El Rio Grande as Unruly Archive: Submerged Histories of the Chamizal Dispute

Authors: Alana De Hinojosa*, UCLA
Topics: Ethnic Geography, Historical Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: US-Mexico borderlands, land dispute, El Paso, Rio Grande, Texas, displacement, dispossession, urban renewal, diaspora
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Edgewood AB, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This presentation borrows from my research on the century-long Chamizal land dispute, caused by the changing Río Grande, which examines the diasporic consequences of the Chamizal Relocation Project. Settled in 1964, the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas represents the only territory of the former Mexican north, lost to the U.S. in 1848, returned to México. Scholarship typically represents this treaty as an example of friendship between the two nations, therefore overlooking both the treaty’s consequences on the 5,500 Mexicans-Americans who lived on this contested land and what this dispute illuminates about the fluidity of (geo)political borders.

The whole point of setting the border between México and the U.S. in 1848 was that the river was not supposed to move; indeed, a meandering boundary was not supposed to be possible. The diligent erasure of the Chamizal dispute from U.S. history, however, signals its constructed "impossibility" and, therefore, its "unknowability." Not only does this history illustrate that (geo)political borders are a colonial construct that separates the empowered from the disempowered, but also how these power relations reshape the lives and world(view)s of those caught in the middle of geopolitical disputes. Composed of alternative positionalities, struggles, and interpretations over the meaning of place and borders, I argue this history's “unknowability” is not only willed, but underwritten by transgressive/transformative knowledges. Indeed, this history offers us a terrain of struggle, of “unsettling comforts” (Guiterrez 2010). I ask: how might we “read” el Chamizal as a map of violence, as a geography of scars?

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