UH Moment

UH Moment: “Smuggling”

Professors and scholars are coming to the University of Houston through the Visiting Scholar program at the Center for Mexican American Studies.  One such researcher is digging up the hidden history of smugglers.  Listen to this week's UH Moment.

El día tres de noviembre,
¡qué día tan señalado!
Mataron tres de Guerrero
estos rinches desdichadosi.

                * * *

The third day of November,
What an eventful day!
The rinches from the other side,
killed three from Guerrero

This excerpt from the Mexican corrido is a history lesson.  It details the deadly encounter of liquor smuggler, Leandro, and border authorities, immortalized in a Mexican ballad of Los Tequileros. 

Salieron desde Guerrero
con tequila ya anisado,
el rumbo que ellos llevaban
era San Diego mentado.

              * * *

They left from Guerrero
with anis-flavored tequila;
the direction they were taking
was toward famed San Diego.

UH associate history professor George Diaz“Smuggling can be called the hidden history,” said associate history professor George Diaz. “We only have evidence when people are arrested, but a lot of times things happen but aren’t recorded.” 

Diaz is a visiting scholar of the Center for Mexican American Studies, and researches smuggling at the Texas border.  Traditional songs such as the corrido of Leandro and Los Tequileros sometimes provide that hidden testimony of buried stories. 

“Basically I’m talking about a social history of smuggling, how petty it is, how common it is,” he said.  “What I’m arguing is that there is a moral economy of smuggling or a contrabandista community.”

Since 1986 the Center’s program has recruited scholars to generate research about the Latino community in such areas as history, art, sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science and English. 

Diaz chronicles the history from the time of the Mexican Revolution when items being smuggled were cotton or sugar or flour—items that were needed but unavailable because of the war.  While careful not to glorify the act, Diaz says the criminal activity of smuggling didn’t truly begin until the Prohibition era when money and gangs became involved.

“National laws push criminal activity to the border.  Border people are not criminal, but the law pushes criminal activity to the border,” he said.  “Border people happen to live on the gateway where these things are being crossed and their home becomes a criminal space for this activity.” 

Diaz’s year as a visiting scholar will result in a publication and a class on the history of smuggling titled “Smugglers, Saints and ‘Aliens’ in the U.S.- Mexico Borderlands.”

“You can’t study this, the border, from one angle.  There are many angles,” he said. 

Mexican smuggler and Tequilero, LeandroMexican smuggler and Tequilero, Leandro

Los rinches son muy valientes,
no se les puede quitar,
los cazan como venados
para poderlos matar.

Ya con ésta ahí me despido
en mi caballo Lucero,
mataron tres gallos finos
del pueblito de Guerrero. 

            * * *

The rinches were brave,
there is no doubt of that,
the only way they can kill us
is to hunt us like deer.

So here is my farewell,
on my horse Lucero,
of the killing of three fine roosters
from the town of Guerrero.

The Center for Mexican American Studies’ Visiting Scholars Program is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.  I’m Marisa Ramirez.

Telling the stories of the University of Houston, this UH Moment is brought to you by KUHF, listener supported radio from the University of Houston.

Editor’s note: the full text of the song, as well as an audio file and translation, can be found here.