transportes Anáhuac, for its negligent driver. Reporters labeled Hernández a dangerous “loco del volante” (crazed driver) from out of state, unfamiliar with Monterrey’s roads. They also chided transit officials for not doing enough to prevent overcrowded busing.

In the coming days, El Norte decried the high rates of motor accidents in Monterrey and the rest of Nuevo León. The Anáhuac case was one of three that appeared in the newspaper’s August 1st edition; other stories published that Friday described reckless driving by an American visitor from Iowa that led to a crash with a city taxi as well as two serious accidents on the Monterrey-San Pedro Highway due to poor road and weather conditions.

Subsequently, in a front-page essay on 3 August, El Norte called July a “prodigious month” for crashes, stating that almost two hundred people had been injured and ten killed on roads in and around the state capital. It called bus drivers who permitted overcrowding “criminally irresponsible” and bemoaned the lack of adequate law enforcement of municipal and regional motorways. An editorialist asked if the situation would ever improve.

El Norte ran a dozen major stories over the next four weeks related to the problem of motor accidents. It frequently used words such as “tremendous” and “tragic” to describe these incidents, often publishing images of destroyed vehicles and occasionally of the victims as well. The newspaper took on a crusading tone, urging state and municipal authorities to do more to reduce safety risks on Nuevo León’s roads. It reported bad driving conditions on the pockmarked highway to Saltillo and complained that poor garbage pickup on city streets created unsightly roadside hazards and was “out of tune with Monterrey’s progressive beat.” It also criticized uneven sidewalks, depicting them as dangerous in a four-column article with a series of accompanying photographs, insisting city officials to act. Late-summer coverage emphasized the threat of unregulated transit spaces to public safety, calling for greater amounts of investment in road infrastructure, maintenance, and policing to mitigate harm.

Soon after, state and city officials began addressing the problems the press had exposed. In September, Monterrey’s transit chief commented publicly, “For much too long [we have] been extremely lenient… we are ready to penalize anyone who drives badly, no matter who they are.” He unveiled sweeping changes to transit laws and enforcement, raising penalties to as much as 500 pesos per infraction, depending on the gravity of the offense. The city also revised bus routes, restricted heavy trucks downtown, and made structural improvements to infrastructure while the state government increased spending on highway patrols.

The goal was to project confidence on roads for residents and tourists alike, but the new policies appeared to have been too sharp of a reaction to the status quo. Within weeks, businesses began to complain that revised bus routes in Monterrey had reduced local traffic to their stores. Picturesque streets were largely empty of tourists, while along the city’s periphery a spike in accidents was reported due to heavy traffic as trucks and buses were diverted to these areas. Moreover, businesses worried that the aggressive enforcement of driving rules would scare away tourists and foreigners.

Critics quickly turned on the reforms, including El Norte’s editorialists who called for a policy review to be carried out by local officials, the business community, and the state university. By the end of October 1952, a commission had formed to address the issue, while most of the severe enforcement activities were reined in by city leaders.

This period of frustration and inaction led to a short, sharp shock of overreaction by zealous officials who wanted to dramatically transform perceptions about mobility in their city and region. They had responded to public calls from newspapers and private businesses to do more to improve safety conditions on roads and in public transportation. The local tourism industry wanted to ensure Monterrey and nearby towns were amenable to middle-class tourists, many of them arriving from across the border. The challenges that policymakers faced, and the new problems that arose following the implementation of reforms, underscored the fact that mobility was deeply tied to considerations of power and access that had long affected (and continue to affect) everyday life along the U.S.-Mexico border. In trying to make Monterrey “safer” officials learned that their decisions could lead to unintended consequences that forced a reappraisal of the entire endeavor.

Editor: An earlier version incorrectly stated that the automobile accident in Cienaga de Flores, Nuevo León and the bus accident in Monterrey occurred in the same year. In fact, they occurred in 1950 and 1952, respectively. The post has been corrected and revised accordingly.

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