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

Today’s Google Doodle Is All About Lotería And You Can Play A Few Rounds With Your Friends

Culture

Today’s Google Doodle Is All About Lotería And You Can Play A Few Rounds With Your Friends

Google

Google is pulling on my Mexican heartstrings! The most popular search engine, which from time-to-time uses its homepage logo as an interactive gateway to educate the public about historical figures and cultural traditions, has over the years celebrated Mexican heritage in beautiful and innovative ways. From honoring Mexican-American icon, Selena Quintanilla in 2017 to Frida Kahlo’s 103rd birthday in 2010, Google is doing a remarkable job of paying tribute to the people and traditions close to our Mexican heart. And today’s honor is just as touching. 

Google is celebrating the most beloved game in Mexican communities, the Lotería!

Credit: Google

Perla Campos, Google Doodle’s Global Marketing Lead, is one of the people responsible for pushing Google’s innovation team to celebrate Mexican culture. She’s the one responsible for pushing the Selena Google Doodle for two years before its premiere. She did the same for the Lotería. 

A smile instantly comes to my face every time I think of Lotería,” Campos wrote on the Google page. “I think of being with my extended family in Mexico for the holidays, scattering around my Tia Cruz’s house, anxiously waiting for a round to start. I think of us tossing beans at each other in attempts to distract the other from our boards. Most importantly, I think of the laughter, the excitement, and how all the worries of the world melted away as this game brought us together, even if just for a few hours.”

The Lotería Google Doodle isn’t just a visual that shares the story of its history but also an interactive game that people can play with friends or strangers.

Credit: Google

Google states that this game is their second-ever multiplayer experience. Campos said that Google was looking to incorporate an interactive game and, of course, she told them about the Lotería. 

“Upon being prompted to think of possible interactive Doodles to create for the following year, Lotería almost instantly came to mind,” Campos said. “I wondered: If this simple game was so magical and powerful in its original state, how might that be amplified in the digital space? And so the Lotería Doodle was born.”

Playing the Lotería that we have played all of our lives and playing the Lotería Doodle is two different things. Here’s why. 

Credit: Google

As I launched into a round of Lotería on the Google page, I surely thought I was going to win until I realized the Lotería playing card didn’t have all of the recognizable characters and icons. In other words, Google reimagined the Lotería card — as other artists have also done with the Lotería card — to fit their brand. So, people will see an “emoji” icon or “la concha.” 

What makes this card and game extra special is that the Lotería Doodle was illustrated and created by Mexican artists.

The guest visual artists that worked on the Lotería Doodle include Mexico-based Chabaski, Mexico-born Cecilia, Hermosillo-born Luis Pinto, Los Angeles-based Loris Lora, and Mexico City-based Vals.

It was exciting to collaborate with five Mexican and Mexican-American illustrators to reimagine many of the classic Lotería game art for the Doodle—along with some new cards for a fun sorpresa!” Campos stated on the Googe page. “We also partnered with popular Mexican YouTuber Luisito Comunica, who serves in the iconic role of game card announcer for the Doodle.” 

Each artist also shared their favorite memories of playing Lotería. 

“I remember when I was around 6 years old, my mom and aunts would gather around a table and play for hours until we had to go home,” Chabaski said. “We would bet a couple of pesos, which made it more fun.”

The Lotería Doodle still honors the traditional game and educates a new generation of people about its origins. 

Credit: Google

“Although it has changed a great deal since being officially copyrighted in Mexico on this day 106 years ago, Lotería is still wildly popular today across Mexico and Latino communities, whether as a Spanish language teaching tool or for family game night,” Campos said. 

Okay, so you’re ready to play?!

Credit: Google

Click here and play with friends or strangers. And, if you want to make the game extra exciting play at home with your laptops and include some money for each round. Nothing wrong with making a buck and having fun. 

READ: 25 Times Latinos Have Graced The Google Doodle

Want To Learn About The Indigenous History Of Your Neighborhood? This New App Will Help You

Things That Matter

Want To Learn About The Indigenous History Of Your Neighborhood? This New App Will Help You

Native Lands

For all the (let’s be absolutely honest here!) banal uses of social media out there, sometimes developers use the geolocative capabilities of smartphones to make the world a more inclusive place. This app looks at the history of a place and reveals how it was originally organized by the traditional owners of the land before processes of colonization and dispossession reshaped the maps of what is now known as the Americas. Digital media allows us to visualize things that are already there, so next time you step on indigenous land you can quietly acknowledge it. 

Through location, the Native Land app lets you unearth the indigenous heritage of a place.

Credit: Native Land

The app was developed in Canada, a country which was a complex network of indigenous groups before French and British colonial powers redrew the map. The app can be accessed both through mobile devices (it works on iOS and Android) and through a browser based map. It includes key information such as a group’s language, name and whether the land was ceded (most likely by force or through a deceptive deal) through a treaty. It is a work in progress, so bear with the developers please!

They state before you even start looking for the indigenous past of a territory based on your postcode: “This map does not represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations. To learn about definitive boundaries, contact the nations in question. Also, this map is not perfect — it is a work in progress with tons of contributions from the community. Please send us fixes if you find errors”. So if you have information that the developers could use to make the app more precise, they are more than open to new findings that could make this collaborative tool a more accurate representation of the indigenous imprint on a place. Ready to find out more about the place that you call home? Click here

Remember: maps are only political and not set on stone, so the map you know was drawn by colonial powers.

Credit: Native Land

Contrary to what we might believe, maps are hardly set on stone. In fact, how a territory is named and where boundaries sit is evidence of historical processes through which lands are taken. Just look at this map of North America and think about all the blood that has been shed by the original owners of the land just so we can identify just three countries today. There were hundreds of discreet ethnic groups in Canada, Mexico and the United States before the European superpowers of Britain, France and Spain landed and created havoc. 

But the past is past, right? So why should we care? Well, we should care, a lot, particularly in today’s political climate. Let’s take this map of the California area as an example.

Credit: Native Land

So why is becoming familiar with the indigenous past of place important? Because it tells us that the borders that exist today are practically a human invention rather than something set on stone, and that unless you have indigenous heritage we are all guests. California, for example, was populated by a wide variety of peoples who were conquered by the Spanish or assimilated into mestizo culture through religion and language. So when white supremacists get all “America for the Americans” on Brown folk, they should be reminded that the land is and has always been indigenous. 

And this map of Australia is just nuts! Can you believe that colonial settlers have tried to make this country fully white and monolingual in the past?

Credit: Native Land

Australia is a young country that nevertheless has faced racism due to the aires de grandeza of some colonial settlers. Even though there has been a formal apology from the government towards aboriginal Australians, and there are constant acknowledgements to the fact that the land was never ceded, there remain great challenges to make the country truly inclusive for those who owned and thrived in the land in the first place. Just looking at this map makes you think of the wide variety of languages and traditions that existed in the island before the Dutch and English arrived