Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Porous Borders: Multiracial Migrations and the Law in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Synopsis

With the railroad's arrival in the late nineteenth century, immigrants of all colors rushed to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, transforming the region into a booming international hub of economic and human activity. Following the stream of Mexican, Chinese, and African American migration, Julian Lim presents a fresh study of the multiracial intersections of the borderlands, where diverse peoples crossed multiple boundaries in search of new economic opportunities and social relations. However, as these migrants came together in ways that blurred and confounded elite expectations of racial order, both the United States and Mexico resorted to increasingly exclusionary immigration policies in order to make the multiracial populations of the borderlands less visible within the body politic, and to remove them from the boundaries of national identity altogether.

Using a variety of English- and Spanish-language primary sources from both sides of the border, Lim reveals how a borderlands region that has traditionally been defined by Mexican-Anglo relations was in fact shaped by a diverse population that came together dynamically through work and play, in the streets and in homes, through war and marriage, and in the very act of crossing the border.

Excerpt

In 1883, the San Antonio Daily Express published a series of letters written by special correspondent Hans Mickle. the reporter was exploring parts of the new transcontinental railway that ran across the American Southwest, connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles to New Orleans. As he followed the route that raced westward across Texas from San Antonio, he entertained his readers with descriptions of the foreign landscape and the assorted passengers that caught his attention, including the “Chinamen” who filled the cars on their way back west, he presumed, to San Francisco and China. Mostly, however, Mickle wrote about El Paso, which according to his report was “the most western point in Texas, and is Texan only in name, as, in almost everything else, it has few Texan characteristics.” If not characteristically Texan, though, El Paso came to represent something even grander for Mickle, for at the “extreme head of an extensive valley,” in a pass flanked by high and rugged mountains, he found himself standing in what he called the “Future Immense.”

The “future immense” that men like Mickle imagined was that of a vast American empire, rising out of the hard desert ground at the nation’s very limits. Before the 1880s, El Paso had been a minuscule border town sitting at the western edge of Texas, comprised mostly of Mexicans and a few American merchants, and overshadowed completely by the more populous and industrious Mexican city of El Paso del Norte immediately across the Rio Grande. However, the railroad’s arrival in El Paso in 1881 carved a new path of iron and steam into the western Texas and northern Chihuahua landscape that forever altered the U.S.- Mexico borderlands. the infusion of capital and industrial machinery radically transformed the remote and seemingly barren terrain, replacing sand and mesquite with mine shafts, metal tracks, rails, and loud engines that radiated in all directions from the international borderline. As money, natural resources, and commercial products crossed borders and seemingly flowed to every corner of the continent, the junction at El Paso and El Paso del Norte— renamed Ciudad Juárez in 1888— became the region’s economic hub and international trade depot. Moreover, an interlocking network of tracks and trains— the thunderous . . .

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