Filiberto Chavez, University of Chicago and Elaine Pena, George Washington University | Newberry

Filiberto Chavez, University of Chicago and Elaine Pena, George Washington University

Friday, September 18, 2015

3 to 5 pm

Room B-84

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Borderlands and Latino/a Studies Seminar

“A Spectacle of Bullfights and Contracted Laborers: The Mexican Village at the Atlanta Exposition”

Filiberto Chávez, University of Chicago

In 1895, the Mexican government agreed to participate in the Cotton States International Exposition held in Atlanta, Georgia. The Mexican exhibition would consist of natural resources, agricultural and manufactured products, while the Mexican village, managed by Mexican Village Exposition Company, was to be a picturesque representation of Mexican life and its people. While this exposition has been studied, previous research has not analyzed the Mexican village and its cultural and social significance. The MVE Company was the creation of two U.S. citizens who wanted to produce a spectacle of bullfights and other attractions to make a profit. This paper reveals the schemes of the MVE Company that brought over a hundred Mexican citizens, as far as from Oaxaca, to be part of this exposition. The company reasoned that the cost of labor would be cheaper, if not more easily exploited, due to language and national differences that it sought to use to their advantage. In spite of this, newspapers from Atlanta as well as Mexico City reported the resiliency of Mexican workers who walked out on their employers and even filed lawsuits against them.

“The Paso Libre Initiative: Resolving the International Bridge Closure Crisis at Laredo, Texas/Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas (1954-1957)”

Elaine Pena, George Washington University

In 1954, Hurricane Alice destroyed the International Bridge at Laredo, Texas (U.S.A.)/Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas (Mexico)-the only physical link between the two cities and to the Pan American Highway. Eager to protect trade and buy-in-bulk business, bridge co-owners-the Mexican federal government and the City of Laredo-rushed to restore communication. Right-to-toll disagreements, however, prompted Mexican officials to keep their end of the completed structure closed for two months. This paper examines how actors at and beyond the port of Laredo resolved that International Bridge Closure Crisis. Using a performance-oriented approach that emphasizes scale and infrastructure, it considers the material and ideological complexities of international bridge co-ownership and the festive repurposing of international bridge space. It draws attention to the crisis resolution initiative known as “paso libre”-an open bridge policy that allowed thousands of Mexican citizens to cross the structure free of charge and without documentation every February for almost twenty years.

Cost and Registration Information 

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