Sunday, May 16, 2021

"¡Maten a los chinos!" Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to Seek Pardon for the Chinese Massacre of 1911 in Torreón, Mexico


Pix Credit: Mexico Faces Up to Anniversary of Chinese Massacre


As the rebels entered the city, they were joined by thousands of locals, fired up by racist speeches. A herb-seller is said to have clutched a Mexican flag and screamed: “Let’s kill the Chinese!” A revolutionary commander, Benjamín Argumedo, is believed to have fired the first shot. Over the next 10 hours, the mob sacked Chinese-owned businesses, looted the Chinese bank and dragged their Chinese neighbours by their distinctive braids, trampling them to death with horses (Mexico Faces Up to Anniversary of Chinese Massacre).

American exceptionalism sometimes colors analysis of the best and worst of the human experience.  That is to be expected of a state of imperium in which even those deeply involved in the internal factional  warfare that has taken on the forms of social justice (as it is understood today by those who claim authority to speak for "it" to "us") claim that the American experience  is outsized.  That has certainly been the case respecting the corruption of racial, ethnic, gender, and other privilege now considered culturally taboo (but not all privilege of course, discrimination in favor of which continues to be valued--merit, skill, for example--and rewarded by material things). Left and right make it a life goal to see everything through the lens of their own experiences, their own "truths", and their own psychology. This is, in essence, the very core of the sociology of the modern imperial state--whether it is driven by the traditional right, or by the left--however one might be sympathetic to their respective aims, goals, sensibilities, etc.

But everything does not revolve around the traumas of the American experience (as it has been constructed by those Americans with the power to frame these traumas to present in particular ways); nor should the tragedies of other peoples always be judged as a function of the core of an imperial network with its center in Washington, D.C. At the same time, the essence of empire produces precisely that result: empire is marked by the inevitable tendency of first, second and third order dependencies to mimic the sociology and psychologies of the elites at the center of imperil power.  But that mimicry, at the same time is naturalized just enough to give it local flavor--enough to suggest autonomy, but also enough to affirm solidarity with the imperial center and its preferences. For the dependencies this provides a continuous source of frustration but also the enforcement of dependency at the socio-cultural level (expressed as a sociology of politics) tends to cement relations that are in the end of use to those who are charged with the management of these dependencies. The dynamic between the performance of cultural politics in an imperial center, and its replication within its first and second order dependencies, is sometimes complicated by the echos of displaced imperial systems and their cultural patrimony (a term used quite deliberately here for its evocation of hierarchies now contested within the normative frameworks of at least one faction of influential elites in the contemporary North American imperial center).  And again, those layered hierarchies, with their own structures of communal integrity and hierarchies of belonging built around a central set of defining characteristics, become more pronounced where elements of neighboring or potentially threatening alternative imperial centers (in this case Asian and through additional settler movements) are introduced within the collective order. 
Spaces like what is now Mexico provide an important space for understanding the way these dynamics play out. Mexico serves as a reminder, as well, that the world is not entirely a reflection of the politics of imperial centers, though they are a reflection of them. Moreover Mexico reminds us that exceptionalism is itself merely a spot on a spectrum of a complex dynamic between national context and extraterritorial reach.  Its deep layers of empire--indigenous, European, North American--and existing close to but outside of new imperial boundaries, provide a more nuanced window onto the historically contingent dynamics of imperial cultural politics; Mexico may exist within the shadow of a greater contemporary empire, but it is also a product of the complex interplay of its own imperial and settler histories from out of which its own systems of privileging and its own methods of communal discipline against threatening outsiders evolved. And as a regional power, it suggests Mexico's own dynamic as an imperial center within its own domains of influence, especially in Central America, one subordinate to the front lie imperial machinery but still potent all the same within its own spheres of influence and control.  

It was with this in mind that one might usefully approach the recognition, publicly (and at last) of the massacre of a large portion of the Chinese population of Torreón, in the Mexican state of Coahuila, to be acknowledged by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador who will ask forgiveness of the Chinese community  on behalf of the state.  President López Obrador is to be commended for the gesture. In that he follows the pattern of empire with its center in Washington, D.C. And the event itself ought to produce a much richer examination of the replicating patterns of racism, ethnocentrism and hegemony within societies constructed from out of quite distinct socio-racial-religious orders. That replication produces exceptions within every community, and it appears in that context as naturalized in one as in another.  These are the constructs of communities and the constructions of their borders. And their management, within the constraints of applicable cultural politcs, marks the essence of imperium by, through, and over communities cobbled together through contemporary poltiical-economic sysems. These are the constructs that create contradiction as communities become porous and space is shared.  More difficult, is when those porous borders permeate not just physical space but the communal space of (shared) identity. The markers of difference had dangerous consequences in an era in which cultural politics was grounded on hierarchies of differences.  That construction, of course, is much different in 2021 than it was in 1911. But its potency remains; as might the hierarchies of privilege that normalize the suppression of threatening difference. 

Torreón is a reminder that the manifestation of (extreme) violence connected to the preservation of communal integrity (however discredited at the time or thereafter) is not exceptional. What changes appears to be the characteristics that mark that integrity, and those change dramatically as a society moves from one stage of historical development to another.  That should trouble those who seek to build systems of social justice on foundations of difference; ad it should serve as a caution to those who might believe that there is any community built on difference that is a stranger to the projection of violence as the performance of difference. Presient López Obrador's visit to Torreón, then, marks the characteristics of the new imperialism built over the foundational layers of older imperial forms and in the shadow of a first order system with respect to which their is a relationship of dependency.  The nature of belonging is different, though no less powerful.  A fidelity to the state and to its political-economic principles now serve where race, religion, ethnicity, and the like held pride of place.  In that context it is only natural to seek forgiveness for markers of difference now abandoned and at the same tme to insist on affirmation of allegiance to the new markers of difference and of belonging.

Reporting in Spanish and English follow, with details of both the event and of the context which gave rise to it. 


Mexico faces up to uneasy anniversary of Chinese massacre

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will mark the killings of 303 Chinese people during the revolution that the city of Torreón has tried to forget

by in Torreón

Last modified on Sun 16 May 2021 15.38 EDT

The first to die were Chinese agricultural workers, who were killed in the orchards and gardens surrounding the Mexican city of Torreón by advancing revolutionary forces in the early hours of 13 May 1911.

After skirmishes at the outskirts of the city, the outnumbered federal garrison abandoned their positions and slipped away under the cover of darkness.

As the rebels entered the city, they were joined by thousands of locals, fired up by racist speeches. A herb-seller is said to have clutched a Mexican flag and screamed: “Let’s kill the Chinese!” A revolutionary commander, Benjamín Argumedo, is believed to have fired the first shot.

Over the next 10 hours, the mob sacked Chinese-owned businesses, looted the Chinese bank and dragged their Chinese neighbours by their distinctive braids, trampling them to death with horses.

“Argumedo gave the order to kill the Chinese,” said Julián Herbert, author of a history of the massacre. “But everyone joined in the killing. It was soldiers, men, women – everyone.”

A total of 303 Chinese people were murdered in the massacre at Torreón, then a burgeoning railway town some 500 miles south of the US border. Afterwards, rebels and locals posed for photographs with the bodies of their victims before they were hauled away by the cartload.

The savagery was an appalling expression of a wave of anti-Chinese racism which swept throughout North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the US such sentiments led to the Chinese Exclusion Act banning the immigration of Chinese labourers; in Mexico they culminated in the expulsion of most of the country’s Chinese population in the 1930s.

The Torreón massacre caused indignation in China, and Mexico eventually agreed to pay 3.1m pesos in gold in reparations, although the payment was never made.

In Torreón, nobody was ever charged – let alone tried or convicted – over the massacre, and today the events of 1911 remain largely unmentioned.

There are no monuments marking the tragedy and attempts to commemorate the events have been met with resistance.

“This matter of the Chinese killings makes us confront a truth that we haven’t wanted to talk about locally,” said historian Carlos Castañón, who oversees the municipal archives.

On Monday, however, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is expected to travel to Torreón to seek forgiveness for the massacre as part of a year-long series of events marking some of the darker chapters in Mexico’s history, including the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán.

* * *

In Torreón that silence is still so absolute that no monuments mark the massacre, which killed half the city’s Chinese population at the time.

A commemorative plaque was swiftly stolen. A statue erected in a public park in 2007 was vandalized and later removed, but will be restored to a public plaza for the commemoration.

Victims of the massacre were buried in common graves, including one which is now covered by a roadway and small playground.

* * *

The president’s plan to commemorate the massacre has predictably ruffled feathers among some in Torreón.

“All of humanity would have to apologise for what’s happened through the centuries,” groused the then mayor, Jorge Zermeño, in February, according to the newspaper El Sol de la Laguna.

“We will participate [in the ceremony] but we will have our own opinion,” he said. “I think that in wars, there’s a lot of confusion. These are events of the time and have to be seen in the context of which they occurred. Of course they were regrettable.”

Much of that grumbling stems from Torreón’s “foundational myth” as a city of hardy immigrants who conquered the desert, said Javier Garza, a former newspaper editor in the city.

Before the massacre, Chinese migrants opened a bank, built a tram connecting Torreón with the neighbouring city of Gómez Palacios and ran most of the local laundries. Their farms fed the local population.

“The Chinese community [in Torreón] was the most prosperous [Chinese community] in Mexico,” Herbert said. “It wasn’t the most numerous, but it was the most prosperous.”

In his book The House of the Pain of Others: Chronicle of a Small Genocide, Herbert disputes the local narrative that the pogrom was a spontaneous uprising by poor Mexicans, arguing instead that anti-Chinese racism was rife in Torreón – and across the country. Herbert’s conclusions proved so controversial that he was unable to hold an event promoting the book in Torreón.

Not all locals participated in the massacre: some, including a local lumberyard owner sheltered Chinese residents from the mob. Most of the survivors fled Torreón, though some later returned, and the local Chinese community now numbers about 1,000.

Some in the Chinese community still seem reticent to speak of the massacre, even as they express pride in their role of building Torreón into a city famed for industry and agriculture.

* * *


AMLO pedirá perdón a la comunidad china en su visita a Torreón

Evento. La matanza de chinos se registró el 15 de mayo de 1911, tras la toma de los maderistas.

El presidente de la nación vendrá a la región el próximo 17 de mayo

Voceros de la Secretaría de Cultura de Coahuila afirmaron que el presidente de la república mexicana, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, visitará Torreón el próximo 17 de mayo para encabezar una ceremonia con el fin de pedir perdón a la comunidad china de la ciudad, en tenor del 110 aniversario de la matanza de chinos ocurrida en mayo de 1911, durante la Revolución mexicana. 

Esto se dio a conocer luego de un par de reuniones realizadas el día de ayer en el Museo Regional de La Laguna entre Ana Sofía García Camil (titular de la Secretaría de Cultura de Coahuila), Francisco Aguilar (subdelegado del INAH en Coahuila), así como representantes del Ayuntamiento de Torreón como Carlos Castañón (director del Archivo Municipal), representantes de la Secretaría de Gobernación Federal como Héctor Humberto Miranda Anzá (jefe de Unidad de Asuntos Religiosos, Prevención y Reconstrucción del Tejido Social) y Jorge Eduardo Basaldúa Silva (director General de Asociaciones Religiosas), así como de la comunidad china de Torreón (familia Lee).

Así mismo, se afirmó que durante la reunión se discutieron los posibles lugares donde se llevaría a cabo la ceremonia, aunque no revelaron cuáles serían, sólo mencionaron que posiblemente se efectuaría en sitios aledaños al bosque Venustiano Carranza. 

Lo que sí confirmaron es que el evento sería encabezado por el presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador, por lo que se pretende que no sea un evento aislado, sino una serie de actividades a realizarse, como exposiciones de fotografías de gran formato en las rejas del bosque Venustiano Carranza y otras acciones en el Museo Arocena.


La matanza de integrantes de la comunidad china en Torreón, ocurrida durante la Revolución mexicana, es un evento histórico que actualmente trata de escapar del olvido y ha logrado reflectores.

El historiador y director del Archivo Municipal, Carlos Castañón, compartió que la matanza de chinos se dio en un contexto de xenofobia y envidia económica con mucho trasfondo, pues incluso el 16 de septiembre de 1910 se registraron ataques a comercios chinos en Torreón y en Gómez Palacio.

En torno al evento giran varios mitos, como aquel que culpa de la matanza a Francisco Villa, versión que es desmentida por Castañón, pues asegura que esta fue realizada por simpatizantes maderistas encabezados por Emilio Madero, cuando su hermano Francisco I. Madero y el propio Francisco Villa se encontraban en Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.

Otra versión fue redactado como un informe militar, en el que los chinos estaban armados por el Ejército Federal para enfrentar a los revolucionarios y por eso inició un "enfrentamiento", aunque esta fue desmentida tras una investigación del Gobierno chino y del Gobierno mexicano. "En realidad eran chinos laguneros, laboriosos, gente pacífica".

La madrugada del 15 de mayo de 1911, tras retirarse las tropas federales, los maderistas tomaron Torreón. En la avanzada, la turba comenzó a saquear negocios como la Casa Lack, abrieron la cava del Casino de La Laguna y se emborracharon. Fue en ese intermedio cuando varios líderes maderistas gritaron: "¡Maten a los chinos!" y la xenofobia encontró el pretexto de estallar: murieron 303 chinos.

A pesar de que por décadas se ha sabido de este hecho y también de la inocencia de los víctimas, el Gobierno mexicano jamás se había disculpado con la comunidad china.

"Lo que es interesante del momento actual, es que por primera vez el Estado mexicano va a ofrecer o a expresar sus disculpas, en un acto de reconciliación y de desagravio histórico", cerró Castañón.

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