Michael Calderon-Zaks, Independent Scholar; Jessica Kim, California State University; Andrew Offenburger, Yale University

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Borderlands and Latino Studies Seminar
Friday, September 27, 2013

3 pm to 5 pm

B-91

“Linking Race and Empire: Railroad Construction as ‘Peaceful Conquest’ in the Borderlands Region”
Michael Calderon-Zaks, Independent Scholar

The paper focuses on the role of rail construction in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands region toward the racialization of Mexicans on both sides of the border. The origins of a large-scale Mexican proletariat in the US can be found in the linking of the rails between both the nation-states by 1884. By the 1890s, the first Mexican track laborers were recruited, and becoming a mainstay on the southwestern rails by the 1900s, which they then used as a means of obtaining higher wages in industrial-scale regional agriculture, or in industrial and construction occupations in Los Angeles and other cities distant from El Paso. The railroad on both sides of the border became a site of racialization: first class (lighter skinned Mexican passengers) and second class (darker Mexican passengers) railcars, a racialized division of labor that featured Mexican track crews at the bottom of the wage scale, and regulation of physical movement. Moreover, linking the railroads between both nation-states not only made Mexico subservient to the US as a neo-colony, but the partnerships developed between the white elites of both nation-states was also a merger of two racial regimes rooted in European colonialism that had long outlasted independence from the former colonizers.

“ ‘Good Feelings and Commercial Ties’: Forging Angeleno-Mexican Partnerships,1874-1910”
Jessica Kim, California State University, Northridge

This chapter, drawn from my book manuscript, explores how Angeleno investment strategies intersected with the ambitions of the Porfiriato in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Mexican policymakers and Los Angeles investors alike envisioned a productive relationship between Mexican resources and Los Angeles capital. They built alliances that facilitated both the growth of Los Angeles and the development of Mexico’s raw natural resources. Using the Colorado River Land Company (CRLC) as a case study, the chapter explores the ways in which the company embodied the mutual interests of Angeleno investors and Mexican officials. With regional growth driving their agenda, this cadre of powerful individuals harnessed the future of Southern California to regional development and transnational expansion.

“Gilded Dreams: The Imperial Logic of the Western Turn South”
Andrew Offenburger, Yale University

This article traces how American adventurers, miners, irrigation developers, boosters, politicians, investors, painters, and writers understood U.S. expansion into the new Southwest and Mexico between 1848 and 1910. During this period, U.S. imperialism transformed from a model of territorial acquisition to one based on the domination of foreign markets. Two cultural forces guided this transformation. First, the language of progress and development that created the American West provided an ideological template for boosters in the borderlands region. Second, late Victorian cultures of masculinity, adventurism, romance, and colonialism influenced the way that Americans viewed their southern neighbor. Thus, the U.S. presence in Mexico can be understood both ideologically and chronologically as a stepping stone between forms of empire, with strong parallels to other imperial possessions in the late nineteenth century.

Commentator: Rachel St. John, New York University

Cost and registration information: 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically. For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at scholl@newberry.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.