Militarizing the Border: When Mexicans Became the Enemy

Militarizing the Border: When Mexicans Became the Enemy

Militarizing the Border: When Mexicans Became the Enemy

Militarizing the Border: When Mexicans Became the Enemy


As historian Miguel Antonio Levario explains in this timely book, current tensions and controversy over immigration and law enforcement issues centered on the US-Mexico border are only the latest evidence of a long-standing atmosphere of uncertainty and mistrust plaguing this region. Militarizing the Border: When Mexicans Became the Enemy, focusing on El Paso and its environs, examines the history of the relationship among law enforcement, military, civil, and political institutions, and local communities. In the years between 1895 and 1940, West Texas experienced intense militarization efforts by local, state, and federal authorities responding to both local and international circumstances. El Paso's "Mexicanization" in the early decades of the twentieth century contributed to strong racial tensions between the region's Anglo population and newly arrived Mexicans. Anglos and Mexicans alike turned to violence in order to deal with a racial situation rapidly spinning out of control.

Highlighting a binational focus that sheds light on other US-Mexico border zones in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Militarizing the Border establishes historical precedent for current border issues such as undocumented immigration, violence, and racial antagonism on both sides of the boundary line. This important evaluation of early US border militarization and its effect on racial and social relations among Anglos, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans will afford scholars, policymakers, and community leaders a better understanding of current policy... and its potential failure.


This explains why the character of the movement is both desperate and
redemptive … they mean that the people refuse all outside help, every imported
scheme, every idea lacking some profound relationship to their intimate feelings,
and that instead they turn to themselves. This desperation, this refusal to be saved
by an alien project, is characteristic of the person who rejects all consolidation
and shuts himself up in his private world: he is alone. At the same moment,
however, his solitude becomes an effort at communion. Once again, despair and
solitude, redemption and communion are equivalent terms.
—Octavio Paz, El laberinto de la soledad

I REMEMBER THE DAILY TWENTY-MILE DRIVE TO SCHOOL from Anthony, Texas, to El Paso. My brothers and I attended a small allmale Catholic high school nestled near the downtown district. One morning, as we approached the stretch of highway that hugs the University of Texas at El Paso, I noticed that the city was preparing for war. Perhaps war, not in the traditional sense, but a war nonetheless as a long line of Border Patrol trucks had positioned themselves side by side along the banks of the Rio Grande to guard against what some people along the border called an “immigrant invasion.” It was 1993, the El Paso Border Patrol chief, Silvestre Reyes, had initiated Operation Blockade, later renamed Operation Hold the Line. The strategy called for border agents to stand watch at the boundary line to deter immigrants from crossing illegally into the country. I was confused, incensed, indignant, but I dismissed those feelings as we found our usual parking spot in front of the Stanton Street entrance of Cathedral High School. I have never forgotten the sight of that standoff as we made our daily journey to school that morning.

This project began on that day in 1993. Since then I have tried to discern as much as I could about militarization and migration from Mexico, its causes and explanations. Now that I have the opportunity to systematically expand this understanding, I have chosen to address the history of the West Texas region, in particular its early formative history of racial and international conflict, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when US officials sought to pacify the area and incorporate it into the larger national socioeconomic framework. A review of this time period will explain how militarization during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries informed enduring relations between Mexicans and Anglos and, to a lesser degree, the relations between the United States and Mexico. A timely study, as twenty-first-century political and social debates once again center on border security and immigration from Mexico. A variety of parallels can be drawn by reviewing early militarization and social relations along the US-Mexico borderlands, which at the turn of the twentieth century reflected broader concerns such as national security, illicit smuggling of goods and people, and citizenship. Militarization in the early twentieth century broadened the . . .

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