Crossing Lines and Terrible Baths

Crossing Lines and Terrible Baths

Being a border city, El Paso has a long history of people crossing in and out of the border. While crossing, however, Mexican laborers had to strip nude and be doused with toxic chemicals, including gasoline baths.
In 1917, 17-year-old Carmelita Torres refused the gasoline bath. She had heard women were being photographed while nude, and their pictures were passed around in El Paso cantinas. By noon, she was joined by “several thousand” demonstrators at the border bridge. The protest became known as the “Bath Riots.”

Though hailed by some as the "Latina Rosa Parks", Carmelita’s actions didn’t have lasting effects. The riots lasted three days, with the protest numbers rising to several thousand people. But eventually, US and Mexican troops stopped the riot, and Carmelita was arrested.

The Immigration Act of 1917 passed days afterward, adding barriers for Mexican laborers entering the US, such as literacy tests and a head tax. The 1942 Bracero program, which permitted millions of Mexicans to work legally in the US on labor contracts, meant many people traveled to El Paso from Juarez every day, yet the bathing and fumigations continued. It went on into the 1960s, well after the 1915-1917 typhus scare which was the reason behind the sanitation “procedures”. They even expanded to use DDT and even Zyklon B, which was later used by Nazis to exterminate prisoners in concentration camps.

#bathriots #CarmelitaTorres #elpasohistory#braceroprogram #womeninhistory#fronterizxs #HispanicHeritageMonth#chucothrowbackthursday
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