Stripped of your rights? Fight!
In preparing The Table Dancer’s Tale for publication, we added some footnotes. The pseudonymous author was in this afternoon, to check over our translation and edits. Noticing that we had footnoted her mention of one club’s attempts to pay employees with vouchers that such a practice is illegal, “Lupita” said “but everybody in Mexico knows that.” In Mexico, probably most workers do know their basic rights, and we are proud here (and justly so) of being the first country to include a basic labor code in its constitution (Article 123). Still, as elsewhere, that doesn’t stop some employers from trying to deny them, or to strip their workers of their basic dignity as human beings. That’s not unique to Mexico, and it’s not only Mexicans who remember those who fought (and often died) for those rights.
May Day commemorates the martyrdom of Albert Parsons, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg and Michael Schwab, (about whom José Martí prophetically wrote, “The working class of the world will bring them back to life every first of May”) and the on-going struggle (and increasing to defend what progress has been made) in creating a more equitable society. While it is a time to show renewed support for those workers are still exploited or coerced into tolerating assaults on their rights as human beings, it is also a time to honor those who resisted those assaults… who said no to abuse, and yes to their basic human rights, even at great risk.
There have been countless acts of courage by minority women who refused to suffer indignities. The border is full of incidents where people stood up and said yá basta! That’s enough! In El Paso, Texas Mexicans were routinely forced to undergo strip searches and were fumigated with toxic gases. In 1917, Carmelita Torres, age 17, refused to take a gasoline bath when she entered the United States. The excuses for administering baths was that Mexicans spread typhoid or that Mexicans had lice. Often the soldiers would stare at the disrobed women as they were forced to take the DDT baths. The year before, Mexican inmates in El Paso were given a similar bath with gasoline and were burned to death when a fire ignited the gas. Carmelita, tired of suffering this indignity, agitated the other passengers on a trolley. Thirty trolley passengers joined the protest…
David Dorado Romo, in his Ringside Seat to a Revolution (Cinco Puntos Press, 2005) picks up the story:
… By 8:30 a.m. more than 200 Mexican women had joined her and blocked all traffic into El Paso. By noon, the press estimated their number as “several thousand.”
The demonstrators marched as a group toward the disinfection camp to call out those who were submitting themselves to the humiliation of the delousing process. When immigration and public health service officers tried to disperse the crowd, the protesters hurled bottles, rocks and insults at the Americans. A customs inspector was hit in the head. Fort Bliss commander General Bell ordered his soldiers to the scene, but the women jeered at them and continued their street battle. The “Amazons,” the newspapers reported, struck Sergeant J.M. Peck in the face with a rock and cut his cheek.
The protesters laid down on the tracks in front of the trolley cars to prevent them from moving. When the street cars were immobilized, the women wrenched the motor controllers from the hands of the motormen. One of the motormen tried to run back to the American side of the bridge. Three or four female rioters clung to him while he tried to escape. They pummeled him with all their might and gave him a black eye. Another motorman preferred to hide from the Mexican women by running into a Chinese restaurant on Avenida Juárez.
Carrancista General Francisco Murguía showed up with his death troops to quell the female riot. Murguía’s cavalry, known as “el esquadrón de la muerte,” was rather intimidating. They wore insignia bearing a skull and crossbones and were known for taking no prisoners. The cavalrymen drew their sabers and pointed them at the crowd. But the women were not frightened. They jeered, hooted and attacked the soldiers. “The soldiers were powerless,” the El Paso Herald reported.
You don’t put up with lousy treatment for lousy reasons…