Between Jim Crow and Indigenismo: African Americans Crossing the U.S.-Mexico Border

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM
Scottsdale Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Julian Lim, Cornell University
During the 1920s and 1930s, both the United States and Mexico developed stricter border control policies and immigration exclusion programs based on race.  As the United States shifted its focus from excluding Chinese immigrants to targeting Mexicans, Mexico enacted its own set of immigration policies to marginalize and bar Chinese and African-American movement to Mexico.  Reeling from the political and social upheavals of the Revolution, Mexican elites focused on reconstructing the nation not only through economic modernization and state consolidation, but also by constructing a powerful new national identity around the ideologies of “indigenismo” and “mestizaje” – ideologies that had no place for Chinese and black persons in Mexico.  Although the history of Mexico’s anti-Chinese campaigns has received some scholarly attention, the topic of African American exclusion from Mexico has remained largely unexplored.  Based on NAACP papers, government correspondence, and immigration records from both U.S. and Mexican archives, this paper discusses the experiences of African Americans in Texas who felt the double blow of exclusion at the U.S.-Mexico border: the exclusions of Jim Crow and indigenismo.  In doing so, the paper investigates questions of citizenship, national identity, and nation-building from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.  It also illuminates the shared venture between the Mexican and U.S. nation-states in controlling race, immigration, and the border during the first half of the twentieth century.  As racial ideologies migrated across national boundaries, it became more difficult for racialized bodies to do the same.  The paper thus demonstrates the ways in which U.S. and Mexican immigration policies worked in tandem – as a more unified system – to channel migration in certain ways at certain times.  Ultimately, the paper contributes to scholarship dealing not only with the U.S.-Mexico border, but also with broader questions of nation-building, identity, migration, and transnationalism.
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