Author: Nick Sedano
In the early 20th century, many Mexican residents would cross the border into the United States so they could go to work. It was their morning routine before a hard day's work of manual labor. Following the 1916 typhus outbreak in Los Angeles, the U.S Public Health Service required all Mexicans crossing the border into the states to be stripped nude and deloused with a mixture of Kerosene and Zyklon B (A cyanide based pesticide later used by the Nazis in Germany for the gas chambers). This demeaning act was made even worse for the Mexican women as American workers would take pictures of them and share the photos with each other at local bars. The daily humiliation was enough for the 17 year old, Juãrez born Carmelita Torres.
On January 28,1917 at the Santa Fe International Bridge crossing into El Paso, Carmelita was on the way to her job to clean homes of U.S families. When she was asked to get off the trolley for her bath and gas delousing, she refused. Shortly after, all the women left the trolley to protest. At first there were 30 women but an hour later there were 200 women blocking traffic into El Paso. Within 5 hours there were thousands of protestors showing support for these bad ass chingonxs and the injustices they were standing up against. Unfortunately, even with the protest sparked by Carmelita, the U.S continued to strip and delouse Mexican workers for decades. In the 1950’s they changed the “cleaning” agent to DDT, yet another deadly pesticide.
Even though the U.S continued their delousing after the protests, we cannot forget the efforts of powerful, strong-minded women like Carmelita Torres. Our past is filled with amazing moments like this and we must bring them up more in conversation, include them in school curriculums, and hold special holidays so our people can become aware of the beautiful history we have and our fearlessness to resist oppression.