28 February 2009

Border War Zone

I am an avid reader and I love to read books about history. I have always liked to read about American history and for the last few years I have also been soaking up all that I can about history as it pertains to Mexico. I have quite a number of old books that I have collected over time. Some are written by English speaking authors and some are written in Spanish. All of them are quite fascinating. I am currently reading a book by Frank G. Carpenter entitled “MEXICO” which was published by Doubleday in New York in 1925 (a year after Carpenter died). Carpenter was a writer of geography textbooks and lecturer on geography, and wrote a series of books called “Carpenter's World Travels” which were very popular.

I was reading what Mr. Carpenter wrote about the U.S.- Mexico border in the early 1920's and I nearly fell out of my chair. It was almost as though you could have taken the text right from a newspaper of today. He was talking about patrolling the Mexican border when he wrote:

“The duties of the inspectors are difficult and dangerous. When they are after smugglers they often serve as targets for pot shots from over the line, and several have been killed by the rum-runners. American rifles are frequently traded for liquors, and the Mexicans use the guns in case they are in danger from the revenue men.”

(Bob's Note: This was written during the U.S. Prohibition Era not long after the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment)

“The inspectors are mostly “mounted”, which means that they go up and down the border in light motor cars. They usually ride in pairs, armed with revolvers and rifles, and even shoulder machine guns in order to protect themselves in case of attack. Airplanes are sometimes used and the rum pirates detected, as it were, from the skies.”

“Even more profitable than bringing liquor over the boundary is the smuggling of narcotics to be sold at high prices to drug addicts in the States. A few boxes of powders and pills, as many, perhaps, as can be easily carried in a hand-satchel or under the seat of an automobile, may have a value of thousands of dollars on this side of the line.”

“The immigration authorities have almost as much trouble with lawbreakers as have the customs men. In this case it is the people, not packages, that must be kept out. Chinese and Hindoos, who by our exclusion laws are denied admission to the United States, are constantly trying to slip in over the Mexican border. Sometimes they pay five hundred or even one thousand dollars apiece to men who undertake to pass them by the inspectors, and they employ all kinds of tricks and devices.”

“In times of actual disturbance in Mexico our army takes charge and patrols the border. In peace time, however, the troops stay in their barracks and posts, of which there are a dozen or so extending from Brownsville, Texas to Nogales, in Arizona. In order to be prepared for any contingency the War Department keeps about one fourth of all the troops stationed in continental United States, and nearly all of our cavalry, in this territory along the Mexican border.”

(Bob's Note: I think that the percentage of stateside troops not far from the border area may be about the same today.)

Wow! Frank Carpenter was an eyewitness who wrote the above account eighty-five years ago and it seems like nothing has really changed much. Can there ever be something such a s a secure border between Mexico and the U.S. or are we just kidding ourselves?

Mr. Carpenter left us with a clue and it is food for thought:

“The difference in prosperity of the two republics was apparent as soon as I put my feet on Mexican soil. The first man I met on leaving the bridge was a blind beggar who asked me for alms, and I saw more poor people as I came up into the town and went through the narrow, unpaved streets. Laredo, Texas, is a city of the rich. Its people have money to burn, and they are raising gold dollars on the lands lying all around them. The people of Nuevo Laredo seem to be just the reverse, although they are surrounded by a country equally good.”

I pray that the winds of change that Barack Obama will use to blow life into the economy will benefit both the people of the United States of America and also Estados Unidos Mexicanos...the United Mexican States. It would be nice for a change to have a level playing field and a friendly border. The big question that hangs over both countries, however, is what can we do about drugs and guns? Will those problems ever go away? I hope that it doesn't take another eighty-five years.

One other thing? Will there be someone out there reading our old blogs in eighty-five years to see what we had to say? I don't think so. Thank you Frank. I'll be looking forward to shaking your hand when I get to that beautiful shore. Maybe you and I, and Emperor Maximilian can do lunch sometime...uhhhh but not anytime soon. Okay?


Billie Mercer said...

Bob, I often ask my self the same question that Carpenter asked. When we cross the border why is there such an economic difference from one side of the Rio Grande to the other.

Alice said...

History repeating itself. The Chinese--among them, my ancestors--smuggled their way into the US for a better life. Wherever there is economic discrepancy, you will find people trying to fight their way into prosperity. No laws or border patrol can stop human will. Here is some very interesting information from the National Archives on Chinese immigration from Mexico. I believe the Hindoo aspect is less well-documented.


Random facts connecting the Chinese, Mexico, and the US:

The US govt recruited the Chinese to help Gen. Pershing find Pancho Villa in exchange for amnesty.

Researchers have discovered "underground railroads" from Mexico to El Paso.

El Paso is home to Texas' first Chinatown and Chinese American cemetery.

Babs said...

GREAT blog.

norm said...

I for one would like to see the border erased. It is a waste of money and effort on the part of a lot of good people and gives income and comfort to a lot of bad people.

Anonymous said...

Personally I'd rather lunch with Benito Juarez who was a Poor boy like myself... somehow I don't think Maximilian would invite me to his Champagne brunches...I can just imagine Carlota turning her cute li'l french nose up if I entered the room.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.