This 17yo Mexican Maid Started A Riot That Shut Down The Border For 2 Days
Portrait of young indigenous woman by Mariana Yamplosky
17-year-old Carmelita Torres, a maid from Juarez, led a riot of thousands that shut down the border for two days.
In the 1900s, immigrants crossing the border were stripped naked, "inspected," and "fumigated" with toxic chemicals. Border agents took pictures of the naked women to post in local bars.
On January 28th, 1917, Carmelita Torres, a 17-year-old maid from Juarez, had had enough. She refused to take her clothes off and convinced the other women in the group to join her. By afternoon, hundreds of women had rallied around her. Ultimately, thousands rose up in protest.
It was 1917, the U.S. had just entered the first World War, xenophobia was surging, and Mexicans crossing the border were declared "illegal" for the first time.
Many crossed daily to work in the U.S. - and were humiliated by being stripped and inspected like animals, and exposed to toxic chemicals like the infamous Zyklon B later used by the Nazis to gas millions of Jews. The Nazis actually got the idea from these U.S. Border procedures.
Health officials said the procedures were necessary, to, "disinfect all the dirty, lousy people coming into this country from Mexico."
According to David Dorado Romo of the Zinn Education Project, "second-class" Mexicans were required to stand naked in front of Customs officials who would inspect their private areas, while their clothing was "fumigated" in gas chambers using chemicals so toxic they melted shoes. Some were made to bathe with gasoline.
Worse, officials took pictures of the naked women and posted them in local bars.
On January 28th, 1917, Carmelita Torres, a 17-year-old maid from Juarez, had had enough.
She refused to disrobe and convinced the other women in the group to join her. By afternoon, hundreds of women had rallied around her. Ultimately, thousands rose up in protest.
The ensuing "Bath Riots" shut down the border for two days.
Unfortunately, law enforcement eventually put down the riot and Carmelita was arrested, along with many others. Some were executed. Carmelita was never heard from again.
On #MayDay, I am thinking about Carmelita Torres, a transborder worker who started a women-led riot in 1917 objecting to inhumane treatment of workers from CD. Juarez. U.S. border officials sanitized workers at POEs using kerosine oil and exposed their belongings to cyanogen gas. pic.twitter.com/xSJXll3Hq1— Estefanía C.P. (@transb0rder) May 1, 2019
The "delousing" procedures continued up until the 1960s, when bracero workers were still being sprayed with DDT, an incredibly toxic insecticide.
Campesinos mexicanos son rociados con DDT antes de ingresar a Estados Unidos con el Programa Braceros, de 1942 a 1964 pic.twitter.com/XTpW3PDavr— ???? Arte ⛵???????????????? (@DMariella3) May 20, 2015
But perhaps the most infamous legacy of these dehumanizing procedures is their link to the Nazi gas chambers of the Holocaust.
Romo writes that German scientists who visited the border "praised the El Paso method of fumigating Mexican immigrants with Zyklon B."
"At the start of WWII, the Nazis adopted Zyklon B as a fumigation agent at German border crossings and concentration camps. Later, when the Final Solution was put into effect, the Germans found more sinister uses for this extremely lethal pesticide.
They used Zyklon B pellets in their own gas chambers not just to kill lice but to exterminate millions of human beings."