tv U.S. - Mexico Border Wall CSPAN December 8, 2018 11:45am-12:01pm EST
we are at the very beginning stages of this movement to reawaken equality in this country. >> you can watch the entire conversation sunday at 4:00 on real america. you were watching american history tv on c-span3. >> the first fence along the u.s.-mexico border intended for cattle was built in the early 1900's. penn state professor mary mendoza talks about how immigration and border barriers changed over the course of the 20th century. american history tv recorded this 15 minute interview that the western history association's annual meeting in san antonio, texas. >> joining us from san antonio, her hometown, professor mary e. mendoza, teaching at penn state university and her book title "natural border." we thank you for being with us
on c-span3. there is so much debate right now about the border wall. give us the history and what you have learned in researching this topic. prof. mendoza: well, one of the things i focus on is the environmental history of the u.s.-mexico border since which was very long. people don't know we have been building fences and walls on the border for quite some time. the first fence was built in the early 1900s to stop a cattle pick that was crossing the border from mexico into the united states. the u.s. department of agriculture decided they needed to stop that from happening, so they build the fence. the tick was carrying a disease from mexico into the united states. the u.s. had launched a huge eradication campaign but mexico did not have to do that so once they tick was eradicated, the fence went up to stop cattle from crossing the border and thus the bugs.
the first fence was finished in 1911. it started as an environmental control project. that is something people don't really know about. over time, the fence changed and became a tool to control human migration. >> before 1911, what was the border like? prof. mendoza: it was pretty much an open range with a free flow of animals and people. cattle trades going on. people running cattle from south to north. people moving across the border freely. there were obelisks. 258 obelisks built in the 1890's that marked the border, but 258 obelisks marking the border along the border meant there were several miles apart. you could really not be sure where the border was. it was very open. >> what were the border walls made out of? prof. mendoza: early on, they were fences and they were barbed wire. they were meant to control cattle.
four or five barbed wire and the first fences were built on the southern california border. they were just there. texas remained mostly fenceless until the middle of the 20th century because the river provided a natural barrier. there were barbed wire fences mostly in southern california to start. >> what was the program? can you explain? prof. mendoza: the middle of the 20th century is when fences became tools to control human migration and that was during the program which was a guest worker program that lasted from 1942 to 1960. the program was meant to fill labor gaps created by world war ii. the idea was that mexico would send workers to the united states to fill the labor gap. it was open only to men who did not own property, young, willing. men started to travel south to
north. through channels created by u.s. and mexico, an international agreement. it was closed to women. as people came, other people applied as men to become part of the program and did not qualify so they started crossing the border looking for work as well. they often found it. women crossed the border as well. one interesting piece of information about the border fence from this period was this was a transitional moment. this is when fences became tools to control human migration but the people they wanted to control were women. historians don't talk about women because it was a program only open to men, but when border would look for people crossing the border without permission, not part of the program, they would find women and men, but when they would apprehend women, particularly in urban areas, they were self-conscious because women would cry and scream as one would do if you are being
apprehended. border patrol agents were claiming that the women were using their femininity out of being caught. they would divert women to rural landscapes. it was built for women, not men. >> the separation of families is a policy in place by the trump administration, although they have rescinded these actions. did this happen during this time period? prof. mendoza: one could argue that family separation dates back earlier than that but certainly this period, because the program was only open to men, it meant that men were leaving their families behind. because policy stipulated specifically that women were not allowed to cross the border with their husbands or partner, families were being separated in that regard. as women were being apprehended, sometimes they had children with them.
occasionally -- i cannot speak for certain how often -- but i am certain there were moments they were unable to stay with their children. this is a long-standing policy of the united states. the trump administration has not done anything all that new. >> the other part of the debate is it is very much an economic issue, most honorably in california where the agricultural industry relies on immigrants during the harvesting season. can you explain why these immigrants left mexico, came to the u.s. and economic impact to the u.s. during the time period you have researched? prof. mendoza: sure. lots of them needed, simply put, they needed more money and the united states dollar was worth more so they traveled north to the united states to send money back on. the program had a lot of
incentives. one was you would come to the united states and you would be able to make more money because the dollar was worth more and you get paid more than you would in mexico. part of the package was the united states and mexico partnered to do this and in doing so would create savings accounts so that when their contracts were up, or harvest season was over, they would go home and have money waiting for them in a savings account. i could get into all kinds of issues that came as a result. many men went home and did not get the money that they earned, but the idea was they needed money and going for money and they still are. >> are you currently teaching this topic at penn state? prof. mendoza: actually, i'm leave at the clinic center of southwest bodies at southern methodist university. i'm not teaching this year, i am working on my book but i will be teaching on this topic, yes. >> did the fences work? prof. mendoza: no. simply put, they did not. part of the reason is that movement is a natural process. moving across space. bugs, people, cattle, other animals move across the border
constantly. fences are stagnant objects that you can walk around. even today, there are only 658 miles of border fence or for the wall along a 1959 mile border. there are several pockets where the border remains open, fenceless. border patrol agent cannot stop everything or everyone. a static object will never work. >> if you work in the u.s. in 1911 as the wall was being put in place and you were apprehended by a border patrol agent, what was the process? what did that individual face? prof. mendoza: generally speaking -- in 1911, they weren't really looking for mexican migrants. they were looking for chinese immigrants who were coming across the border because the u.s. past chinese exclusion laws in the 1880's and early 20th century. later, when people were
apprehended, they were often deported right away. sometimes they would be detained for a little while. if they were men who were not supposed to be crossing the border during the program, sometimes border patrol agents would shave their heads so they would be able to tell if they had recently been apprehended and sent back across the border. that was one way to keep track of who they were catching multiple times because the people were sent back, they would try again. people were caught many times before they were successful and that is still the case today. for women, they were not shave their heads but they would certainly deport them or detain them. >> let me underscore the point you made because a century later, we're dealing with the same issues. technology has changed and the flow has changed but the problems remain, correct? prof. mendoza: that is right. fences have not solved them yet. they have created environmental problems. we have lots of animal suffering at the border.
habitat fragmentation is happening. habitats get split and that could sometimes result in local extinction where an animal that drives in an ecosystem dies off. of course, people are dying as well as they go through harsh landscapes to avoid fences, the death toll has gone up tremendously in the past two decades. >> having grown up in texas, did you see this debate firsthand? prof. mendoza: i did. i grew up around it a lot. my father is a brick layer who works on construction sites regularly with mexican men. i was around them a lot. i heard a lot about border crossing and how to do it and how not to do it, when to go back all the time. this is something that has been all my life. >> as someone who has researched this, where do you go for information to work on your book, thesis and other projects?
prof. mendoza: i travel all over. i've done a lot of research. the book is meant to be a transnational research project. i go to mexico city, archives in northern mexico, the public archive in northern mexico. a lot had to do with health early on and disease. there is a migration archive in mexico city. i travel all over the united states, california, texas, new mexico and arizona, obviously have great libraries. the u.s. national archives, the u.s. agricultural library, library of congress has all kinds of documents related to government efforts to build fences or to oppose them, sometimes in the case of mexican archives. >> are there any pictures of this time period and/or any remnants of what it looked like? prof. mendoza: absolutely. there are pictures of open ranges, obelisks. when the monuments i mentioned earlier were constructed by the u.s.-mexican boundary commission, there were several
photographs taken. another historian is working on it visual history of that and what it looks like and the images were disseminated in both countries. later, there were pictures of new fences, what they look like. i encountered lots of pictures in the urban areas in the 1940's and 1950's where new gates were constructed. i have a wonderful image of a woman walking over a fence that has fallen over. one of my favorite pictures and i use it a lot when i talk about the issue of women crossing the border. >> when you discuss this with your peers or teaching, what are the biggest misconceptions? what do you want people to take away from your research and work? prof. mendoza: i think two things which we mostly highlighted -- the first is this is not new. early on, they had nothing to do with human migration. that has really changed over
time. that change signifies a particular way of thinking about mexico, latinos, mexican people, people from central america. we reappropriated things that are used to control the movement of new animals to control the movement of humans. that is particularly dehumanizing. we talk a lot about that in my class. the other pieces, particularly the middle of the 20th century when the program was happening, fence construction was really aimed at stopping the migration of women. when we think about this period of historians and scholars at the border, it is very often only about men. the process is building up the border was as much about women as it was about men. >> professor mary e. mendoza joining us from the western history association in san antonio. thank you for being with us. prof. mendoza: thank you very much. >> this weekend on american
battle of, the antietam through letters, photographs, and diary entries. 8:00, immigration and the rise of nativism. panel at 1:30 p.m., discussion on anthony kennedy. 4:00, the 1974 conversation with more for -- martha griffiths. tv on c-span3. >> when the new congress takes office in january it will have the youngest, most diverse freshman grass recent history. watch it live on c-span. starting january 3.
next, on "the presidency," eleanor roosevelt biographer, blanche wiesen cook, talked with paul sparrow, director of the franklin d. roosevelt presidential library and museum in hyde park, new york. ms. cook has written a three-volume biography of the former first lady. the last volume, published in 2016, is titled, "eleanor roosevelt: the war years and after, 1939-1962." the history book festival in lewes, delaware hosted this hour-long conversation. ronald: each year my colleague's honor board and all of us go to great lengths to find the ideal keynote speaker. it is not an easy job. first of all, it is finding the right person at the right time.