Labor History in 2:00

January 28 Start of the 1917 Bath Riots

January 28, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1917.

That was the day Carmelita Torres led the Bath Riots at the El Paso/ Juarez border.

Mexican workers traveled daily across the Sante Fe Bridge from Juarez, Mexico into El Paso, Texas for work.

As a condition of entry, workers were required to strip naked and be sprayed with a toxic mixture of chemicals.

U.S. Health officials insisted they were stopping the spread of typhus through this type of delousing campaign.

They were just as motivated by racist typecasting of Mexicans as dirty.

David Dorado Romo, author of Ringside to a Revolution, tells the story of 17-year old Carmelita Torres.

Amid rumors that health workers secretly photographed and then distributed photos of the naked women as they were being sprayed, Carmelita crossed into El Paso everyday where she worked as a maid.

On this day, instead of stripping down, she refused fumigation and convinced the other women to demonstrate with her against this humiliating, daily procedure.

Within an hour, she and 200 other women had blocked all traffic coming into El Paso.

Newspaper reports claimed several thousand protesters by the end of the day.

The women marched to the disinfection camp, hoping to convince those undergoing “disinfection” to join them.

When health officials tried to disperse the crowd, they were met with rocks and bottles.

The women then laid down on the trolley car tracks to stop the delivery of more workers and wrestled with motormen for control of the cars.

The riots lasted for three days, but the spraying of Mexican workers with DDT and other toxic chemicals continued for more than 40 years.

 

 

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