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Open Access Publications from the University of California

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

  • Author(s): de Hinojosa, Alana
  • Advisor(s): Gaspar de Alba, Alicia
  • et al.

This interdisciplinary study on the century-long Chamizal land dispute, caused by the meanderings of the Río Grande, 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, and therefore overlooks 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 geopolitical borders. The Chamizal dispute, then, illustrates not only 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.

The whole point of setting the border between México and the U.S. in 1848 was that the river was not supposed to move; in fact, a moving border was not supposed to be possible. The diligent erasure of this dispute from both dominant U.S. history and counterhegemonic accounts signals this history’s constructed unknowability. As a story that entails alternative positionalities, struggles, and interpretations over the meaning of place and borders, I argue this “unknowability” is not only willed, but underwritten by transformative forms of knowledge. Indeed, it is a story that reminds us that “there already exists a terrain through which different stories and geographic knowledges can be and are told.”

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