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

ICE Tells International Students To Go Home Or Face Deportation Because Of Switch To Online Classes

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ICE Tells International Students To Go Home Or Face Deportation Because Of Switch To Online Classes

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Just as students begin to contemplate what a fall semester might look like amid a global health pandemic, the Trump Administration has thrown another curveball at foreign university students. In a new rule issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, foreign students must return to their home country if their school will no longer be offering in-person learning, effectively forcing students to decide between full classrooms or international travel during a health crisis.

Once again, a cruel and poorly thought out, hastily announced rule change has thrown the lives of hundreds of thousands into doubt.

The Trump Administration announced new rules that require foreign students in the U.S. to be part of in-person classes.

Despite the global pandemic that is currently spiraling out of control in the U.S., the Trump Administration has issued new immigration guidelines that require foreign students to be enrolled in in-person learning. With this new rule, foreign students attending colleges that will operate entirely online this fall semester cannot remain in the country to do so.

The new comes just as college students begin to contemplate what their upcoming semester might look like and leaves them with an uncomfortable choice: attend in-person classes during a pandemic or take them online from another country. 

And for students enrolled in schools that have already announced plans to operate fully online, there is no choice. Under the new rules, the State Department will not issue them visas, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not allow them to enter the country. 

“Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status,” read a release from ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program. “If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings

Already, several major universities have announced their intention to offer online learning because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

The strict new rule comes as higher education institutions are releasing information on their reopening plans. Schools are preparing to offer in-person instruction, online classes or a mix of both.

Eight percent of colleges are planning to operate online, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking the reopening plans of more than 1,000 U.S. colleges. Sixty percent are planning for in-person instruction, and 23% are proposing a hybrid model, with a combined 8.5% undecided or considering a range of scenarios. 

Harvard University is one of the latest institutions to unveil its plans, announcing on Monday that all undergraduate and graduate course instruction for the academic year will be held online. Joining Harvard’s stance are other prestigious universities, including Princeton and the University of Southern California.

The U.S. has more than 1 million international students from around the world.

The U.S. is the number one destination for foreign students around the globe. More than a million foreign students are enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities, although that number has dipped slightly in recent years – largely attributed to the election of Donald Trump.

Mexico sends more than 15,000 students to the U.S. and Brazil is responsible for 16,000 foreign students in the country. By contrast, China and India send a combined almost 600,000 students to study in the U.S.

The new rule is expected to cost U.S. colleges and universities more than $4 billion.

Credit: Eva Hambach / Getty Images

Putting aside the very real health implications of forcing students to decide between attending in-person classes or traveling back to their home country amid a global pandemic, the U.S. economy is also going to take a hit.

International students in the U.S. contributed nearly $41 billion to the national economy in the 2018-2019 academic year. According to the Institute of International Education, the vast majority of funding for international students comes from overseas, rather than being funded by their host institutions, meaning that international students are big business for American universities. While students will still be required pay tuition fees, it’s possible that a hostile policy towards people seeking to study in the US could discourage prospective students.

If fewer international students are able to study in this country, it could spell trouble for the colleges that bank on them. Over the last decade, deep cuts in state funding for higher education have put pressure on schools to admit more students who need less aid, which is why so many schools have come to rely on the revenue from foreign students, who typically pay top dollar. 

“Those students are also, by and large, paying full tuition to study in this country,” Lakhani said. “That’s a really valuable tuition base.”

Here’s Everything You Should Know About The Problematic And Racist Statues Being Torn Down Across The Country

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Here’s Everything You Should Know About The Problematic And Racist Statues Being Torn Down Across The Country

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

So many of the headlines about the recent protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have been about “senseless” property destruction. But several of the damaged sites have a perfectly sensible and very visceral connection to the protester’s chief issue: anti-Black racism.

Protests have burned down buildings and toppled statutes that have stood for years as blatant reminders of the country’s history of chattel slavery, racial injustice, and the war that was fought to uphold it.

“In many cases, preserving history was not the true goal of these displays,” former Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen said of the center’s 2016 report that found at least 1,500 US government-backed tributes to the Confederacy

“Rather, many of them were part of an effort to glorify a cause that was manifestly unjust — a cause that has been whitewashed by revisionist propaganda that began almost as soon as the Civil War ended. Other displays were intended as acts of defiance by white supremacists opposed to equality for African Americans during the civil rights movement.”

So how do you remove a racist monument? This week, the world is witnessing all the satisfyingly destructive ways

All around the country, protesters are removing statutes – but who were these historical figures?

Protesters in Richmond, Virginia, toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis. Earlier in the week, they dragged one of Christopher Columbus into a pond. A bronze monument of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, England, met a watery demise (it’s since been fished out). An Egyptologist shared step-by-step instructions for how one might pull down an obelisk with ropes and brute force. In Boston, a statue of Columbus was beheaded.

The viral removals of monuments symbolizing racial terror are a push back on a culture that values violence and embeds false narratives about history into its landscapes – especially when it comes to America’s history as a slave-owning nation.

But who or what were these statutes memorializing and why do protesters want them taken down? Below we’ll detail some of the more common statues that are being torn down across the U.S.

Juan de Oñate

Credit: Susan Montoya Bryan / Getty Images

A conquistador and the first Spanish governor of New Mexico, Oñate sought to colonize the Acoma Pueblo, and when spiritual leader Zutacapan learned of the plans, a battle ensued, killing a dozen of Oñate’s men, including his nephew.

Oñate responded by exacting a massacre, leaving 800 dead, 300 of them women and children. Twenty-four men older than 25 had their right feet chopped off, and were enslaved for 20 years, along with many other Acoma, some as young as 12.

Jefferson Davis

In Richmond, Virginia and Minneapolis, MN, statues honoring the Confederate leader, Jefferson Davis, have finally been brought down. Many know about Davis’ history as president of the Confederacy: he lead a rebellion against his own country, owned hundreds of slaves, and fought to preserve his right to do so. He’s long been a target of protesters who have worked in city after city to have monuments built to this man taken down.

Junipero Serra

Credit: David Shmalz / Getty Images

Serra was active in the Spanish Inquisition and later led the first team of Spanish missionaries to California in 1769, which contributed to the killing and enslavement of thousands of native people and stripped many more of their cultural identity.

Part of dealing with current issues of systemic racism, many advocates have said, must include confronting the country’s colonial legacy of slavery and genocide. And it begins with symbols.

Symbols of Spanish colonialism can be found throughout California, largest among them the state’s 21 missions and the many statues dedicated to those who founded them.

Ulysses Grant

Credit: Michell Eberhart / Public Domain / Army.Gov

As president, Grant broke the KKK and fought for Black voting rights with a tenacity few other presidents have rivaled. 

But Grant’s legacy also has less admirable aspects. Grant’s wife had legal ownership of several Black people when he married her, and he himself kept a person in slavery for a year before freeing him at the start of the Civil War.

As president, Grant’s policy towards Native American people could easily be described as cultural genocide. He instigated an illegal and bloody war against the Lakota people of the Black Hills, and used federal force to push Native people onto reservations and to slaughter the buffalo they relied on for food. “American Indians experienced some of the worst massacres and grossest injustices in history while Ulysses S Grant was in office,” Alysa Landry writes at Indian Country Today

Francis Scott Key

Credit: Jose Barrios / Getty Images

Francis Scott Key, the author of America’s national anthem, not only personally enslaved people but also tried to silence the free speech of abolitionists, using his position as district attorney for Washington DC in the 1830s to launch high-profile cases attacking the abolitionist movement.

In San Francisco, protesters dragged the Key statue through the grass and were going to dump it in a nearby fountain, until they were told the fountain was a memorial to the Aids epidemic and stopped, a witness tweeted.

Theodore Roosevelt

Credit: Scott Heins / Getty Images

Theodore Roosevelt is often looked upon fondly by many Americans. He advocated for the preservation of America’s national parks and worked hard to ensure economic prosperity. But to others, the former President symbolizes colonial expansion and racial discrimination.

So, in New York, the American Museum of Natural History will remove a prominent statue of Theodore Roosevelt from its entrance.

“The American Museum of Natural History has asked to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue because it explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior,” de Blasio said in a written statement. “The City supports the Museum’s request. It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”

Robert Byrd

Credit: White House.gov

Robert Byrd was the longest serving U.S. Senator. But before he kicked off his long political career, he wrote a letter decrying then-President Truman’s efforts to integrate the military. He’d rather see his country crumble, he wrote, than fight “with a negro by my side.”

Perhaps this isn’t surprising from a onetime exalted cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. Even after he supposedly renounced the Klan, he filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was the only senator who voted against the confirmations of the country’s two black Supreme Court justices, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas.

In his later years, he referred to same-sex marriage as “aberrant behavior” and told an interviewer in 2001, “There are white n***ers. I’ve seen a lot of white n***ers in my time.”

Christoper Columbus

Ok, sure, we all know who Christoper Columbus is and the horrific acts that he committed against Indigenous Americans. But to many, he is still the founder of the “New World” and if often praised for the “discovery” of the Americas. His expeditions are all too often seen as a great triumph as they brought great wealth and riches to Spain and other European countries – through exploiting Indigenous people.

Thankfully, more recent histories of the adventurer have focused on the slave trade in the Americas and the imported European diseases which wiped out Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean region and American continents.

Historians have credited Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas as the beginning of the slaughter of 3 million people – and his statue in North End Park in Boston, US, was decapitated on June 10.