Smuggling is an elusive topic for historical scrutiny; the best smugglers were never caught. Moreover, historians are limited if they depend on recorded events that portray the state perspective. While English language newspapers and court records portray smugglers as criminals, 19th and early 20th century corridos often celebrate smugglers as folk heroes defying unpopular laws and resisting discredited state authority. Utilizing these folk songs as texts illuminates the secret history of smuggling across the Rio Grande and balances law enforcement perspectives, thereby offering a more complex image of an enduring yet poorly understood borderlands issue.
In recent years, scholars of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the union’s leader, César Chávez, have made new strides in critically analyzing the farmworkers movement as well as in humanizing one of the most iconic Mexican-American activists of the twentieth century. In this presentation, Tim Bowman will argue that a critical chapter of the farmworkers movement—that of the union’s presence along the Texas-Mexico border under UFW Secretary-Treasurer, Antonio Orendain—can teach historians new things about Chávez and twentieth-century migrant labor activism. In short, Orendain was the primary labor organizer who recognized that the U.S.-Mexico border was the lynchpin in growers’ ability to take advantage of and marginalize migrant workers from Mexico. Orendain’s protests at the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas during the 1960s in particular not only highlighted the border’s significance to the U.S. agricultural labor force; his work along the border also planted the seeds of a growing rift between Orendain and Chávez that both showed the limitations to Chávez’s approach to organizing farmworkers and ensured that migrant workers from Mexico would continue to be exploited toward the turn of the twenty-first century.
Prof. Quiroz will speak to the turn towards theory in works of history, and then emphasize the return to biography that we have seen lately, especially in Texas and Southwestern studies. He will discuss for us the ways in which his book, Leaders of the Mexican American Generation: Biographical Essays (University of Colorado Press, 2015) is an example of the concept of bridging through stories. The biographies in this work all help connect our present to our past and help us not only remember important figures from our history, but to understand their relevance for our lives today.
Dr. Quiroz took his MA in American history in 1992 and his Ph.D. in the same field in 1998. He works at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where he has taught various types of American history, Mexican American history and Mexican American Studies since 1996. Throughout his career, Dr. Quiroz has focused his research on the historical experience of Mexican Americans who created an identity as equal American citizens in the post-WWI years and struggled for equal citizenship throughout the rest of the twentieth century. He is the author of Claiming Citizenship: Mexican Americans in Victoria, Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2005).