Posts Tagged With: Identity

Violence, Coercion, and Social Change: 2018 UTEP Borderlands History Conference Wrap Up

By Dr. Ernesto Chávez, University of Texas at El Paso

The third biennial UTEP Borderlands History Conference could not have picked a more apt theme for this year’s meeting. Historical questions about and present-day concerns for “violence, coercion, and social change,” inflect our politics with much needed nuance and complexity. From the fight to protect DACA and the Dreamers, to the insistence of the current president to build a “big, beautiful wall” between the United States and Mexico, research contextualizing these efforts and even providing the genesis for these contemporary battles proves invaluable with each passing day. From February 2-3, 2018, the conference at UTEP brought scholars together from both sides of the line to engage in spirited discussions. With topics ranging from sex workers in Ciudad Juárez in the early twentieth century to student walk-outs in El Paso during the 1930s, the conference attendees were privy to some fascinating new scholarship in borderlands history. What follows is a brief, but insightful essay that succinctly threads all the papers together. Dr. Ernesto Chávez, Professor of History at the University of Texas at El Paso, provided the final remarks for the conference and we are fortunate to share them with you. Enjoy! –Lina-Maria Murillo, managing contributor

I find it appropriate that this conference began on the 170th anniversary of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, for without that accord, and of course the war that came before it, we would not be standing (sitting) here today and not be pondering violence, coercion, and social change in Borderlands History. But we are, and it is my job to wrap up this “intellectual burrito.” The papers we have heard (and in my case read) over the course of the last two days make us think about these important themes in the borderlands past, and, I would argue are being studied because of the great changes that have occurred in this nation—and Mexico—as a result of the ascendency of Donald Trump. Indeed violence, coercion, and social change is not a “was,” but an “is,” in the present-day Borderlands. The papers we have heard make us imagine a different kind of past, guided by the present, and can help us shape the future.

Our first panel, “Quotidian Violence, Policing, and Incarceration” blurs the line between the present and the past. Rather than discuss them in the order that they were given, I want to reorder them chronologically, to show how this history is somehow tied together. By looking at the experience of Aurelia Lizurriaga, a prostitute, Erik Bernardino’s paper, “Obreras Clandestinas: Labor and Prostitution in the U.S. -Mexico Borderlands, 1903-1917,” argued that owing to competing practices of prostitution in the U.S. and Mexico, sex workers were either violators of the law or bodies to be regulated, respectively. However, these women, like Lizurriaga, were challenging these constructs when crossing the border, for they saw themselves as migrant laborers whose positionality was like men who worked in agriculture or other industries. They did not view themselves as “potential contaminators of the American body politic.” In this context then, the erasure of these women’s laboring identities was tantamount to state violence. The 1907 U.S. Immigration Act, which allowed this to occur, was part of the new regulatory mechanisms that were constructed in this era and would be used to regulate bodies. That the power of the U.S. federal government grew in this era was clear in Ligia Aguilez’s paper, “An Un-Neutral Neutrality: Mexican Internment Camps Along the U.S. -Mexico Border, 1913-1914.” She shows, among other things, that the Mexican internment camps that emerged in 1913 along the border served to rob Mexicans of their humanity and made them into caged spectacles to be viewed and in effect uphold the U.S. racial social order. This example shows the spatial aspects of U.S. hegemony. The differing notions of control and construction of criminality along the U.S. Mexico border was also present in Laura Alcantara Duque’s paper, “El prohibicionismo en México, 1920-1940. La perspectiva sobre la toxicomanía: autonomía e intervención norteamericana.” By examining how the worldwide concern over drug control, stemming from the 1912 Hague Convention, played out in the United States and Mexico, between 1920 and 1940, Duque was able to examine the way that these nation-states differed in their attitudes towards narcotics users. The U.S. concentrated on demand and in so doing criminalized not only the drug trafficker, but the addict. Mexico on the other hand saw demand as the cause of the problem and tried to rehabilitate the addict. What we see then is once again the difference in the definition of morality. Both nations sought to control drugs, their suppliers and users (and in the U.S. of course owing to the Harrison Act, Marijuana—and the Mexicans who used it—were going to be criminalized), but there was a different emphasis. The notion of control was also present in Maria del Carmen Zetina Rodríguez’s paper, “La violencia cotidiana en los espacios públicos de Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua 1920-1940,” argues that the doubling of the city’s population coupled with the Great Depression, overburdened its social structure causing a rise in unemployment, vagrancy, and delinquency. Adding to this urban dilemma was US prohibition, which ensured the proliferation of bars in the Juárez, which brought unruly tourists to the city. These conditions came together and caused widespread violence in this frontier burg. In response to this, the Ciudad Juárez Ayuntamiento tried to regulate behavior in public spaces, better the city’s appearance, enhance the population’s hygiene, and maintain peace and order. Thus, this panel made clear how the growth of the nation-state in Mexico and the United States led to the control of citizens and provide us with a useable past.

Saturday morning’s panel “State Power and Frontier/Border Formation” helped us think about the long history of the conference theme. Again, I want to discuss the papers in chronological order. Alejandro González Milea’s essay, “Reunir pobladores en Paso del Norte en 1782: El Diario para reunión de indios y vencindarios de Diego de Borica,” took us back to the 18th century to show us that state control was not a Mexican or American concept, but of course present in the Spanish period also. Focusing on the establishment of El Paso del Norte, Milea showed the tension that existed between the population and the powers that be, in this case several governors of New Mexico and the commanders general of the Internal Provinces. They urged these inhabitants to live together and build their settlement around plazas. In Alberto Wilson’s paper, “‘No Port of Entry Outside of El Paso is Necessary’: Altering Border Landscapes in El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, 1907-1911,” this colonial era spatial impact will result in Ciudad Juárez emerging as the preeminent Mexican border city. This reality was not lost on the U.S. Bureau of Immigration. Between 1907-1917, this federal agency tried to control the emigration of Mexicans by limiting their entry into the country through established bridges and ports of entry. Wilson calls this the U.S.-Mexico border’s “Ellis-Angel Island” moment, suggesting that the United States was using a European-Asian immigration model to try to regulate Mexican entry into the country. Of course, these efforts failed because of the unique vastness of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as a whole. This failure, according to Wilson, had a great impact on the way that this international boundary would be policed in the future. This information can perhaps help us understand, the outcome of the “1918 Battle of Ambos Nogales,” in the Arizona-Sonora borderlands. Carlos Francisco Parra’s paper “Valientes Nogalenses: Violence, Fences, and Memory in the 1918 Battle of Ambos Nogales and the Formation of the U.S.-Mexico Border,” posits that the violence of the Mexican Revolution led to the erection of the first border fence that divided the two Nogaleses, but the area would be marked by further conflict when the U.S. entered the First World War in 1917. Consequently, U.S. immigration officials not only subjected Mexican Nogalenses to restrictions on foodstuffs aimed to hurt Germany, but also verbally and physically harassed them. This led to further violence throughout that year and into 1918, which resulted in the August confrontation in the twin cities. Although, important in its own right, given the deaths and impact on Nogalenses, Parra believes that the “Battle of Ambos Nogales” has importance beyond that region, for it led to the building of the first fence along the border, which of course did not result in good neighbors. This led to other hedges later that year in Naco and Douglass, in the Grand Canyon State, and a year later in Calexico, California. Thus, according to Parra, this conflict in Nogales helped construct today’s hyper-controlled U.S.-Mexico border. Once again, these histories of control and the strengthening of the U.S. nation-state help us understand our current reality. Given what is occurring in the present, fences seem to be 20th century artifacts.

Fences of course allowed for the displacement and surveillance of borderlanders, and that was the title of panel three. Again, I want to disrupt the manner in which the papers were given and focus on the history that they present according to chronological order. José Luis Ortiz Garza’s paper, “Espionaje y radiotelegrafía en la frontera norte de México (1914-1918),” focused on espionage and wireless telegraphy on the U.S. -Mexico border between 1914-1918. This led to other forms of control that were eventually used to thwart espionage and also changed the way that human resources and military intelligence developed in the region. Communication plays a key part in Nancy Aguirre’s discussion of the San Antonio Mexican exile newspaper, La Prensa. Aguirre’s essay, “Callista Surveillance of the Mexican Exile Press in the Borderlands, 1924-1928,” shows Plutarco Elías Calles’s government’s limited reach in México de Afuera, for although it tried to eliminate its opposition, the power of the press was able to out match the strongman’s state machinery’s impact in the U.S. On the other hand, while concerned with the state of affairs in Mexico, La Prensa and other U.S.-based Spanish-language newspapers, were not able to influence Mexican politics like they wished. This paper can perhaps be instructive on both the power and weakness of the press in combatting authoritarianism in the world today. In Miguel Juárez’s paper, “African Americans in Concordia and Lincoln Park: From A Militarized Frontier to Redlined Communities Bordered by Freeways,” examined African-American settlement in El Paso, especially in the Lincoln Park and Concordia subdivisions, beginning in the 1880s. His essay also sheds light on how individuals have combatted authority. Migrating here to work in the service industry, on railroads, and mechanics assistants, among other jobs, African Americans not only faced intense racism, but were subject to housing control when in 1930 redlining occurred. Relegated to neighborhoods with few social services and substandard dwellings, African Americans nonetheless created groups in the 1950s to protect themselves in Southside neighborhoods. Yet, the legacy of redlining would ensure displacement when the I-10 was built in this historically Mexican and African American neighborhood. Juárez shows that despite this removal, African Americans were able to survive in the city, helped along with the city’s dismantling of Jim Crow policies beginning in 1962. They eventually relocated to other parts of El Paso and remain a vital part of its population. Alana de Hinoja’s study, “Dis(re)membered Histories of the Chamizal Relocation Project,” also reveals the experiences of Sun City residents in the face of adversity. De Hinojosa examines the displacement of the residents of the city’s disputed Chamizal neighborhood. As she argues, this wrangle illuminates the fluidity of “(geo) political borders” but in effect they are colonial constructs that separate the powerful from the subaltern. De Hinojosa was especially concerned with the memory of the Chamizal and its residents and believes that the area is a “hidden space,” but it is also a contested place that is infused with knowledges that serve to disrupt the official story of El Paso as a border wonderland and also the Rio Grande as a “natural” entity. Thus, she was asking us to read the Chamizal incident, and the survival of its diaspora, as both sites of colonial violence and “geographies of resistance.” In so doing it seems to me that de Hinojosa was urging us to use a more poetic lens to view the past and imagine a history of survival that is rooted in disruption and violence. These ideas seem pertinent, if not necessary in the Borderlands, and perhaps the nation as a whole, today.

Our last panel, “Resistance, Rebellion, and Revolution,” featured papers that dealt with these theme in various eras. To better situate the ideas in time in space, let me start with Silvia Zueck’s essay, “Mineros italianos transfronterizos: entre la violencia laboral del capitalismo minero de Sierra Mojada, Coahuila y la revolución mexicana,” which tells the fascinating story of Italian miners in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. Beginning in the 1890, the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO), contracted Giovanny Ruffini, to work as a superintendent in the Constancia Company, which it owned. He in turn invited others– family members and friends– to follow him to the Sierra Mojada, Coahuila, to work in this company that was applying the latest technology needed to extract lead, copper, and zinc. Eventually some 30 single men would work in this industry. The tumult of the 1910s in both Mexico and Europe would disrupt this community, which would lead to their diaspora in Northern Mexico and El Paso. This international focus was also present in Marco Antonio Samaniego López’s paper, “Hacia la revolución mundial: la frontera México-Estados Unidos y el anarquismo (1904-1918),” which focused on Ricardo Flores Magón’s reach. Not only did he have followers in Mexico, but also in Canada and of course the United States. According to López’s this occurred because of Flores-Magón’s engagement with Anarcho-Communism. Consequently, López believed that the construction of the Flores-Magón brothers as precursors to the Mexican Revolution has ensured that their actual struggle– that of worldwide revolution– has been lost. Like López, Mario T. García’s paper, “Border Walkout! The 1936 Mexican American Student Strike in El and the Struggle for Educational Justice,” called for an act of recovery and reevaluation of a Mexican American-Chicano radical past, via his focus on a 1936 El Paso School Strike. García believes that this walkout at San Jacinto School reflects larger issues of social justice and makes us ponder this history, making clear that Mexican Americans were not “awakened” in the 1960s, but rather have always fought for their rights. García’s paper, and that of others on this panel, allow us to imagine a different kind of past and ensure that we remember that people were struggling to create change in all eras. If we approach history with this in mind, perhaps we can recover an ongoing radical past.

The papers presented at this conference make us think about how Violence, Coercion, and Social Change are constants in Borderlands history. It is my hope that the knowledge that these essays have provided empowers us in the present and helps us forge a more emancipatory future. As we know, violence, coercion, are definitely alive and well in the borderlands (and beyond) today; perhaps it is our job to ensure that we create the social change necessary to combat these evils.

H/T to one of our contributors Miguel Juarez for suggesting this post.

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Mass Migrant Deaths in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands and the Politics of Mexican-Americanism

By Joel Zapata, PhD Candidate, Clements Department of History, Southern Methodist University

While the Trump Administration and Congress negotiate the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, the family visa system, along with border security and border fencing, millions of immigrants’ lives remain in limbo. The negotiations ensue as partisan lines harden on immigration and xenophobia increases in the public domain. However, the too often ignored story of mass migrant deaths in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands tells us that no one political party or social group holds a historic monopoly on either side of the immigration debate or on the treatment of immigrants. Indeed, the mass deaths of migrants partly originate with policies created and supported by Mexican Americans attempting to prevent Border Patrol abuse of U.S. citizens. In the borderlands, migrant lives and the struggle for U.S. citizenship rights along with the claiming of Americanism by Mexicans Americans have come to a head, leaving the promise of social justice for all ethnic Mexicans and other Latina/os in the United States unfulfilled. And as debates about immigration, border security, and border barriers continue, migrants are still dying in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands’ arid terrain while seeking to fill job openings in the growing U.S. economy.

As various scholars and public intellectuals have argued, migrant deaths are primarily rooted in the funneling of unauthorized workers and their families through inhospitable desert terrain that is meant to act as a natural wall outside of closely monitored urban areas.[1] The channeling of migrants towards dangerous dessert terrain, “where they [have] succumbed to dehydration, hyperthermia, or heat stroke,” in the thousands, can be traced to the inception of Operation Hold the Line, which the El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief, Silvestre Reyes, implemented in 1993 along the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border.[2] Reyes, a Mexican American who was born and raised in the El Paso area, stationed Border Patrol agents “every several hundred feet directly along the border…effectively build[ing] a human wall between” the two cities.[3] Such Border Patrol operations soon extended across other urbanized sections of the U.S.-Mexico border. Since the 2006 passage of the Secure Fence Act, these Border Patrol operations have been further supplemented by monumental border walls, guard towers, infrared cameras, and aerial surveillance—a “manufactural landscape with a single purpose….to halt illegal immigration into the United States.”[4] Because of Border Patrol’s accumulation of resources in urban areas, seventeen hundred migrants died between 1994 and 2000 while traversing remote desert areas where urban Border Patrol policing funneled them.[5] In the desolate desert areas of Arizona’s Pima County alone, the yearly number of migrant deaths through much of the first decade of the twenty-first century averaged at one hundred and fifty.[6] The natural wall effectively stopped migrants through death. Ultimately, migrant deaths are rooted in state policies that Border Patrol agents and other government agents enforce.

Through Operation Hold the Line, Border Patrol originally intended to move its agents away from the streets of El Paso and thus reduce harassment of Mexican American who looked “illegal” (ethnically or phenotypically Mexican) to its agents. In essence, “Reyes attempted to protect the citizenship rights of Mexican Americans by focusing Border Patrol resources on the physical boundary” of the Rio Grande. As a result, grievances by Mexican Americans against the Border Patrol significantly declined.[7] The El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce gave Reyes a “Moving Forward Award” for his efforts to decrease Border Patrol abuse of Mexican Americans, but those same efforts have also caused the death of over seven thousand migrants since 1994 (this number is likely far below the actual body count if one considers the unnamed bodies that have not been—or never will be—found in the desert Southwest).[8] In addition, when Reyes became a U.S. Representative, the League of United American Citizens gave him a Lucy G. Acosta Humanitarian Award for his work on behalf of Mexican Americans.[9]

How can Chicana/o scholars and their allies interpret Reyes as well as Mexican American Border Patrol agents? Such a question is especially pertinent when considering that “by 2008, 51 percent of all Border Patrol officers were Hispanic—primarily Mexican Americans.”[10] In search of an answer, we can turn to Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández’s arguments, informed by transnational feminist perspectives and critiques of Mexican, U.S., and Chicano nationalisms (particularly male-centered nationalism), within Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries. In this study, Guidotti-Hernández contends that “violence is and was the one factor that determined how racial position, gender, and class alliances played themselves out in contest over citizenship and resources” in the borderlands.[11] According to Guidotti-Hernández, “the formalistic reporting of these events follows a similar pattern of using repetition as a way of denying violence as a foundation of national history, making these events unspeakable.”[12] Through such lines of reasoning, the author questions the silence within resistance narrative proposed by traditional, nationalistic Chicano scholars as well as official Mexican-mestizo and Euro-American narratives of borderlands violence.

Overall Guidotti-Hernández contends that nationalisms—whether tied to nation-states or ethnic groups—silence history. However, if we “abandon celebratory, uncritical discourse…and concentrate more on the socially constructed nature of gender relations as they produced racialized systems of power and capital,”[13] we can attempt to get at why many Mexican Americans have allied with Euro-American power structures, such as the Border Patrol. Thus, we can better understand the “economic and communal desires” of these ethnic Mexicans.[14] We may then examine “history with a critical eye that challenges monolithic representations with Chicano identity.”[15] In so doing, a more complex picture of Mexican Americans as well as their fulfilled and unfulfilled civil rights movement(s) can also emerge. Perhaps, then, Mexican Americans can better grasp where their social justice efforts have failed.

In examining Mexican American history through Guidotti-Hernández’s proposals, it becomes clearer why Mexican Americans have participated in and have supported increased patrolling of the border. If stationed along the U.S.-Mexico borderline, away from the streets of border cities, Border Patrol agents cannot question the citizenship—the Americanness—of Mexican Americans. By having Mexican and other Latin American migrants funneled away from the streets of El Paso and other border cities, Mexican Americans were able to claim a non-Mexican national or a non-“illegal” social status. They moved closer to becoming (within a border context) ethno-racially, socially, and nationally American.

As Mexican Americans experienced less Border Patrol harassment, agents mostly began to pursue and arrest unauthorized migrants attempting to cross the militarized border. The increased solidification of the urban border has benefited some ethnic Mexicans while driving other ethnic Mexicans towards dangerous desert terrain, causing government-made mass deaths. Considering the awards given to Reyes by Mexican American organizations—including a civil rights organization—and his election to the U.S. House of Representatives seven times between 1996 and 2010 by the majority Mexican American electorate of El Paso, it seems many Mexican Americans were fine, or ignored, the deaths Reyes’s policies caused to other ethnic Mexicans that happened to have a differing citizenship status.

In probing why some Mexican Americans join the border enforcement apparatus, it is telling that Reyes was in the armed forces and that he joined the Border Patrol in 1969 immediately after his tour in Vietnam. In one of my anthropology classes on contemporary Mexican culture during the early 2010s at the University of Texas at El Paso, a Mexican American Border Patrol agent came to speak to the class over his job and his reasons for joining the agency, which by then had become part of the Department of Homeland Security. The agent’s reasoning for entering the Border Patrol was two-fold. Considering his skill set, there were few well-paying jobs in El Paso outside of the Border Patrol for him. In addition, after leaving the military, he wanted to continue his work as a patriotic American. In short, the Border Patrol fulfilled his “economic and communal desires.”[16]

Joining Border Patrol can be attractive in a region with limited job opportunities, a socioeconomic reality in much of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. The desire to claim U.S. citizenship rights and prove patriotism may also lead Mexican Americans to join the Border Patrol or to support the agency’s policies. Nevertheless, in that search for economic gains, citizenship rights, policy or political victories, along with satisfying feelings of patriotism by some ethnic Mexicans, thousands of other ethnic Mexicans and Latina/os have died in the borderlands.

As the nation looks at immigration reform and border security once more, mass migrant deaths and their political and structural causes should be part of the public conversation, especially within communities, such as the Mexican American community and the broader Latina/o community, still seeking social equity. Until then, migrant deaths in the borderlands remain remarkably silent within the nation’s political and public discourse.

Notes

[1] Daniel Martinez, Robin Reineke, Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, Bruce Anderson, Gregory Hess, Bruce Parks, “A Continued Humanitarian Crisis at the Border: Undocumented Border Crosser Deaths by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 1990-2012,” Binational Migration Institute, Department of Mexican American Studies, The University of Arizona, June 1, 2013, link. (Berkley: University of California Press, 2010), 229.

[2] Lytle Hernández, 229.

[3] Ibid, 228.

[4] Char Miller, On the Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest (San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2013), 149.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Reineke.

[7] Lytle Hernández, 228-229.

[8] Ted Hesson, “No More Deaths, The Crisis on the U.S.-Mexico Border in Arizona,” May 24, 2011, link.

[9] “The Arena: Rep. Silvestre Reyes,” Politico, accessed January 25, 2018, link.

[10] Lytle Hernández, 227.

[11] Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández, Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 4.

[12] Ibid, 5. The episodes of violence Guidotti-Hernández elucidates upon include the 1851 lynching of Josefa/Juanita in Downieville, California, the 1871 Camp Grant Indian Massacre, the erasure of sexualized and racialized violence in the work of anthropologist Jovita González—the first Mexican American woman to graduate with a masters in Anthropology form the University of Texas at Austin, and the Mexican government’s attempted genocide of Yaqui people and their culture from 1880 to 1910.

[13] Guidotti-Hernández, 84.

[14] Ibid, 87.

[15] Ibid, 84.

[16] Ibid.

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