Co-opting the Border: The Dream of African American Integration via Baja California

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Laura Hooton, University of California, Santa Barbara
This poster will directly engage with the conference themes of race, identity, transnational histories, and border histories through the lens of an African American agricultural community in Baja California that attempted to use the U.S.-Mexico border to change racial ideologies in the United States. The Lower California Mexican Land and Development Company, dubbed “Little Liberia,” begun just outside of Ensenada, Mexico in the early twentieth century. Little Liberia was originally established by elite members of the Los Angeles Black community, but later involved Blacks from across the United States and Canada, including a well-known contingent from Oklahoma. The colony’s original goal was to become an agricultural source for California. By economically influencing the United States from outside its boundaries and prejudiced social systems, Little Liberia's leaders intended to alter White American's perceptions of African Americans and therefore enact social change. These African Americans proposed to transcend existing cultural and political barriers in the United States and Mexico through cooperation between different races and across borders. Little Liberia colonists attempted to use the United States-Mexico border as a buffer for United States racial animosity, but also allow economic and social ties to flow across that same border.

Little Liberia’s founders strove to provide a place where both Blacks and Mexicans could come together to enact cross-border change white simultaneously keeping ties across the border back to Los Angeles; the colonists constantly crossed the border to visit Los Angeles in order to keep community ties. With the addition of Oklahomans, the community then created a border bridge between Los Angeles, Oklahoma, and Baja California, connecting seemingly disparate areas through community ties. The unique racial landscape of Los Angeles and the American West played a pivotal role in establishing the relationship between Baja California and Los Angeles, and the long history of Native American-Black relations in Oklahoma contributed to the interracial nature of the community after the addition of Black Oklahomans. International and internal politics, however, occasionally prevailed, and later played a role in the colony’s end after a. Little Liberia's colonists strove to simultaneously create a thriving community that was integrated into the Baja California landscape and use the colony's proximity to the border to enact social change. The colony, however, eventually succumbed to pressures from international politics, economic struggles, and mismanagement which led its eventual close.

See more of: Poster Session #3
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