Drug smuggling along U.S. borders hot topic for public lecture at Tarleton

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STEPHENVILLE (October 22, 2015) — Three national experts on borderlands studies come together at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at Tarleton State University for a timely comparison of drug smuggling along the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders.

According to Dr. Holly Karibo, assistant professor of history at Tarleton and one of the three presenters, drug trafficking, sex tourism and violence along U.S. borders aren’t new problems. They go back to America’s formative years.

As part of the free public lecture—Crossing the Line: A Comparative Look at the History of Drug Smuggling along the U.S. Mexico and U.S. Canada Borders—Karibo joins Drs. George Díaz of Sam Houston State University and Santiago Guerra of Colorado College to prove that current debates and policies on border security should be based on attempts at policing America’s great divides over the last 100-plus years.


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The lecture takes place in Room 118 of the O.A. Grant Building on the Stephenville campus and will be available remotely via Zoom. Following the lecture, Karibo and Díaz will sign copies of their books on the borderlands.

Karibo’s work follows smugglers, sex tourists, workers and reformers from Detroit, Michigan, to Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and back again, taking a closer look at citizenship, marginality, gender and race during the not-so-tranquil 1940s and ’50s. The book, Sin City North: Sex, Drugs and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland, is a 2015 publication of Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

“In bars, brothels and dance halls, Americans and Canadians united in their desire to cross racial, sexual and legal lines in Detroit and Windsor,” she said. “Yet, the increasing visibility of illicit economies on city streets—and the growing number of African American and French Canadian women working in illegal trades—provoked the ire of moral reformers who wanted to eliminate them from their communities.

“These early struggles over the meaning of vice evolved beyond the definitions of legality,” Karibo said. “They became the way residents defined productive citizenship and community in this postwar urban borderland. The definitions of citizenship that developed in the mid-20th century continue to resonant in our current polarized debates over border walls, immigration and who counts as welcomed members of our communities.”

In part one of his book, Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande (Austin: University of Texas Press 2015), Díaz traces illicit business dealings across America’s southern border from 1848 to 1910, when attempts by Mexico and the U.S. to tax commerce across the line upset local trade and caused resentment. Part two begins with the Mexican Revolution, when national customs and border security tightened efforts to ban prohibited contraband—particularly guns and drugs.

“Greater restrictions have transformed smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border from a low-level mundane activity, widely accepted and still routinely practiced, into a highly professional criminal enterprise,” Diaz said.

The author of multiple journal articles on drugs, smuggling and the U.S.-Mexico border, Guerra is working on a manuscript, From Vaqueros to Mafiosos: Drug Trafficking and Policing in the South Texas-Mexico Borderlands, solicited by New York University Press.


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