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

Lost KKK Tapes Have Been Uncovered By A Journalist And They Are As Bad As You Might Imagine

Things That Matter

Lost KKK Tapes Have Been Uncovered By A Journalist And They Are As Bad As You Might Imagine

Invaluable Auction / Thad Zajdowicz / Flickr

Back in 2012, the daughters of Eugene B. Sloane, a photographer and journalist, came across a piece of uncovered Martin Luther King Jr. history, a never-heard-before recording. After their father’s passing, the women had begun to sort through his belongings, and they’re tucked away in a box sat his original Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder and two reel-to-reel audio tapes. The two tapes, although recorded in 1967, have content that is still relevant today. 

Eugene B. Sloane was a respected reporter for the South Carolina newspaper, The State, who was most well-known for his coverage during the civil rights era.

One of the tapes found is a rare recording of a Klan meeting, that took place the night before a Dr.  Martin Luther King event. 

Credit: Invaluable Auction

That evening, in the summer of 1967, there was a public announcement that a Klan meeting would be taking place; Sloane then taped the recorder to his waist and hid it under a Klan robe, then placed a hood over his head and began to tape the entire meeting. In the recording you can hear the Klan leader, spewing false rumors and hate, making wild accusations that black men are coming to their city to rape white women, this is eerily similar to Donald Trump’s presidential announcement when he stated all Mexicans rapist and criminals. The man on the tape goes on to inflate the crowd sizes saying there will thousands coming the following day, which is exactly the same type of mob mentality that Trump creates when he spreads the same hate-filled lies about “invasions” happening on the “southern border.”

Sadly, the most parallel wording in the recording is when the Klan leader calls for King’s death, “for God help that —- He ought to be shot.” His call to action is then followed by audience applause and honking in solidarity. 

Eight months later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would end up being assassinated by a white supremacist, with a rifle. 

Credit: Courtesy of Yolitzma Aguirre

On August 3, 2019, fifty-one years after white supremacy took the life of Dr. King Jr., in a mirrored action, the largest massacre of Latinos (in modern history) took place in El Paso, TX, when a supremacist drove 8 hours from Plano, TX – with a rifle – and murdered twenty-two innocent people. In the shooter’s own words, his objective was to “kill as many Mexicans as possible.”

During the most recent Democratic debate, the candidates were asked their thoughts on Trump’s responsibility in the El Paso massacre. Senator Kamala Harris’ response spoke volumes of truth. 

In both assassination of MLK and the massacre in El Paso, white men pulled the trigger and white supremacy was the ammunition.

Credit: @KamalaHarris / Twitter

In 1967 (much like today) racial tensions were at an all-time high. The Detroit riots had taken place a week before King’s Charleston visit. Yet despite all the racist hate hurled his way, Dr. King continued with the Poor People’s Campaign, he believed in the greater good and the work that must be done in order to truly attain equality. 

The second recording in Sloane’s belongings spoke exactly to that purpose. In this newly discovered recording, King discusses the very same issues that we are still battling today. On the topic of racism, he states, “…wherever we live in America, you have to face the fact honestly that racial discrimination is present. So don’t get complacent; certainly, we’ve made some strides, we’ve made some progress here and there but it hasn’t been enough; it hasn’t been fast enough; and although we’ve come a long long way, we still have a long, long way to go.

The 45-minute speech had profound key points on a range of issues, including the fundamental racism in this country, that must be changed, otherwise, freedom is not “free” for us all. He explains the pitfalls in the system, how America likes to say everyone is equal yet not everyone was allowed equal opportunity to attend school, therefore not everyone has equal opportunity to equal jobs, which means not everyone has equal opportunity to earn income, and not everyone has equal opportunity to afford food or a home…and the cycle continues.

If you look at the United States today, it is sad to say, not much has changed since King gave this Charleston speech.

Credit: @Nikki_Lew / Twitter

What the recording leaves us with, is the very essence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, that in the end, love beat out hate and fuel our movement. “so I’m not gonna give you a motto or preach a philosophy burn, baby burn. I’m gonna say build, baby build organize, baby, organize. I’ve decided to stick with love…Somebody’s gotta have some sense in this world. And a lot of white folks have demonstrated eloquently that they don’t have no sense and why should we be that way? The reason I’m not gonna preach a doctrine of black supremacy is because I’m sick and tired of white supremacy.

These two tapes that have now surfaced, have been cared for by Sloane’s daughters and will now be released to the public at auction. The sisters reached out to Guernsey auction house – who has handled many civil rights memorabilia, including Rosa Parks’ archives – and made the arrangements to personally hand deliver the tapes themselves, in order to assure the tapes arrived undamaged. 

The tapes, photos, and other items will be placed for auction on September 19th, 2019. 

Over fifty years after his death, Dr. King Jr. continues to be a beacon of hope, a light shining in the darkest hours. 

It has been a little over a month since the massacre took place in El Paso, TX, and in the month, we have seen different communities come together, to support each other in this dark hour, and as the next presidential election approaches we can listen to Dr. King’s words from that 1967 in recording, “build, baby build, organize, baby organize.” 

Already we have seen many groups begin to roll out their 2020 plans for engagement and voter registration. Democratic leaders like, Stacey Abrams – whose midterm race for governor of Georgia became national attention due to voter discrimination – has launched Fair Fight 2020, a voter protection program which will run across 20 states.

READ: These Surprising Facts Will Explain Why Latinos Ought To Celebrate Juneteenth

Samantha Bee Sat Down With Four Undocumented People Who Once Worked For President Trump

Things That Matter

Samantha Bee Sat Down With Four Undocumented People Who Once Worked For President Trump

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee / YouTube

President Trump has made it a key part of his presidency to go after undocumented immigrants. He has used tactics to demonize them and uses fearmongering to make sure his base of supporters blame the undocumented community for their problems. Samantha Bee recently sat down with three undocumented people who were once employees of Trump and how they saw a change after his practices were exposed.

Samantha Bee started by asking them if they needed papers when they were first hired.

Credit: Full Frontal with Samanta Bee / YouTube

“When I got there I asked the supervisor, ‘Do we need papers here?’” one of the women recalled. “And she says, ‘No, no, it doesn’t matter. But in 2016, they started asking for documents. And then my manager told me, ‘This guy will take you somewhere where they make those papers.’”

That’s right. A former housekeeper for President Trump told Samantha Bee that she was not required to have papers are the start of her job but was eventually taken to get fake ones made.

Originally, the undocumented workers for Trump did think that things might get better for them when he was running to be president.

Credit: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee / YouTube

However, they quickly realized that he was going to do anything but help them if he won the race. Unfortunately, they were right. Trump has a documented record of attacking undocumented immigrants and has started taking aim at legal immigrants.

Within the company, things did change when Trump started his presidential campaign.

Credit: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee / YouTube

“When he started his campaign, from then on they didn’t let me go to his house,” one woman told Samantha Bee. “So, I would go into Ivanka’s house and sometimes Eric’s when he would visit.”

Yet, instead of firing people for being undocumented when he became the president, he gave them certificates.

Credit: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee / YouTube

The certificates were to show the employees how much Trump appreciated their hard work while working for him. They originally thought they were pretty cool because they are from the White House. Yet, it was not enough to combat the darkness to come.

It wasn’t long until there was abuse from the supervisors, according to one woman.

Credit: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee / YouTube

“The supervisor would assign me double shifts,” the first source said. “And she would tell me, ‘This is how we should treat immigrants’—and if we said anything, immigration would come. And when [Trump] called us ‘immigrant rapists,’ the supervisor would say, ‘Good, good, that’s nice because immigrants are no good. Garbage.’ … There were many insults, and she even hit me three times,” she alleged. “So I decided to speak out, because there was so much injustice.”

Watch the full interview below!

READ: Undocumented Employees Are Being Fired From Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Resort After Hiring Practices Were Exposed