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<< Back to Ringside Seat to a Revolution

Ringside Seat to a Revolution

El Paso Inside & Out Magazine


The title of David Romo’s book refers to the spectacle that the Mexican Revolution became for many Americans. Romo focuses on some of the fascinating individuals and startling events from the period when El Paso served as auditorium for the theater of war across the river. Judge Joseph Sweeney, a former El Paso mayor, watched the unfolding drama from a choice seat atop the El Paso Laundry building. People flocked to the spectacle. One observer described the crowd’s reaction when a rebel lost his rifle: “He made a dash for a tree near the federal lines, and sheltered by its trunk from their bullets, he wound a lariat from his waist. With it, he roped the nearest federal as if he had been a steer, dragged him up and disarmed him. A loud cheer went up from the many spectators on the American side.”

Filmmakers joined the crowds at the border, shooting six films immediately following the Battle of Juarez. One of the many striking photographs from the book shows a cameraman intently shooting film flanked by two indigenous Mexican rebels who are also intently shooting. Photos from executions, another popular entertainment, were turned into postcards. One photographer wrote home, “Business is simply great…am making 5,000 postcards a day…I heard there were to be more executions in Juarez tomorrow morning so am planning to be on hand.”

Romo’s history traces the shifting attitudes towards immigrants, particularly poor ones, during the war’s years. Prior to 1917, El Paso’s border with Mexico was open with constant travel back and forth. WWI changed that. Immigrants were required to show identification and the U.S. Public Health Department began an unprecedented program to ensure the foreigners entering America were clean. Government officials started “bathing and delousing an average of 2,800 Mexicans a day at the Santa Fe International Bridge.” Immigrants were required to remove all of their clothing and submit to a bodily inspection. If lice were found, they were sprayed with Zyklon B, a fumigator, or forced to bath in kerosene. After being treated, they were given a certificate verifying their cleanliness. This humiliating experience had to be repeated every eight days if they wished to cross the border.

This unsettling piece of El Paso history becomes more disturbing when Romo reveals that a 1938 German scientific journal “specifically praised the El Paso method of fumigating foreign immigrants with Zyklon B.” The Nazis used Zyklon B to decontaminate prisoners in their death camps and to murder millions of Jews.

Romo’s book is fascinating reading for any denizen of the El Paso/Juarez region. His riveting narrative will keep you glued to your seats.
- Ann Branan Horak, 

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