I’ve been thinking long and hard about the potential topics I might broach with this, my initial post on the Americas, North and South blog. I am presently “in the field” and I have been treading the streets of the Distrito Federal (Mexico City) with some unease, but mostly excitement for the next three and a half months of archival research that lay ahead. Although I’ve been sure that my research on cross-border rebellions in the 1920s held some relevance to the present woes experienced by residents of the borderlands separating (and uniting) the United States and Mexico, it was not readily apparent until my first plunge into the deep waters of the Acervo Historico de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Archive of the Secretariat of Foreign Relations). As I turned page after page of Consular reports throughout the 1920s regarding the movement of contraband materials, not only arms and munitions, but also liquor and some illicit drugs, it became clear that there are some real continuities to consider when it comes to making sense of the conflicted history of the US-Mexico border. Small border towns such as Villa Ahumada, Chihuahua, were favored in the 1920s by arms smugglers because of their relative distance from more heavily guarded points of entry, such as Ciudad Juárez. Consular officials from San Diego to Nogales, AZ, to El Paso regularly reported on attempts to smuggle arms and ammunition to counterrevolutionary forces waiting just across the border, at times with the help of local law enforcement officers. On 31 May 2008 the New York Times reported on the drug violence in Villa Ahumada, in which a local drug cartel murdered the local Chief of Police, two of his officers and three bystanders. Subsequently, the entire police force of Villa Ahumada resigned. As recently as 14 April 2009 the New York Times uncovered a cross-border trade in automatic weapons rooted in perfectly legal purchases from local border-town gun dealers in Arizona and Texas. The US Department of State has a running month-by-month accounting of assorted atrocities along the international boundary. If the news from the US side of the border gives the reader a sense of futility regarding the Mexican state’s current war against the cartels, reports on the trade in arms from the 1920s were not much better. While the number of homicides associated with counterrevolutionary activities in the 1920s weren’t even comparable to the 35,000 dead since 2006, the unstoppable arms trade suggests the same level of problems regarding the governablility of the border across the decades. Arms trafficking, much like drug trafficking was lucrative and the lack of control on the border made it possible. Oh sure, automatic weapons, grenades, and lots of money help as well. On a related note, on my way back to my apartment after a hard day at the archive, I noticed an interesting ad above the door of the metro car. It was an ad for the new “Fuerza Civil de Nuevo León.” It invited young people to enlist in the new police force for monthly wages starting at 14,000 pesos (roughly 1,080 USD). The state of Nuevo León has been one of the worst hit by the drug violence of the past 5 years. The ad had all of the emotion and valor wrapped up in the ad campaigns we’re all familiar with for the US Marine Corp. “Be all You Can Be!” the ad screamed, but at 14,000 pesos per month, I’d be shocked if Mexico City’s youth were clamoring for a position. As educators, at times we cringe at the inevitable opening sentence of the HIST 101 student essay: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” But, I’m having a hard time ignoring the similarities between the ungovernable state of the US-Mexico border of the 1920s and that very same state of affairs in 2011.
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