Borderlands of Southern Colorado

El Pueblo History Museum in Colorado is kicking off their Fall Borderlands Lecture Series today, October 4, 2018. Among the 2018 Fall line up is Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Graduate Research Assistant and University of Houston Hispanic Studies doctoral candidate, Sylvia Fernández. She will be presenting “Understanding US-Mexico Borderlands: Newspapers Mapping Geographical Boundaries” with her colleague, Maira Álvarez, on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 6:00 pm.

Abstract: “Understanding US-Mexico Borderlands: Newspapers Mapping Geographical Boundaries,” Maira Álvarez and Sylvia Fernández (University of Houston) Abstract cross-posted from El Pueblo History Museum website (See original page here.)

National discourses about the border continue to generalize, stereotype and invisibilize the history of communities along the region. But many are unaware that borderland identities have emerged throughout history as a result of the loss of territory, immigrations, exile and deterritorialization. Borderlands Archives Cartography was created to visualize, document and analyze the junction of several cultures and the diverse histories of borderlands “to embrace our past and honor the multiple experiences of our communities.” The project uses a digital map to display a U.S.-Mexico border cartography that records the geographic locations of 19th- and mid-20th-century periodicals in order to conceptualize this region before and after the current division line. BAC’s objective is to understand the complexity of borderlands history, identities and cultures to resist the continuing discourses against this extensive region.

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El Pueblo History Museum is located in Pueblo, Colorado. For more information, visit: https://www.historycolorado.org/el-pueblo-history-museum

Sylvia Fernández: is a Ph.D. Candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston and a Research Fellow with Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. Her research interests include U.S. Latina/o Literature with a focus on U.S.-Mexico Border, Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies, Archives and Digital Humanities. She is co-creator of Borderlands Archives Cartography.

Maira Álvarez: is a Ph.D. Candidate and currently a Research Assistant for the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston. Her research interests include the study of U.S. Latino, U.S.-Mexico Border, and Latin American Literature as well as Women’s Studies, Latinx Art and Digital Humanities. She is co-creator of Borderlands Archives Cartography.

3D: Dismantling the Mafia, Destabilizing Mechanisms, and Documenting the Historical Memory. By Sylvia Fernández

Reposted from Torn Apart / Separados website. You can find the Spanish version titled, “Triple D: Desmantelando a la mafia, desestabilizando mecanismos y documentando la memoria histórica”, at http://xpmethod.plaintext.in/torn-apart/reflections/sylvia_fernandez.html

the trap

So, once again, be careful! American domination – the only domination which one never recovers. I mean from which one never recovers unscarred. And since you are talking about factories and industries, do you see the tremendous factory hysterically spitting out its cinders in the heart of our forests or deep on the bush, the factory for the production of lackeys; do you not see the prodigious mechanization, the mechanization of man; the gigantic rape of everything intimate, undamaged, undefiled that, despoiled as we are, our human spirit has still managed to preserve; the machine, yes, have you ever seen it, the machine for crushing, for grinding, for degrading peoples? Aimé Césaire[1]

Ever since I begin my university studies in 2009, a concern arose in me; it derived from the frustration generated from taking courses related to the border. At first these classes focused on the feminicides–the murder and disappearance of hundreds of young women working at the factories (maquiladoras)–NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the aftermath of the war against drug trafficking as well as other issues tied to the US-Mexico border (immigration, militarization, violence and more violence). Most of these classes have been very difficult for me because of the negative perspective perpetrated to this geographical space and its communities. Despite the reality of these problems, interpreted in a particular way in these contexts, these classes were framed from a number of generalizations, without going deep into the history that lies behind the continuous crises.

Being a border woman, born and raised in the same place where my parents met while working in the Toshiba factory, my life has always been centered in a transnational environment. Therefore, the abuses, the violence and everything that implies living under a mechanism controlled by the hegemonic interests of an imperialist and capitalist system have been part of my everyday life. So, when I talk about my hometown (la frontera #1), most of the time I feel very sad and frustrated because my birthplace ends up being the representation of the chaotic, the dangerous, and the monstrous zone. It produces a rejection of the border or, in many cases, it provokes a feeling of a division to draw a distinction between the United States and Mexico. By living in this region one perceives and, in one way or another, resists that the problems that emerge, concentrate or impose themselves in this place, are beyond the sensationalist or tragic story and are there for paternalistic reasons. Also, the same mechanisms that control spaces like the US-Mexico border or the Central America region itself have been responsible for building “the official history” of these spaces and perpetuate the omission, invisibility, and alteration of the voices of the communities that inhabit these places.

The events taking place on the US-Mexico border in the months of June and July 2018, such as the immigrant families detained, deported, separated, and the executive order signed by Donald Trump, “Zero Tolerance Policy,” have once again become newspaper headlines; and US government speeches have made me feel frustrated, once more. One reason for this is that the crisis facing immigrant families that are being separated and transferred to detention centers, among other institutionalized shelters, is using the same strategy of hate, discrimination, racism, and dehumanization, among many other injustices. And this is where I ask myself, what happens all the time after a crisis like the one taking place now? It is forgotten. And the true story that includes the voice, the documents and statistics of the communities is lost. And when we seek to recover those voices/documents, they are often incomplete or corrupted. This is how the history that tells the story about the border is an altered creation that benefits the dominant and aggressive nation.

My case is an example. I am from the border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, which on the one hand is perceived as an insipid place without history and on the other is distinguished by its ease of converting crisis stories into fiction or production factories, always being used, destroyed and abandoned. Similarly, there is also the case of the thousands of Central American migrants who are now being part of a history that hides the main reasons for their migration[2], such as the intervention of the United States in Central America since the beginning of the twentieth century and the abuses they have faced during their immigration trajectories https://www.facebook.com/ajplusenglish/videos/275760276504019/UzpfSTc0Nzc0MTM5MDoxMDE1NjE5NzEwMTI4NjM5MQ/. In such a way that violence, poverty, and migration, among other crises that represent Central America and the border itself, are not due to their inhabitants but because of the mechanisms integrated into these countries for the economic, political and hegemonic benefit of the US government. It is necessary to keep historical memory present in order to emphasize awareness, decolonization of their consciousness, and resistance to oppressive mechanisms in a transnational manner.

With this in mind, over the past 3 years, I have been part of Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage as a Research Fellow. This has given me the opportunity to be exposed to a vast amount of recovered archives that contain the voices of the past. Particularly, many newspapers and unknown personal archives have led me to understand and be conscious of the existence of Other histories. These documents, personal archives, and US Latina/o academic research have shown me that the border cities of El Paso and Cd. Juárez and this special space that they create is a region of relevant cultural and historical production. Yet, since it is considered the periphery of the United States and Mexico, there is a lack of knowledge and disregard for this region and its transnational literary heritage, especially from locals who do not conceive this legacy as part of their identity and patrimony. My experience in Recovery coupled with my transfronteriza identity led me to think of a project that could integrate the US-Mexico borderlands and together with my colleague, Maira Álvarez—a fronteriza from Laredo, Texas—we founded Borderlands Archives Cartography; a project that maps nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries newspapers published on both sides of the border to visualize the multiplicity and hidden history(es) of this region.
The development of the project, in one part by presenting it in multidisciplinary conferences locally, nationally and internationally and my involvement in the Digital Humanities and Social Justice Speakers’ Series hosted by Recovery, with the special effort of Carolina Villarroel, Gabriela Baeza, and Lorena Gauthereau, led me to have the good fortune of meeting wonderful people (Jeremy Boggs, Purdom Lindblad, María E. Cotera, Alex Gil, Élika Ortega, and Roopika Risam), who have allowed me to learn from their experiences in the field of digital humanities. These scholars are aware that personal/communities stories are subject to political crisis and that they have the power to make social justice changes.

In June 2018 Alex Gil invited me to be part of a team with  Roopika Risam, Manan Ahmed, Maira Álvarez, Moacir P. de Sá Pereira, Linda Rodriguez, Merisa Martinez, and Gil himself, that created  “Torn Apart / Separados,” a project that aggregates and cross-references publicly available data to visualize the geography of Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy in 2018 and immigration incarceration in the USA in general. This initiative continues to work to profoundly review the crisis caused by the separation of immigrant families and refugees. It unmasks the mafia-type work of the US government as it produces more and more money through the abuse of vulnerable communities and by continuously degrading and attacking people of color.

I want to end by highlighting how the interdisciplinary and collaborative work within this digital, activist, and mobilized humanities offers the opportunity to create new ways of interpreting, visualizing, and documenting the history of communities with a profound message towards social justice and equity in the world. The way we have been working represents a practice of resistance in a communitarian way; our work goes against the strategy of “divide and conquer” in order to avoid the constant physical and verbal aggressions towards groups of minorities.


Sylvia Fernández is a Ph.D. Candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston and a Research Fellow with Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. She is the co-founder of Borderlands Archives Cartography. Her research is on US Latina / o with a focus on US-Mexico borderlands, transnational feminisms, postcolonial theory and digital humanities.


[1] Aimé Césaire. “Discourse on Colonialism”. Translated by Joan Pinkham. Monthly
Review Press, 1972.

[2] http://theconversation.com/how-us-policy-in-honduras-set-the-stage-for-todays-mass-migration-65935?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=twitterbutton

https://medium.com/s/story/timeline-us-intervention-central-america-a9bea9ebc148

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/february-2017/todays-banned-immigrants-are-no-different-from-our-immigrant-ancestors

Borderlands Archives Cartography: The First Digital U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Newspapers Archive. By Maira Álvarez and Sylvia Fernández.

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Borders are in a constant transition in the political, cultural, and geographic discourses. According to Rachel St. John, “walls and fences have become both physical realities and metaphors for the stark divide between the United States and Mexico and the attempt to control undocumented immigration and illegal drug trafficking that many people associate with the border” (1). Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) emerges from the constant, and current aggressive, political rhetoric that displays the geographic and ideological border between the United States and Mexico as a threat. However, the borderland “is a space where different cultures co-exist under strong political, economic, and social hegemonies; as well as, a space were regions influence each other, but maintain their own identities” (Álvarez)[1]. Therefore, the objective of BAC is to uncover literary sources, such as the newspapers published on the U.S. Southwest and Northern area of Mexico in order to represent the borderlands by their own communities.

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Why the focus on periodicals? Though printing was first introduced to the Americas in 1533, fourteen years following the arrival of Spaniards to the region now known as Mexico, the persistent prevailing perception is that the United States has always been the neighbor leading innovation and dominant producer of cultural advancements. That is not the case, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans inhabiting the Southwest have been practicing literary production and self-documentation that predates the birth of the United States. In the borderlands, these cultural interactions gave rise to new identities as a result of the loss of territory, immigrations, exile, and deterritorialization. This is reflected in recovered material such as periodicals, which kept communities informed about daily affairs and advertised local businesses, among many other services. On the other hand, these publications helped individuals and [its residents] protect their rights by fighting segregation and discrimination, particularly after the cession of the borderlands to the United States in 1848. Newspapers preserved language and culture, elevating communities’ education levels by publishing creative literature in Spanish, including poetry, literary prose, serialized novels, and plays (Kanellos and Martell 7-8). Additionally, newspapers have documented diverse political, social, and economic processes from U.S. colonial times to more recent events that helps [to better] understand the [borderland and transnational] cultures (Chávez Chávez).

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Borderland Archives Cartography is a digital humanities project that works in collaboration with the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage. Its legacy inspired the founders of the Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) project, doctoral students from the University of Houston, Maira E. Álvarez and Sylvia A. Fernández, from borderland cities of Laredo, Texas and El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, respectively. Their experience as Research Fellows in the Recovery Program gave them an understanding of the importance of archives and their cultural and historical legacy, as well as, training on equipment and procedures necessary for the preservation of such materials. Their exposure to a database with more than 1000 recovered newspapers led the founders to a series of questions regarding the periodicals not only from the United States border, but the material found in archives along the Mexico border region as well. These academic experiences along with their personal interest on U.S.-Mexico border is reflected on their dissertations and the BAC project, which initiated in early 2017.

The project is significant because it crosses multiple borders: geographic, linguistic, and disciplinary. The following is an overview of the logistics involved in undertaking such a project, the philosophy for creating this corpus, a description of the borders, and the historical periods and communities involved. Furthermore, the objective of BAC is to gather periodicals archives from both sides of the border in order to understand the region and its communities before and after it became a division line. This project takes a digital humanities platform to expand the notion of borders, methodologies, and data analysis with the purpose to facilitate the access to the material recovered and promote diverse forms of research. BAC’s digital map displays the U.S.-Mexico border newspaper cartography that records geographic locations of nineteenth and mid-twentieth century periodicals. The corpus gathered until now is projected using, a geo-analysis tool, which helps to analyze and represent visually the data.

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By following the cataloging material standards of the Library of Congress, the information coded in the map is categorized by newspaper title, location (city, state, and country), address, number of issues available, years of publication, language (Spanish, English, French), editor/s name, source (name of the collection), and historical periods (period one, period two and period three). The selection of newspapers from both sides of the border followed BAC’s protocols, in which the historical periods dictated the states and regions (cities and counties) to be considered as part of the borderlands.

The US border includes the states California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. The latter state is included due to the influence of the press during the nineteenth century. Currently, the U.S. data collected is from the Recovering Program. This material is available through microfilm at Recovery located at the University of Houston, or digitally through the NewsBank/Readex database: America’s Historical Newspapers under the Hispanic American Newspaper Collections and EBSCO database: under Arte Público Hispanic Historical Collection Series 1 and Series 2.

From the Mexican border, BAC includes the periodical from the states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. The data of newspapers collected comes from the Recovery Program, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, a unit of the University of Texas Libraries, and the Hemeroteca de la Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas under the Fondos Documentales Joaquín Meade. The material of the Recovery Program can be accessed through the online sources previously mentioned. The newspapers from the collection of Joaquín Meade can be found in the Hemeroteca de la Universidad de Tamaulipas’ website. The Benson Collection is available in microfilm form at the University of Texas Libraries.

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Furthermore, the process of gathering data from the northern states of Mexico is currently underway. By using the Colegio de la Frontera Norte’s online directory[2], a description of the project, as well as the objectives of the research was sent via email. Some of the specialists provided contact information of archivist and directors in charge of newspapers archives related to BAC. The project was received with great excitement and their responses provided an extraordinary amount of information found in their archives. The digitized newspapers obtained by these colleagues were included in the database, the newspapers on microfilm will be requested to be digitized, and the newspapers in print form, which is a larger portion of the collections in Mexico, will be slowly integrated to the database because of travel, equipment, organization, and time required.

As mentioned before, the data from both sides of the border followed BAC’s protocols, in which the historical periods dictated the selection of states and regions (cities and counties) to be considered as part of the borderlands. Presently, BAC considers nineteenth century newspapers from the entire states, and the twentieth century periodicals are selected based on border cities from both sides. This is due to the fact that the U.S.-Mexico border went over a geographical and political transition that established what the current division line is now. With this in mind, the periodicals found in BAC are categorized in one of the three historical periods, according to the year published, in order to provide an understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands:

  • Period One (Colonial ruling), covers the years 1808 to 1846.
  • Period Two (Mexican-American War) extends from 1847 to 1854.
  • Period Three (Transition to the current division line) runs from 1855 to 1930. 

Periodicos periodos historicos Currently BAC has been well accepted in regional, national and international conferences such as 25th Anniversary Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Conference (Houston, TX), International American Studies Association 8th World Congress (Laredo, TX), 83rd IFLA World Library and Information Congress (Wroclaw, Poland), 6th Annual Digital Frontiers Conference (Denton, TX) and invited as speakers for The Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp) at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Gradually, BAC’s missions are being reach while the project continues to work on building bridges globally among the academic and borderlands communities. This digital humanities approach not only facilitates research with archives, it also enables and encourage other disciplines’ studies, and forms of methodologies to better understand the material.

BAC as a digital humanities project promotes the use of diverse knowledge since different skills are essential for engagement, interaction, research and most importantly, understanding the histories of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. As Roopika Risam (2014) emphasizes, these types of texts can aid in the theorizing of digital archival practices. In the case of BAC, the integration of borderlands’ newspapers created the first digital archive of U.S.-Mexico Borderlands Newspapers. Bacartography.org is a repository platform that displays the digital map, historical context of the borderlands, online resources, publications, a monthly newspapers exhibition, social media (facebook, twitter, instagram), and graphs that help visualized the data collected. BAC integrates in its platforms other borderlands digital projects to better understand the region and fill some of the historical lacunae from Mexico and the United States.

In conclusion, more than an digital project, Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) is a personal commitment to the borderlands communities. As fronterizas, we want to bring the legacy of Recovery to our communities through BAC because just as we found ourselves represented and empowered by the heritage recovered, that made us aware of the right histories of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, we intend to bring this knowledge and non-traditional literary sources to others to deconstruct the political discourses that have been persistent throughout the years. With this in mind, BAC, as a borderlands archive, strives to continue uncovering voices from the past to destabilize statism.

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Bibliography

Chávez Chávez, Jorge. “El Archivo Municipal de Ciudad Juárez.” Cronología Siglo XXI (1992). Accessed May 28, 2017. https://bivir.uacj.mx/bivir_pp/cronicas/new_page_2.htm.

Kanellos, Nicolás and Helvetia Martell. Periodicals in the United States, Origins to 1960: A           Brief History and Comprehensive Bibliography. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2000.

Risam, Roopika. Professionalizing via Digital Humanities. (powerpoint slides for a talk at the New England American Studies Association Spring Colloquium-“Professional Realities Inside and Outside the Academy, May 3, 2014)  https://www.slideshare.net/roopsi1/professionalization

St. John, Rachel. Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border. New            Jersey:Princeton University Press, 2011.

 

[1] Maira E. Álvarez’s dissertation title, Mexican and Mexican-American Fronteriza Writers: A Counter Discourse from a Militarized Border.

[2] El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (El Colef) is an institution of scientific research and graduate education, which is part of the System of Public Centers for Research of the CONACYT (National Council for Science and Technology). Regional Headquarters: Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey, Ciudad Juárez, and Mexicali.