James Fallows: “3 Simple Facts About the Shutdown”

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James Fallows boils it down at The Atlantic:

  • Reality one: As recently as three weeks ago, Donald Trump was perfectly willing to keep the government open and defer funding for his wall— until a right-wing chorus made fun of him for looking “weak.”
  • Reality two: Trump and his Congressional party never bestirred themselves to fund this wall back when they had unquestioned power to do so, during the era of Republican control of the Congress in 2017 and 2018.
  • Reality three: the U.S.-Mexico border has come under more control in recent years, not less. It’s been controlled by fences and walls in the busiest areas — as has been the practice for decades. The “crisis” is the politics of the issue, not its underlying realities.

Read the rest here.

Does Nativism Still Exist Among U.S. Catholics?

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Catholic University historian Julia G. Young believes that it does.  Here is a taste of her piece “‘We Were Different‘”:

A few years ago, I taught an undergraduate course on migration at the Catholic University of America. During one lecture, I compared nineteenth-century Italian migration and contemporary Mexican migration to the United States. A hand shot up, and a student—one of several with an Italian surname—objected. “They’re not the same,” he protested. “My great-grandmother came here legally, and learned English—Mexicans don’t do that.”

As a historian who studies Mexican immigration to the United States, I’m used to hearing statements like this. Concerns about new immigrants’ legal status and failure to assimilate are widespread, and nativism has re-emerged in recent decades. Still, I wondered why this proud young Italian-American Catholic was so unwilling to compare his ancestors to the Mexican Catholic immigrants of today. Why did he not feel a sense of sympathy and solidarity for contemporary immigrants, who share so much with the great waves of Irish, Italians, Poles, and other immigrants of the late nineteenth century?

At the time, I didn’t quite grasp how many U.S. Catholics feel the widespread American discontent over immigration. After all, the Catholic hierarchy is vocally pro-immigrant, and the U.S. Catholic population is entirely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Catholics have a proud tradition of social justice, and numerous Catholic organizations have done immensely valuable work to protect immigrants. Nevertheless, in our new Trumpian era of border walls and travel bans, it has become more apparent to me (and others, such as Paul Moses in a recent piece for Commonweal, “White Catholics & Nativism,” September 1, 2017) that white Catholics have a nativism problem of their own.

Given the history of Catholic immigration to the United States, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Catholic nativism toward other Catholic immigrants is a recurring sentiment that dates to at least the second half of the nineteenth century, when the influx of Catholics changed the religious landscape of the United States. From then until today, Irish, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and other Catholics have fought over power, identity, religious practice, and shared spaces.

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

Mexico in the American Political Imagination

GuardinoSome of you will recall Indiana University historian Peter Guardino‘s visit to the Author’s Corner last month.  His latest book is The Dead March: A History of the Mexican Amercian War.

In  recent History News Network piece which I read at the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail, Guardino argues that “Mexico hasn’t figured in US politics like this since 1848.”  Of course the United States fought a war against Mexico between 1846 and 1848.

Here is a taste:

In February 1847, Ohio Senator Thomas Corwin called the war a grave threat to American democracy, telling the Senate that each chapter of American history written “in Mexican blood may close the volume of our history as a free people.” Corwin argued that injustice does harm beyond its most direct victims by also damaging its perpetrators and putting at risk the political institutions of the aggressors.

He correctly predicted that the war of conquest against Mexico would soon lead to civil war between the North and South. Years later, Mexican-American War veteran Ulysses S. Grant also emphasized the connection between that war and the Civil War. In his memoirs, he wrote that “nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”

The racialized rhetoric some politicians used in 1846-1848 caused great suffering and death in Mexico, and lasting damage to the United States. Today, very similar racialized rhetoric promotes policies that also cause suffering and death for Mexicans and people of Mexican descent.

At the same time, it damages the United States by reinforcing some of the worst baggage that we bring with us from our past: The notion that if some whites are having trouble achieving their dreams, it must be because racial Others are too successful in achieving theirs.

For shame.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Peter Guardino

510sRclx3YL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Peter Guardino is Professor of History at Indiana University–Bloomington. This interview is based on his new book, The Dead March: A History of the Mexican-American War (Harvard University Press, 2017). 

JF: What led you to write The Dead March?

PG: I wrote The Dead March because I was deeply dissatisfied with many of the things that both the general public and academic historians in the United States and Mexico believed about this crucial war. Most writing about the war still contained ideas about both countries that had first become embedded in conventional wisdom during the nineteenth century as an increasingly racist United States rose to become a world power. More recent and professional research has debunked or called into question many of these ideas. It was time to reexamine the war in the light of what we know now, and with new primary research. I also felt that a social history of this war would tell us much about both Mexico and the United States during the period.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Dead March?

PG: When we look at the Mexican-American War through the experiences of common people in both countries, it becomes clear that Mexico lost this war not because Mexicans were less committed to their nation but because Mexico’s economy was not as strong as the U.S. economy. Both national governments were still in the process of building national institutions and convincing people that loyalty to the nation should be more important than other forms of identity.

JF: Why do we need to read The Dead March?

PG: This war shaped the continent in dramatic ways, and it is best understood through the motivations and stories of the regular people who experienced the violent battles, the diseases that stalked American military camps, the atrocities inflicted on Mexican civilians, and the hunger that shaped the lives of Mexican soldiers and civilians. The political, strategic and tactical choices made by politicians and officers were important, but the social and economic realities of the two countries always shaped those choices. Researching and writing this book helped me learn an enormous amount about both the United States and Mexico, and I hope reading it will inform and entertain others.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PG: My path toward researching US history has been anything but direct. I have been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember, but in college I became interested in the history of Mexico. I focused my research almost completely on Mexican history through two books, many articles, and decades of teaching. Still, I was always dissatisfied with the ways in which our visions of Latin American history are often implicitly comparative: Latin American history is largely constructed as a story of the region’s relative lack of political stability, democracy, and economic development. Because that comparison is implicit it is usually intellectually weak, with people comparing idealized versions of the history of the United States or Western Europe to exaggerated versions of Latin American failures. It was the desire for better comparison that led me to write a book about an event that the US and Mexico shared, and that led me to serious research about American history in both secondary and primary sources. Oddly, I didn’t become a historian of the United States until I had been a Mexicanist for decades.

JF: What is your next project?

PG: Well, I am trying to figure that out now. I remain interested in the early nineteenth century in both the United States and Mexico. I have begun some very preliminary research for a new project focused on the 1820s and 1830s. Both countries dramatically expanded suffrage and experienced the development of mass political parties in this period, but in other ways they were quite different. Jacksonian Democracy was about expanding the participation of white males in formal politics while limiting the rights of racial others. Race also shaped social hierarchies in Mexico, but it had no formal political or legal role: Mexico abolished slavery, and all males, regardless of race, could vote. In fact, officials no longer even recorded racial identities in official documents. The contrast is fascinating, and I am hoping to write a book about this.

JF: Thanks, Peter!

Author’s Corner with Mark Goldberg

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Mark Goldberg is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Houston. This interview is based on his new book, Conquering Sickness: Race, Health, and Colonization in the Texas Borderlands (University of Nebraska Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Conquering Sickness?

MG: In graduate school, I became interested in how people in multiracial spaces negotiated power. I am also from Texas, and a particular exclusive set of stories about the 18th and 19th century tend to dominate here, flatting the texture and nuance of Texas history and silencing many narratives.  During research for my master’s thesis, which analyzed Caddo Indian trade in east Texas, I came across many interesting discussions about disease and healing practices that people employed, including peyote and amulets. I also had the opportunity to take a graduate course that traveled around the U.S. West, studying the history of race in the region. We visited the Levi Jordan Plantation in Brazoria, Texas, where archaeologist Ken Brown has led a team that uncovered a curer’s cabin, highlighting the healer’s use of syncretic African and African American healing practices in postemancipation Texas. These experiences pushed me towards the study of health and healing in Texas. 

Health is one of the most basic elements of life, so it offered me a window into popular culture in the 18th and 19th century.  The history of health and healing in Texas addressed my intellectual curiosities and my desire to write against mythic, popular representations of the Lone Star State.  The era that I cover, roughly 1780 to 1880, saw multiple waves of colonization in moments when Native peoples dominated much of the region.  It was ripe for the study of race, popular culture, and power, as different nation-states tried to assert control over Texas, while Comanches and Karankawas held the upper hand in many instances.  Power was fluid in this borderland, so what did cross-cultural interactions and exchanges mean in this place undergoing conquest? 

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Conquering Sickness?

MG: The desire to build healthy settlements drove Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo conquests of Texas. Spaniards, Mexicans, and Anglo Americans defined healthiness environmentally and culturally, based around perceptions of how people lived, and they differentiated their own “healthy” behaviors racially, against Native and (during Anglo migrations) Mexican “unhealthy” ways of living.

JF: Why do we need to read Conquering Sickness? 

MG: First, I would say, for the stories.  I uncovered many fascinating examples of how individuals treated disease and how they thought about sickness and health.  The first story that caught my eye, which I still find captivating, concerns how the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas (one state at the time) confronted the 1833 cholera epidemic.  After a series of public health initiatives regulating when people were out and about, how they prepared food, town cleanliness, and leisure activities, failed to stem the tide of disease, the government came to employ a peyote remedy as its official prescription.  How could a nation-state, which was in the process of being built, promote a practice associated with so-called Indian superstition, when to be Mexican at the time meant culturally not Indian?  These types of healing exchanges occurred throughout the century under study, as did state governments’ efforts to legitimize their use of medicine that they simultaneously scorned.  Colonialism was largely about instituting particular ways of living beyond methods of healing, which colonizers in Texas often defined against nonwhite residents. Spanish missionaries, for example, justified conquest by trying to mold Indians into proper, civilized, healthy Catholics. Conversion, and by extension conquest, was not only about spirituality, but also about how one carried oneself. 

I also think it is important to see how a common idea—healthiness—was (and is) defined culturally and how science, which appears objective, has been shaped by local cultures and desires. For example, to live a healthy life in post-1848 Texas meant to embrace white, middle class values—temperance, sedentary agriculture, sexual restraint—showing the close relationship Anglo newcomers drew between morality and health. They often saw Mexicans and Indians as immoral and therefore unhealthy. Ultimately, then, this raises a question relevant today:  in what ways might we define something like healthiness in a culturally, religiously, racially, and sexually loaded manner?     

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MG:  I was always interested in history, but when I was an undergraduate, I was premed with an art history major for most of college. I only decided not to pursue a medical career and to become an academic historian during my senior year. I realized that my passion was trying to understand histories that never fit into a neat, master narrative. My own family history of multigenerational migrations; Eastern European, Jewish, Latin American, Latina/o, and Texas histories; and U.S. immigration does not easily meld into a dominant national narrative, so perhaps that influenced my interests. I started graduate school focusing on 20th-century U.S. history and ties between the civil rights movement and Latin America. I moved back in time and across regions, but my interest in race and U.S.-Latin American connections continued as I came to study of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

JF: What is your next project?

MG: I am bringing together my background in Latina/o history with a new interest in Jewish Studies. Continuing to ask questions about race, ethnicity, national identity, and cultural boundaries, I am examining Jewish Latina/o history and studying the connections among Latina/o, Jewish, and American identities. I am interested in how Jewish Latina/os in the 20th century have used different forms of storytelling—about the colonial past, around food and music—to link those identities. It is also a personal study, allowing me to apply my interests in the American West and borderlands, Latina/o history, and cultural history to my family and community’s story. 

JF: Thanks, Mark!

Should We Take Trump’s Remarks About the Pope and Immigration Seriously?

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Donald Trump does not like Pope Francis’s views on Mexican immigration.  I think he really does have a serious disagreement with Francis on this issue.

But Trump’s opposition to the Pope is a shrewd political move, at least for now.  In other words, I don’t think that his remarks will hurt him with the evangelical vote in South Carolina.  Many conservative evangelicals probably think the Pope may be more of a socialist than Bernie Sanders.  I would also guess that there is a good share of anti-Catholicism in the Palmetto State.

Tonight I would love to see someone from CBS ask the GOP candidates about Pope Francis.

Pope Francis Continues to Defy Political Categories

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Back in September when Pope Francis visited the United States I wrote a piece for Fox News titled “Pope Francis is neither liberal nor conservative, Democrat or Republican.  He is a Catholic.”  Here is a taste of what I argued:

Pundits and commentators insist on trying to comprehend Francis’s message in political terms.  This is a wrongheaded approach. The Pope is not liberal or conservative.  He is not a Democrat or Republican.  He is a Catholic. And whatever he says about politics, culture, or the economy stems from this identity.

Our propensity for trying to place the Pope in a political box says more about our culture than it does about the social views of the Catholic Church. Francis’s visit has called attention to the tired, unimaginative, and intellectually stale way that we Americans think about public life. Americans are captive to ideological categories like “Left: and “Right.” They are captive to political parties that allow little original thought that does not conform to rigid and limited platforms. 

Pope Francis continues to defy categories.  On February 17th he will hold a mass at the Mexico-Texas border for the purpose of showing his solidarity with immigrants.

Yesterday, in a historic meeting in Cuba with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill,  Pope Francis joined the Patriarch in issuing a declaration of unity that defended religious liberty for those cast to the “margins of public life” by “aggressive secularist ideology.” It condemned “unrelenting consumerism” and its negative effects on the poor and the planet.  It proclaimed marriage as a “faithful love between a man and a woman” and lamented “other forms of cohabitation” that have “been placed on the same level as this union.” And it called on people to “respect the inalienable right to life” and the “millions” who are denied the very right to be born into the world.”

Could Francis support any candidate in the current race for the presidency?  I don’t see how it would be possible.  None of the candidates–Democrat or Republican– could affirm all of Catholic social teaching.

What Was "Operation Wetback?"

If you watched the GOP debate last night on Fox Business News you saw Donald Trump compare his immigration policy to the 1955 roundup of illegal Mexican immigrants in a project, endorsed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, known as “Operation Wetback.”

The Wikipedia page on Operation Wetback is pretty good.  It draws heavily from Columbia University historian Mae Ngai’s Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America.

Here is a taste of a Washington Post piece explaining Operation Wetback:

In Mexicali, Mexico, temperatures can reach 125 degrees as heat envelops an arid desert. Without a body of water nearby to moderate the climate, the heavy sun is relentless — and deadly.
During the summer of 1955, this is where hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were “dumped” after being discovered as migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Unloaded from buses and trucks carrying several times their capacity, the deportees stumbled into the Mexicali streets with few possessions and no way of getting home.
This was strategic: the more obscure the destination within the Mexican interior, the less opportunities they would have to return to America. But the tactic also proved to be dangerous, as the migrants were left without resources to survive.
After one such round-up and transfer in July, 88 people died from heat stroke.
At another drop-off point in Nuevo Laredo, the migrants were “brought like cows” into the desert.
Among the over 25 percent who were transported by boat from Port Isabel, Texas, to the Mexican Gulf Coast, many shared cramped quarters in vessels resembling an “eighteenth century slave ship” and “penal hell ship.”
These deportation procedures, detailed by historian Mae M. Ngai, were not anomalies. They were the essential framework of Operation Wetback — a concerted immigration law enforcement effort implemented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 — and the deportation model that Donald Trump says he intends to follow.
Trump made his affinity for Operation Wetback clear during an interview with CBS’s Scott Pelley over the weekend. Speaking on 60 Minutes Overtime, Pelley asked Trump to explain his plans for curbing illegal immigration.
“We’re rounding them up in a very humane way, a very nice way,” Trump said, as he has expressed before.
“What does that roundup look like to you?” Pelley pressed. “How does it work? Are you going to have cops going door-to-door?”
Trump interjected: “Did you like Eisenhower? Did you like Dwight Eisenhower as a president at all?”
“He did this,” the presidential candidate said. “He did this in the 1950s with over a million people, and a lot of people don’t know that…and it worked.”
Read the entire article here.
I think it is fair to say that Trump wants to revive one of the darker moments in American history. This is clearly one of these examples in America’s past where its leaders did not live up to the nation’s highest ideals. When it comes to the blatant disrespect for human dignity it is certainly in the same general ballpark as slavery or the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"Go Back to Mexico" in Historical Context

I got a chuckle out of this today.

From Blue Nation Review:

Consider the states you associate most with anti-Latino sentiment.

You might first think of Arizona, of Maricopa County in particular, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio was accused and found guilty of racially profiling Latinos.

Or perhaps you might think of Texas, the state where, according to conservatives, Mexicans are diluting American culture by refusing to learn English and turning San Antonio into a Mexican metropolis.

California might also enter your mind – Latinos are now the majority there, a fact that, when it was reported, royally freaked out conservatives. It’s as if they know that minorities are typically mistreated or something.

The point is, the anti-Latino word bank of your typical xenophobe will likely include: “border, undocumented, alien, illegal, fence,” etc. So it makes sense that the states most associated with anti-Latino sentiment would be Border States.

But these states have something else in common too. They all used to be Mexico.

Mexico in 1822-1824: