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Project and photographs by Corey Chao and Aislinn Pentecost-Farren.

American Immigrants is a 7-month calendar that tells stories of US citizens who crossed into Mexico in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, illustrated with photographs of the border at the places they crossed. When possible, it includes descriptions of crossing in their own words.

The calendar was researched, photographed and produced by Corey Chao and Aislinn Pentecost-Farren, artists and designers from Philadelphia, PA, who were inspired to look at history for lesser-known examples of US-Mexico relations.

 
 


Order

Based on the interest and assistance from many US Customs and Border Protection officers they met while creating the calendar, copies are available for USCBP offices free of charge.

Every purchase sends one calendar to you and covers the cost of sending a second calendar to a Customs & Border Protection office. You may also choose to donate additional calendars to CBP.

Any profits generated by the project will be donated to nonprofits working to build and protect cross-border relations.

 
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Stories

The following stories are featured in the American Immigrants wall calendar. To learn more about them, refer to the research bibliography.

 
 

Rio Grande near Lehmann Ranch, Eagle Pass, Texas

 
 

It is dark and about the middle of the night. There is a skiller raft made out of three logs tied together. A good ride. The men take long sticks to guide the contraption across the river. I never will forget this time: children about to cry out because they are sleepy, and the old ones scared that they are going to start bawling before we can get over. We can be safe from slavers if we can get across this river.

 
 

Early one morning here in 1850, pursued by Texas Rangers and mercenaries, Becky Simmons and over 200 African, Seminole, and Kickapoo people sailed makeshift rafts across the Rio Grande. The group had led a year-long escape from forced reservations in Oklahoma and looming slavery by plantation owners and their allies. Having banned slavery in 1829, Mexico represented certain freedom—but even there, the group would have to withstand countless raids from bounty hunters seeking to profit off their re-enslavement.

 
 
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US Border Protection Boat Launch, Shelby Park, Eagle Pass, Texas

 
 

My men were in high and raucous spirits today, though we had left our colors at the crossing. Barely had they let go its corners but it disappeared from sight into the brown waters. Let us hope that we have disappeared in similar fashion from our northern oppressors. The Iron Brigade is undefeated. We are the last of our race. Let us be the best as well.

Confederate General Jo Shelby crossed the border into Mexico with several hundred cavalry soldiers in June 1865. The Civil War was over and the Confederacy had surrendered, but Shelby, known as one of the bravest and most brutal generals, refused. Instead, he fled to land given to him and his men by one of the Confederacy’s biggest financiers: the government of Mexico. As Shelby and his men left, worried that the Union Army would overtake them and capture their Confederate flag, they filled it with rocks and sank it in the Rio Grande.

 
 
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Rio Grande, south Laredo, Texas

 
 

Burn your notice! Why risk your life to fight for the moneyed men of London and New York? The presses run day and night in Mexico City, heralding that egalitarian vision we comrades can only dream of back home, soldiers calling at the door. The fear melts away once the train is lost to sight. As I look back, all I can see of my old country is the tall, weary grass.

Young men fleeing conscription into World War I paid informal ferry-drivers to cross the Rio Grande between 1917 and 1920. WWI was deeply unpopular, and before instituting the draft, the US had only 8% of their desired enrollees. “Slackers”—over 30,000 of them—sought an alternative to military service or prison by crossing into Mexico. Many found a warm reception with the country's young populist leadership, and even helped connect Mexican politicians with labor movements in the US.

 
 

Texas Mexican Railway International Bridge / Puente Negro, Laredo, Texas

 
 

They say it’s hot, but you can’t beat the pay—short of running the show. Hell, I’d rather sit up in the engine than some private car, sweat the whole damn way just for a whiff of that mesquite fire, sweet like money. There’s miles of track going down every week out from Monterrey, so I’ll say my goodbyes: so long to the mines, to the hammers and the backaches. Once we’re past Lampazos, I’ll trade my shovel for a suit and a hat.

In 1885, American industrial workers rode over the Rio Grande here atop the first railroad bridge between US and Mexico. Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz had dispossessed millions of rural Mexicans and consolidated land into the hands of wealthy haciendados who rapidly industrialized. US immigrants found well-paying jobs leading such enterprises, including railroads. This bridge replaced the original after a flood in the early 1900’s and the two sides are maintained separately by Mexican and US personnel.

 
 

Union-Pacific International Railroad Bridge, Eagle Pass, Texas

 
 

I’m tired. We’ve been on this train for two days and nothing left but dry cornbread and cold ham. I’m tired of being tired. There was never any getting ahead for a black woman picking cotton in Tuscaloosa, before emancipation or since. I’m tired of having nothing. In Mexico, we’ll have a real house and a day’s pay for a day’s work. Everybody on this train, we’re all headed somewhere now.

100 black families from Alabama crossed the border by train through Eagle Pass, Texas in 1895. Their destination was north central Mexico, where they had been recruited by an agricultural company to use their farming expertise to build a Mexican cotton empire. They crossed to fight for the promise of equal rights, better working conditions and higher shares of the cotton they grew.

 
 
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Hurt Cattle Co. Access Gate, near Big Hatchet Mountains, Hachita, New Mexico

 
 

Blisters won’t heal. Horses let loose days ago—too easy to spot. Border visible, but so are mounted men. Mountains seem colder each night, sun hotter each day. Wonder what Pa would have done. Seems about time to risk crossing or die trying.

Tom and John Powers slipped past US draft enforcers and over the border near Colonia el Camello, Mexico, late at night in early 1918. One month earlier, they had failed to register for WWI draft duty, and were confronted by law enforcement in a shoot-out that left their father and three sheriff’s officers dead. Their chase through the desert eventually involved the US Cavalry, covered 200 miles, and went down in history as the largest manhunt in the history of Arizona.

 
 

US Customs Station, Juárez-Lincoln International Bridge, Laredo, Texas

 
 

We’re in Mexico! I was nervous because our Suburban is full of stuff: inside, outside, on the roof, strapped on the back... wherever it fits! Along with four kids! Border control was just waking up too, and barely inspected our vehicle...even though it was packed with humans and home goods! We have a 12-hour drive to our new home! The best part of our border crossing is the happiness and excitement for this new chapter in our lives! We are grinning from ear to ear...

In 2013, Tina Marie Ernspiker crossed into Mexico with her husband and four children in Laredo, Texas. Marie’s husband had been in an accident some years before and was no longer able to work. In the US they were falling into debt, but with the exchange rate in Mexico, his disability payments could support the whole family comfortably. They decided to restart their life and raise their children in a new country.

 

Other Stories

If you know of moments throughout history (whether they're centuries or days ago) when US citizens moved to Mexico, please send us a message.

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Research Bibliography

Guinn, Jeff. Our Land Before We Die: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro. Tarcher, 2002.

Mock, Shirley Boteler. Dreaming with the Ancestors: Black Seminole Women in Texas and Mexico. University of Oklahoma Press, 2010.

Rebellion. SouthWest Alternative Media Project. www.johnhorse.com Accessed January 28, 2017.

Quote: Excerpt from 1929 interview with Seminole Becky Simmons who recalled the crossing. Verb tense changed and length edited by authors.

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O'Flaherty, Daniel. General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel. University of North Carolina Press, 1954.

Handbook of Texas Online, Art Leatherwood, "Shelby Expedition," accessed February 05, 2017, www.tshaonline.org.

Wahlstrom, Todd W. The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration Across the Borderlands After the American Civil War. University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

Rolle, Andrew H. The Lost Cause: The Confederate Exodus to Mexico. University of Oklahoma Press, 1965.

Quote: Written by authors based on descriptions of the events. Last two sentences are direct quote from General Shelby during the Civil War.

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La Botz, Dan. “American ‘Slackers’ in the Mexican Revolution: International Proletarian Politics in the Midst of a National Revolution.” The Americas, Vol. 62, No. 4 (Apr., 2006), pp. 563-590, Cambridge University Press.

La Botz, Dan. Phone interview, January 10, 2017.

Spenser, Daniela. Stumbling Its Way Through Mexico. University of Alabama Press, 2011. Translated from the Spanish by Peter Gellert.

Quote: Written by authors based on writings by slackers Linn Gale and Charles Francis Phillips.

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La Botz, Dan. Phone interview, January 10, 2017.

Thompson, Jerry. Laredo: A Pictorial History. Norfolk: Donning, 1986.

Quote: Written by authors based on historical descriptions of the events.

McKiernan-González, John. “Alabama Blacks to Mexico.” The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Vol 13 (2013), pp 184-186, University of North Carolina Press.

McKiernan-González, John. Phone Interview, January 10, 2017.

Quote: Written by authors based on historical descriptions of the events.

“Guns and Gold: History of the Galiuro Wilderness.” Forest History Society, January 28, 2017. www.foresthistory.org.

McNabb, Max. Email interview, January 1-5, 2017.

Power, Tom. Shoot-Out At Dawn: An Arizona Tragedy. Phoenix Books, 1981.

Quote: Written by authors based on historical descriptions of the events.

Ernspiker, Tina Marie. Email interview January 6-22, 2017. 

Los Gringos Locos. Tina Marie Ernspiker. www.gringoslocos6.com Accessed January 6, 2017.

Quote: Excerpt from January 15, 2017 email from Ernspiker. Verb tense changed and length edited by authors.


Special Thanks

In Eagle Pass, TX, thanks to Daniel Chancey, Eagle Pass Library IT Specialist and local historian; Joe Cruz, Eagle Pass Main Street Manager and local historian; and Eagle Point Ranch. In Laredo, thanks to Margarita Araiza, Executive Director Webb County Heritage Foundation; and to Mucia Dovalina, Press Officer for Laredo Port of Entry.

During our research, thanks to Max McNabb; Tina Marie Ernspiker; Dan La Botz, Journalist and Professor at the Murphy Institute; Todd W. Whalstrom, Professor of History at Pepperdine University; and Sheila Croucher, Professor of Global and Intercultural Studies, Miami University.

Special thanks to Gene & Dorothy Chao, who donated transportation for the project.