Things That Matter

Remembering Carmelita Torres, The Teenage Mexicana Who Started A Riot At The Texas Border

In 1917, newspapers called Carmelita Torres the leader of an anti-American riot. Today, the Mexican heroine is remembered as “the Latina Rosa Parks.” At 17 years old, the maid from Juárez refused to be stripped and doused in toxic gases, as was required for people crossing the southern border into El Paso, Texas, inciting hundreds of other women migrants to follow suit and thousands more to rise up in protest against the violently racist practice that inspired the gas chambers of Nazi Germany.

Described as an “auburn-haired amazon,” Torres, just a teenage girl at the time, initiated a little-known revolt called the bath riot.

The unplanned rebellion occurred during the early morning of January 28, 1917. Like most days, Torres was on a trolley filled with mostly women crossing the Santa Fe International Bridge into El Paso to clean the homes of US families. But when she arrived to her destination this time, she refused to participate in the standard delousing process — a humiliating, dangerous and also legal exercise required of Mexicans entering the US at its border. 

The quarantine-like procedure, developed by El Paso Mayor Tom Lea who believed Mexicans were spreading lice that led to a disease called typhus, aimed at disinfecting the migrants, who he called “dirty, lousy and destitute.” The plan, which had the support of the surgeon general in Washington, DC, came into practice in 1916. The process was hazardous and dehumanizing. In a facility at the El Paso border, travelers had to strip naked. Their clothes were taken to a large steam dryer and then fumigated with toxic pesticides in an area called “the gas room.” Meanwhile, an inspector would check each person’s body, including their genitals, for lice. If they found the parasitic insects, migrants would have to shave their head and body hair and then bathe in a mix of kerosene and vinegar. After this process, they received a ticket as proof they were disinfected, though they were mandated to undergo the same procedure every eight days in order to re-enter the US.

“So many people didn’t speak about it,” historian and author David Dorado Romo told Vox in an episode about the bath riot for its new docu-series Missing Chapters. “They didn’t talk about this humiliating process. They kind of internalized it. it’s that psychology of shame”

The process was particularly terrifying for women, who also experienced sexual humiliation, according to Chicana historian and writer Yolanda Leyva.

“There were rumors that, you know, when they entered the plant and they were told to strip, officers were taking their photos and then posting them in bars,” an associate professor and chair of the department of history at the University of Texas El Paso told the news site. “So I can’t even imagine that kind of feeling, like the feelings of violation and the feelings of, you know, outrage.”

Understanding those emotions firsthand, Torres refused to participate in the baths and convinced most, if not all, of the 30 women in the electric trolley to join her in defiance. An hour later, nearly 200 more women joined their protest. By noon that day, “several thousand” were demonstrating. According to reporters, “the scene reminded one of bees swarming.” Crowds threw bottles and rocks at police officers while yelling insults at them. Protesters blocked traffic into El Paso. Some even laid down on the tracks in front of the trolley cars to create a blockade. One news article said, “the hands of the feminine mob would claw at the tops of the passing cars.” Together, the group shut down the border for two days.

Unfortunately, despite migrants’ public expression of outrage and dissent of their brutal mistreatment, the uprising was quelled.

Torres, among many of her fellow demonstrators, were ultimately arrested and imprisoned. Some men were even publicly executed. Historians do not know what happened to the bold young female insurgent after she was incarcerated. As Romo says, “we’ve lost every trace.”

“She was called an instigator, a ringleader. But she was just a young woman that was just sick of the injustice, the humiliation that other women had gone through,” he added.

As for the toxic baths, the procedure not only continued but also became more dangerous. By 1917, more than 100,000 Mexicans were deloused at the border. That same year, a new immigration law required that migrants also needed a passport, had to take a literacy test and were required to pay an $8 head tax. The following year, US Public Health Service instructed border agents to turn away “imbeciles, idiots, feeble-minded persons, physical defectives, persons afflicted with loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases.”

The fumigations even inspired the gas chambers of the Holocaust. In 1929, Zyklon B, a poisonous acid gas, was added to the baths.

Almost a decade later, in 1937, a scientist suggested in a German pest science journal that Zyklon B be added in Nazi disinfection chambers. Citing its use in El Paso, even including two photos of the US border city’s delousing facilities as an example of how effective the dangerous acid gas is at killing unwanted pests, he pushed for its use in concentration camps. Eventually, the dosing process murdered millions of people.

“The fumigation of Mexican immigrants wasn’t just reminiscent of Nazi Germany — it was directly linked to it,” Romo said. “It’s not so much that the United States was copying Nazi Germany; it’s the opposite. Nazi Germany was copying the United States. “

Back in Texas, agents added more harmful products to the fumigation process, including spraying DDT, a now-banned toxic pesticide, in migrants’ faces and private areas.

 It wasn’t until the 1960s, less than five decades ago, that health authorities stated the delousing process was hazardous and put an end to the practice.

While the gas chambers at the southern border have since shut down, they have now been replaced with shoddy detention centers that house hundreds of thousands of migrants who similarly await to hear if they are suited for entry into the country. Like those who came before them, these migrants are unjustly mistreated, some, including children, even dying, and are deemed by mainstream media and the federal government as being defective and a hazardous threat to the US. 

Read: Another Migrant Tragically Died In US Custody Leaving Behind An 11-Year-Old Daughter

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A University Is Releasing A Historic Mexican Cookbook Filled With Recipes You’d Want To Try

Culture

A University Is Releasing A Historic Mexican Cookbook Filled With Recipes You’d Want To Try

UTSA

The University of Texas San Antonio is bringing the history of Mexico into our kitchens. The university is releasing cookbooks that are collections of historic Mexican recipes. Right now, the desserts book is out and online for free. Main dishes and appetizers/drinks are coming soon.

You can now taste historic Mexico thanks to the University of Texas San Antonio.

UTSA has had an ongoing project of preserving, collecting, and digitizing cookbooks from throughout Mexico’s history. Some books date back to the 1700s and offer a look into Mexico’s culinary arts and its evolution.

UTSA has been digitizing Mexican cookbooks for years and the work is now being collected for people in the time of Covid.

Millions of us are still at home and projects like these can be very exciting and exactly what you need. The recipes are a way to distract yourself from the current reality.

“The e-pubs allow home cooks to use the recipes as inspiration in their own kitchens,” Dean Hendrix, the dean of UTSA Libraries, said in UTSA Today. “Our hope is that many more people will not only have access to these wonderful recipes but also interact with them and experience the rich culture and history contained in the collection.”

The free downloads are a way for people to get a very in-depth look into Mexican food history.

The first of three volumes of the cookbooks focuses on desserts so you can learn how to make churros, chestnut flan, buñelos, and rice pudding. What better way to spend your quarantine than learning how to make some of these yummy desserts. We all love sweets, right?

If you want to get better with making your favorite desserts, check out this cookbook and make it happen.

There is nothing better than diving into your history and using food as your guide. Food is so intrinsically engrained in our DNAs and identities. We love the foods and sweets from our childhood because they hold a clue as to who we are and where we come from. This historical collection of recipes throughout history is the perfect way to make that happen.

READ: The Laziest Food Hacks In All Of The Land Would Send Your Abuela To The Chancla

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One Year Later, The Latino Community Remembers The El Paso Shooting

Things That Matter

One Year Later, The Latino Community Remembers The El Paso Shooting

Mario Tama / Getty Images

On August 3, 2019, a man entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and killed 23 customers and injured 23 more. The shooter, Patrick Crusius, went to the Walmart with the expressed purpose of killing Mexican and Mexican-Americans. One year later, the community is remembering those lost.

One year ago today, a man killed 23 people in an El Paso Walmart targeting our community.

The Latino community was stunned when Patrick Crusius opened fire and killed 23 people in El Paso, Texas. The gunman wrote a manifesto and included his desire to kill as many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans he could in the El Paso Walmart. The days after were filled with grieving the loss of 23 people and trying to understand how this kind of hate could exist in our society.

Representative Veronica Escobar, who represents El Paso, is honoring the victims today.

Rep. Escobar was on the scene shortly after the shooting to be there for her community. The shooting was a reminder of the dangers of the anti-Latino and xenophobic rhetoric that the Trump administration was pushing for years.

“One year ago, our community and the nation were shocked and heartbroken by the horrific act of domestic terrorism fueled by racism and xenophobia that killed 23 beautiful souls, injured 22, and devasted all of us,” Rep. Escobar said in a statement. “Today will be painful for El Pasoans, especially for the survivors and the loved ones of those who were killed, but as we grieve and heal together apart, we must continue to face hate with love and confront xenophobia by treating the stranger with dignity and hospitality.”

El Pasoans are coming together today to remember the victims of the violence that day.

Latinos are a growing demographic that will soon eclipse the white communities in several states. Some experts in demographic shifts understand that this could be a terrifying sign for the white population. These changing demographics give life to racist and hateful ideologies.

“When you have a few people of color, the community is not seen so much as a threat,” Maria Cristina Morales, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at El Paso, told USA Today about the fear of changing demographics. “But the more that the population grows – the population of Latinos grow for instance – the more fear that there’s going to be a loss of power.”

The international attack is still felt today because of the constant examples of white supremacy still active today.

“It doesn’t occur to you that there’s a war going on, and there’s always been a war going on—the helicopters the barbed wire—but you just kind of didn’t see it,” David Dorado Romo, an El Paso historian who lost a friend in the shooting, told Time Magazine.

The sudden reminder of the hate out there towards the Latino community was felt nationwide that day. The violent attack that was planned out revealed the true cost of that hate that has been pushed by some politicians.

“El Paso families have the right to live free from fear, and I will continue to honor the victims and survivors with action,” Rep. Escobar said in her statement. “Fighting to end the gun violence and hate epidemics that plague our nation.”

READ: As El Paso Grieves Their Loss, Here Is Everything We Know About The Victims Of The El Paso Massacre, Which Were Mostly Latino

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