Saturday, January 28, 2017

An immigration crisis. The Bath Riots of 1917 commence

As if things weren't getting scary enough, on this day in 1917 three days of rioting commenced at the border crossing station in El Paso, Texas.

 Women's Bath, El Paso.

The riots were a collateral affect of the United States deciding to withdraw from Mexico. With that decision having been made thousands of Mexicans who had looked to the United States reluctantly as protectors from Villa made plans and too efforts to live elsewhere.

It was at this precise moment that American authorities determined that entering Mexican immigrants needed to be deloused and vaccinated.  There had been no real concern amongst American authorities but there was a concern amongst American politicians that Mexicans entering the US would spread Typhus.  So the US Public Health Service came up with a plan to delouse entrants which involved baths plus chemical delousing and steaming of clothing, and chemical delousing of hair.  The effort was rigorous and obviously intrusive.

This caused concerns to Mexicans and those concerns increased when rumors circulated that the nude women had been photographed in the process, which may in fact have been the case.  This could have been done not for the prurient  interests of the photographers, but rather the US was entering an era when the official photographing of all such things became increasingly common.  However, there were also rumors that the photographs were circulating in cantinas.  Additionally, the chemicals used on hair were a mixture of kerosene and vinegar which and, in an era and culture in which smoking was common, there was a valid fear over this setting people up for tragic accidents.  Additionally, smoking was common amongst Mexican women at that time, and had been for many years, in contrast to American women, who generally did not smoke at the time.  While steps were allowed to allow hair to dry for thirty minutes, the concern that this would raise is obvious.

Making the matter all the more touchy, a considerable number of Mexicans crossed daily into El Paso from Juarez to work and were subjected to the delousing, a rather obviously unnecessary occurrence for daily entrants.

On this day, at 7:30 in the morning, US officials stopped a trolley of Mexican women entering to work which included 17  year old maid Carmelita Torres. She refused to submit and asked for a refund of her fare, which was refused.  They women then reacted and a largely female riot ensued, followed by an increasingly large riot on the bridge over the Rio Grande.  Rioting continued for three days and ultimately it was controlled by the deployment of American and Mexican Constiutionalist cavalry.

Also, by the 30th, the practices were changed to address the complaints.  Mexican Health certificates were accepted by U.S. authorities and a Mexican health official was stationed in the American facility to make sure that no improper or offensive conduct occurred.  Torres' reaction, therefore, was effective in addressing her concerns, although a new immigration policy that would shortly come in made much of the changes somewhat obsolete in the face of larger changes.

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