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Outsider Crossings: History, Culture, and Geography of Mexicali's Chinese Community


Founded at the turn of the twentieth century, the irrigated colony at Mexicali, Baja California was established by Chinese farmers and merchants as a cotton-growing enclave. This dissertation recuperates the marginalized history of this community's development and uncovers why this historical narrative has been erased. I use a diverse array of U.S. and Mexican archival sources to examine the frontiers of U.S. imperialism, explore Mexican racial formations, and trace changes to a trans-national Chinese community.

Through different types of historical evidence I make four arguments. First, that a trans-Pacific conceptual framework helps to better understand the role that Chinese communities played in the formation of the U.S.-Mexico border. I details how the conquest of Mexico and imperial aggression in East Asia allowed the U.S. to usurp the colonial circuits of the trans-Pacific Spanish Galleon trade. Through the simultaneous assault in Asia and Mexico the Pacific became crossed with pathways that encouraged the Chinese to settle in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Second, that migrating Chinese merchants and farmers were central to the development of Mexicali. I illustrate how their expertise in China's cotton industry prepared them well to turn the desert border region into an irrigated colony. I trace their transnational geographies and social networks of this diasporic Chinese community in order to show how Mexicali became a Chinese place. Third, I contend that the racial boundaries of post-Revolutionary Mexican nationalism considered the Chinese community in Mexicali an immanent threat. I describe how definitions of what the one-time president, Abelardo Rodriguez, called "genuine Mexican colonization" racially segregated the economic development and political integration of Baja California. Lastly, I demonstrate how a series of racial programs of Mexicanización sought to undermine the Chinese community and expunge them from historical narratives of the region. Baja California historiography, Mexicali's public spaces, and a museum illustrate different modes of erasure and reconfiguration in narratives about the history of Mexicali's Chinese community.

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