Owner: National Archives, College Park, MD
Source Type: Images
This is the floor plan of the El Paso Disinfection Plant, a facility built in 1910 but greatly expanded in 1916. In 1917, the plant became a mandatory stop for all emigrants entering the U.S. from Ciudad Juarez, an edict that prompted the "bath riots" by Mexican women on the International Bridge over the Rio Grande. The riots soon subsided and Mexicans were forced to undergo washings and examinations at the hands of U.S. technicians. The processing stages included: washing all clothes and baggage, stripping them naked, delousing, physical examinations, and smallpox vaccination. Once this regimen was complete, they were given a certificate affirming their cleanliness, but were still subject to exclusion based on perceived physical and mental deficiencies. On average, this facility inspected about 2,830 people everyday, a figure that dwarfs Ellis Island's 350 daily exams.
According to historian of medicine Alexandra Minna Stern, this disinfection plant reflected the merging of sanitarianism and eugenics, two distinct sciences that combined to homogenize Mexicans into a distinct and identifiable race. Both of these sciences were rooted in studies of the blood: sanitation was concerned with the infectious diseases blood could carry while eugenics focused on which inheritable traits (desirable or otherwise) that one might have in their genes. The disinfection plant and its examinations were thus a form of "bio-power" that, in the process of cleaning Mexicans, also racialized them, transforming them from diseased aliens into desirable low wage laborers. The fact that the racial category "Mexican" was an option on the 1930 U.S. census typifies the conflation of "Mexicans" in the early twentieth century U.S.
Reference: Stern, Alexandra Minna. "Buildings, Boundaries, and Blood: Medicalization and Nation Building on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1910-1930." In Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 79, no. 1 (Feb., 1999), 41-81.
CITATION: Architectural blueprint for the El Paso Disinfection Plant, 1917. Photo included in letter from C.C. Pierce to the Surgeon General, 16 Feb 1917, NACP, USPHS, AG 90, CF 1897-1923, file 1248. In: Stern, Alexandra Minna. "Buildings, Boundaries, and Blood: Medicalization and Nation Building on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1910-1930." In Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 79, no. 1 (Feb., 1999), 41-81.
DIGITAL ID: 12983