The photo was taken c. 1942 at the Santa Fe street bridge. coming to the United States in a quarantine camp, why didn’t they just force them take a bath when they crossed the bridge? “I would cheerfully bathe and disinfect all the dirty, lousy people who are coming into this country from Mexico,” Lloyd informed the mayor. Thanks to the mayor’s persistence, by January 1917 El Paso immigration officials begin bathing an average of 2,800 Mexicans a day at the Santa Fe Street international bridge. Every immigrant from the interior of Mexico and every “second class” Juarez citizen was to strip completely, turn in all their clothes and baggage to be steam dried and fumigated with hydrocyanic acid and stand naked before a customs inspector who would check his or her “hairy parts”the scalp, armpits, chest, pubic area and anusfor lice. Those found to have lice would be required to shave their head and body hair with No. 00 clippers and bathe with kerosene and vinegar. Each time the “sterilization” process was performed, the Mexicans would receive a ticket certifying that they had been bathed and deloused, and their clothes and baggage disinfected. This disinfection ritual needed to be repeated every eight days in order for Mexican workers to be readmitted to the United States. The baths would continue for another four decades. My own great aunt, Adela Dorado, who crossed the border to clean American homes every day, recalled the humiliation of having to take those baths. Before being bathed, her clothes Courtesy of Proyecto Bracero Archives, Centro de Trabajadores Agricolas Fronterizos, El Paso. and shoes were disinfected in a huge steam dryer. “I was embarrassed that they thought I was dirty and very upset when they returned my shoes and they had melted;’ she told our family one evening around the dinner table. There are two sides to every history. On one side you have the mayor’s silk underwear, on the other side you have my great aunt’s melted shoes. Iwouldn’t dare call myself a real historian. I don’t know how real historians, who tell the histories of entire countries and continents, do it. I don’t even qualify as a provincial historian. The most I’d dare call myself is an amateur “micro-historian.” I could easily spend an entire lifetime just researching the history of the El Paso-Juarez international bridge. The stories you can dig up by just focusing your research on this very small 500-yard slice of geography where two sides of the world clash and come together are endless. The bridge that connects Santa Fe Street with Avenida Juarez was constructed out of wood in the 1880s. Until 1917, the year Lea wore silk, El Paso and Juarez citizens could freely cross back and forth between the two countries. El Paso historian Cleofas Calleros would remember border crossings before 1917 nostalgically: “Everyone was happy, coming and going without any customs restrictions, any immigration 5/7/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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