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IV Press documents life on the border for 100 years

April 28, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

A tired and thirsty member of an expedition party trekking through Valle del Diablo collapses in the shadow of Mount Signal.

Teams of workers with sunburned forearms and necks move earth south of Bond's Corner, tapping the Rio Colorado, bringing water to the desert.

The sign spanning Heffernan Road bearing the words "United States" is erected.

Hollywood celebrities in Packards with white-wall tires and chrome bumpers drive across to drink legally during Prohibition.

A quinceaƱera is staged in Holtville uniting a family that shares ancestry on both sides of the border. A fedora-wearing photographer, holding a strobe flash, takes a family picture.

As a newsreel announcer announces the end of the World War II, a theater in El Centro full of people from two countries applauds.

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Workers with hair to their shoulders return "home" to Mexicali after finding out they are no longer welcome in the fields they harvested.

Fiestas are celebrated to honor Cinco de Mayo and partygoers in Heber dance to the strains of ABBA and Santana.

Teenage boys in Camaro IROCs drive across to drink legally during spring break as their dates lean out the window of the car waving to friends.

Agents near Seeley can do nothing but wave as a family, holding hands, floats together up the New River.

The new Port of Entry is opened east of Calexico and seven years of bi-national cooperation is celebrated with a grand ceremony.

For 150 years a valley has been divided into two countries by the international border.

The Imperial Valley Press has told the story of the border for 100 of those years.

Sometimes the story is heartwarming: A Border Patrol agent saves the life of a man wandering through the mountains near Ocotillo.

Sometimes the story is tragic: Men who tried to cross the All-American Canal are found hours later washed up along its banks.

We've run features on the people who live and work near the border and published editorials or letters concerning immigration policy.

Whatever the story, the constant is an imaginary line; borne of a compromise between two countries.

This is the story of how the line that runs from the Rio Colorado, across the division line between Upper and Lower California to the Pacific Ocean was created, how it has affected the lives of Imperial Valley residents for the past 100 years and how it will affect their lives for the next 100.

The story will be told by those who wrote the treaties, the historians who chronicled the Mexican-American War, local professors and the current consul of Mexico in Calexico, Rita Vargas Torregrosa.

Torregrosa taught for 14 years in Mexico City on the history of Mexico-U.S. relations and since 1991 has focused her attention specifically on international border issues as the coordinator for the Mexican side and consul in Calexico for the past three years.

The Past

Remember the Alamo.

The history of the 1,800-mile border between Mexico and the United States has its roots in Texas.

In 1836 Texas declared independence from Mexico after William Travis' forces were routed at the Alamo in San Antonio.

After a series of skirmishes the war for Texan independence was won at the Battle of San Jacinto.

"Mexico hated losing Texas," according to Cecilia Barba, a Mexican history teacher at Imperial Valley College.

While Mexico was embarrassed after the loss, she said the country made no attempt to regain the new Republic of Texas because there was an understanding that Mexico would be "OK" with Texas independence as long as it didn't become part of the U.S.

Nine years later, in an act of Congress on March 1845, Texas was annexed and added to the union.

This was considered "the equivalent to a declaration of war by Mexico," according to the Dictionary of American History.

Carlos Herrera, a history professor at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, explained why Mexico considered the annexation of Texas a "declaration of war."

"Mexico liked the idea of Texas being a buffer zone between the United States and Mexico," Herrera said.

He said Mexico was cognizant and wary of the United States' "manifest destiny" and felt the annexation of Texas was a foreboding "sign of things to come."

Manifest destiny for the United States was the explanation that leaders and citizens of the country use to this day to justify addition of land and territory at the expense of indigenous people, according to Herrera.

Mexico was worried the United States wouldn't stop with Texas but would go farther south and attempt to acquire the rich deposits of silver in northern Mexico.

In December 1845 the U.S. added even more land when it annexed an area between the Nueces and del Norte rivers.

This was another step south for the United States and this time Mexico stepped up to meet the U.S.

The land between the rivers had been leased to Sam Austin by the Mexican government so he could build a settlement.

Herrera said Austin had agreed to learn Spanish and convert to Catholicism, among other things.

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